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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Get Away from it All at Shaver Lake

Nov 23, 2016 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Back to Nature

December 2016
By Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Joshua Cates, Shaver Lake Visitors Bureau

When we measure the distance we’re willing to travel for leisure, it seems like there’s a corollary between the miles traveled and our expectations, so maybe it’s not surprising that those living on the coast will make their way up the hill, while those of us in the Central Valley drive “downhill” to get to the beach. 

“Everybody from the valley, for the most part, goes to the coast, and we all went up the mountains into the Sierras,” says Joshua Cates, who grew up on the central coast before attending Fresno State University. 

Though Shaver Lake is only about an hour drive away for some valley residents, it’s not a stretch to say that people driving from farther distances, as Cates did, visit the area more consistently.

For Cates, that changed about three years ago when he and his family moved to the area for “a better quality of life,” and to take ownership of the Shaver Lake Village Hotel. He also is the vice president of the Shaver Lake Visitors Bureau, which probably means he’s something of an expert on “things to do” in the area, though even he admits he hasn’t seen it all – there’s so much to do.

“There’s still so many places to go, like backpacking through the Sierras, and so many lakes and trails all over the place that I haven’t even seen yet,” says Cates.

At about 5,600 feet, Shaver Lake is one of the highest elevation towns in Fresno County, and though remotely removed from some urban amenities, Cates provides an actual list of Shaver to-dos that range from hiking and sightseeing to eating – oh, and there’s the lake, of course. He laughs that some people visit Shaver Lake, ask what the area has to offer, and then leave without driving (or hiking) the couple miles to the actual lake. Hard to believe, but then how much do we take for granted the playground in our very backyard? 

Cates agrees. “It’s close to home and everybody needs to get back into nature,” though he  adds that it’s easy to overlook the familiar.

“Natural beauty: it’s something that you take for granted a lot of times, but it’s something that you only get when you’re up in nature. It’s put here naturally, not by man,” Cates stresses. “All the organized chaos, the trees, the plants, the rocks, the lakes and waterfalls – you couldn’t recreate it.”

It may be something that even Cates sometimes overlooks, but working in the hotel industry, he is constantly reminded by visitors who are seeing Shaver with fresh eyes.

If the allure of beauty isn’t enough to counterbalance a 60- or 90-minute drive up the hill, Cates also says the cleaner, cooler air is a big draw for valley dwellers.

“The big kicker is the air quality. You can see the difference, and you don’t realize what you’re living until you get up here, and the temperature is always 15 to 20 degrees cooler than down in the valley.”

Plus, he adds, “it’s free.” Much of the Shaver Lake area offers the same big trees, the same big lakes as the national parks, just without the entry fee. “You get that feeling that you’re in the high, high Sierras, but you’re only hiking a few miles to it.”

According to Cates, if there’s one must-see spot in Shaver, it’s the lake itself, though there are many smaller lakes and reservoirs also within a short driving distance. Huntington Lake, a renowned sailing lake, is about a 20-minute drive above Shaver Lake, and Indian Pools, near the China Peaks Ski Resort, is a popular spot with both pools and jumping rocks.

Shaver can get busy in the summer months, especially July and August, but in the off-season it offers a quieter getaway. Recently, superstar Justin Bieber took a day off in Shaver while making a tour stop in Fresno.

“Yeah, Justin Bieber just came up to Shaver Lake,” Cates says with a laugh. “He went fishing in the lake, hiking, all that stuff. It was great because he was able to come up to somewhere that wasn’t incredibly busy.”

Already rife with hidden gems, and all within a proverbial rock’s throw of the urban cityscape, it might also surprise some that Shaver Lake offers quality cuisine.

“Shaver Lake Pizza is stellar,” confirms Cates, “and it’s some of the best pizza you can have – and in Shaver of all places. And the Hungry Hut has been around for a long time, and has seriously some of the best tri-tip sandwiches I’ve had in a while.”

Despite the food, nature and multiple events (which can be discovered through the Visitor Bureau’s website), Cates insists that Shaver Lake is “a little tourist stop.”

But if it’s good enough for the Biebs, then Shaver is probably good enough for anybody. Cates also encourages visitors to stop by the Shaver Lake Village Hotel, where you can get directions and tips about the area, and maybe even hold him accountable if the pizza isn’t the best you’ve ever had.

Tollhouse Road, Shaver Lake • (559) 841-3350