Visiting the Center of California

When we were planning a recent trip to Yosemite National Park, we noticed that we could visit North Fork, CA and what is billed as the Geographic Center of California with a short detour. Being a fan of roadside attractions and oddities, there was no way we were going to pass that up.

Visiting North Fork

North Fork, which was originally called Brown’s, was once a major logging town, so much so in fact that the town changed its name to North Fork because of the North Fork Lumber Company. In 1996, the same year the lumber mill closed, a group of surveyors determined that the state’s geographic center is right outside of the town, thus making North Fork the closest town to the center of California.

Getting to North Fork is reasonably easy. We were coming from the south, and we took California State Route 41 from Fresno until we hit North Fork Road. We then followed North Fork Road all the way to the town.

The roads are open year-round, but you may find ice and snow in the winter, and chains may be required. At every other time of the year, there should be no issues getting to North Fork, as the roads are well maintained and not very busy.

The town featured a number of restaurants, stores, and the Sierra Mono Museum and Cultural Center (which was sadly closed on our visit). The town itself was beautiful, with many murals throughout it, and is a great place to get some food and walk around.

Getting to the Center

There were plenty of signs in North Fork directing us to the Center of California. The center was located about 7 miles outside of town, and the road there was paved and easy to travel on, though there were one or two narrow sections. From North Fork Road, you turn onto Road 225/Italian Bar Road and pretty much follow that the entire way. Eventually, we arrived at a pullout where we could park and walk 50 feet or so to the center.

The Geographic Center of California

From the parking area at the center, you’ll notice some wooden stairs leading up a small hill. The marker noting the actual center of the state can be found up those stairs. It is an easy climb, and there are maybe 20 stairs total, but the marker is definitely not wheelchair accessible. 

Up the hill, you will find a small cement platform with a survey marker, a stone with a plaque on it, and a pylon to the side that says “Cal Center.” This monument was placed here by the North Fork History Group and was once featured on an episode of Huell Houser’s California Gold.

There is a decent view to the southeast from the center, but nothing anywhere near some of the other views that can be found in the area, especially if you are heading to Yosemite.

While the views themselves aren’t worth going out of the way for, and there isn’t much in the way of a monument there, just a simple plaque and a pylon, there is something extraordinary about being in the exact center of the state. Maybe it’s just me, though.

The marker is open year-round, but the weather can get pretty nasty in the winter. If you want to visit the Geographic Center of California, spring through fall is the best time to do so.

Other Things To Do in the Area

As previously mentioned, North Fork is a great little town that is worth spending some time checking out. Depending on when you visit, the town is home to several special events as well. The Art in the Garden show, the Mid Sierra Logger’s Jamboree, Indian Fair Days, and the Mountain Classic Car Show all take place in the summer. In the fall, you can participate in the Grizzly Century Bike Ride & North Fork Fall Festival and the Sierra Art Trails. The first Saturday in December is when the town holds the Booster’s Christmas Bazaar, a great place for picking up presents.

Three miles north of Nork Fork, you can find Manzanita Lake, a small artificial lake created in the 1940s. There you can find hiking and biking trails, picnic tables, and fishing. There is a really great trail that follows along a closed historic road and leads to some great views towards the South Forks Bluff.

About ten miles north of North Fork is the small resort community of Bass Lake. The community lies along the north shore of the Bass Lake reservoir, and there are a number of restaurants and activities to be found there. The lake’s temperature reaches up to 80 degrees in the summer, making it a great place for water sports such as boating, kayaking, and jet skiing too.

The town of Oakhurst is about a 25-minute drive from North Fork and makes a great base of operations for visiting the area. I actually wrote a whole article on the Oakhurst area if you want more information on that town.

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