Published on July 11, 2020

What Northern California destinations are close enough to be accessible and still far enough to get away from it all? Pack the car and escape to the Yosemite and Mariposa County region for a quick weekend getaway or give yourself time to soak it all in on a longer visit to the West Coast.

Here are just a few of the best outdoor activities and things to do in California around the Yosemite Mariposa region to spur your imagination.

Here are the top 10 most fun things to do in the Yosemite region

1. Stand in the spray of a Yosemite Valley waterfall

Couple hiking Yosemite's Mist Trail
Yosemite’s Mist Trail passes through the spray from Vernal and Nevada Falls. Photo: Patrick Pike

Yosemite’s waterfalls are a California legend. In Yosemite Valley, you can take short trails to visit Bridalveil and Lower Yosemite Fall. More challenging hikes will take you through the mist of Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall on the Mist Trail, or past the base of Upper Yosemite Fall to the rim of Yosemite Valley.

Don’t miss out on some of the less well-known waterfalls in the west coast region regarded as some of the best things to see in California. Wapama and Tuelala Falls in Hetch Hetchy mirror their more famous cousins in Yosemite Valley, with a fraction of the visitors. If you plan to explore Hetch Hetchy, keep your eyes open on your way for the short trail to Carlon Fall for an even quieter outing.

2. Pair outdoor adventure with local California vineyards and a wine tasting trip

Vineyards near Yosemite in Mariposa County
Tour vineyards and wineries near Yosemite in Mariposa County.

Like many other parts of California, Yosemite Mariposa region has its share of fine local wineries. Sample award-winning wine at the Casto Oaks Fine Wine and Art tasting room in the heart of the town of Mariposa. Or get a full Western lifestyle experience at the Rauch Ranch Vineyards and Winery, also a working cattle ranch. View a full list of local wineries, and don’t forget to explore the award-winning hard cider at Sierra Cider Farm and Cidery.

3. Contemplate the world’s most massive trees.

One of the best things to do in California is to a stroll among giant sequoias. Invoke a sense of reverence and awe for these enormous and ancient trees ““ the largest trees in the world. There are three different groves inside Yosemite National Park, the Tuolumne Grove, the Merced Grove and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. In addition, the Nelder Grove is located just south of Yosemite along Highway 41.

4. Enjoy a fun California outdoor activity, like picnic or an afternoon on the beach

Plan a California beach vacation and a mountain getaway all in one. You can have the best of California all in the Yosemite Mariposa region. Enjoy the beach at Tenaya Lake in the Tuolumne Meadows region of Yosemite, or while away an afternoon by the river in Yosemite Valley at Housekeeping Camp or Swinging Bridge. Outside Yosemite, Merced River Recreation Area and Bagby Recreation Area are just two of the amazing spots where you can settle in by the Merced River to relax and watch the water slide by.

5. Have a splashing good time with outdoor water activities

Spash and Dash Aquapark at Lake McSwain
Serious water fun at Lake McSwain’s Splash and Dash Aquapark

Plan to get wet too. The region of Northern California boasts some of the finest fishing, rafting and swimming around. Get the scoop on where the fish are biting with passionate local fishing guides. Take a wild whitewater rafting adventure, or choose a leisurely sightseeing float through Yosemite Valley. You can bring your own raft, or rent one from Curry Village Raft Rentals.

Get more great ideas for fun things to do in California and places to enjoy the water with this comprehensive guide to the best local swimming spots and our guide to fishing on Lake McClure and Lake McSwain.

6. Explore beautiful landscapes

Yosemite’s vistas are legendary, proving to be some of the best things to see in California. Try the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point trails on the south rim for views into Yosemite Valley, or any of the more than 750 miles of hiking trails in Yosemite.

Don’t forget the amazing hikes outside the park as well. Spring wildflower displays at Hite Cove are among the best in the region. Enjoy a quiet walk next to the Merced River on the Briceburg trail ““ you can hike east or west from Merced River Recreation Area. Or choose to strut with the peacocks on Morningstar Lane in Mariposa. Just outside of the historic town of Mariposa is the Stockton Creek Preserve which features vistas and a lake.

Wherever you go, you’ll find beautiful California landscapes to photograph and many outdoor activities to enjoy.

7. Saddle up your horses with this cool thing to do in California

Horse and rider crossing a stream
Mount up for a great trail ride on horseback. All Yosemite Trails horseback rides involve creek crossings.

Swing into the saddle for the most authentic western way to see Yosemite and the surrounding areas. Meander through the mountains and explore the forests and bond with your sure-footed steed on an hour-long horseback ride or a more substantial excursion. Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures offers both ““ including a ride that takes the back way into the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Explore a historic wagon road on a two-hour ride from the Wawona Stable. Or join Mariposa Mountain Riders, a welcoming group of fellow horse-lovers that organizes 3-4 hour trail rides for experienced riders.

8. Strike it rich

Kids learn about gold panning
A golden opportunity to learn some of the region’s rich history by learning how to pan for gold.

There is still plenty of gold in these hills, and it’s yours for the taking if you have good luck and a keen eye for this California fun thing to do. Learn how it was done back in the days when hundreds of thousands of people from all over the globe flooded into California intent on making their fortune. At Prospect Yosemite, search for treasure at a historic mining site or bring your group of six or more to pan for gold riverside. Yosemite Crystals is your one-stop shop for local crystals, gold prospecting supplies and gold panning adventure tours.

9. Celebrate pedal power

See the sights by bicycle””it’s one of the best ways to see California! Discover the perfect pace to absorb all the natural beauty around you, and get a little exercise in the process.

Inside Yosemite you will find cruiser bike rentals at the Curry Village Bike Stand and Yosemite Valley Lodge Bike Stand.

Outside the park you’ll find a wealth of fun mountain biking. Foremost among these is Exchequer Mountain Bike Park ““ a 700 acre area crafted by a community of devoted mountain bikers and designed exclusively for mountain biking. (Don’t forget to cool off after your ride in Lake McClure.) You’ll also find networks of trails at the Stockton Creek Preserve in Mariposa, or behind Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. Tenaya Lodge also rents mountain bikes and fat tire bikes.

10. Connect with history through this California experience

Model A at Yosemite Falls
Take history out for a spin when you rent one of these antique cars from Model T Tours operating out of the Tin Lizzie Inn.

Yosemite and Mariposa County is also rich with a lively and fascinating history, and there are so many ways to connect yourself more deeply to those stories.

Have you seen Freesolo or Dawn Wall lately? These two rock climbing movies swept through popular culture recently with tales of bravery and determination on Yosemite’s high granite walls. These cliffs all but echo with stories of historic rock climbing adventure. Visit the newly opened Yosemite Climbing Association Museum in Mariposa for more accounts of the high and wild places in Yosemite.

Learn more about the Yosemite Climbing Association Museum in our videos below.

Tour Yosemite and the surrounding area with style in a restored Model A or Model T, that you can rent at the Tin Lizzie Inn.

Explore the Wawona Pioneer History Center where you can wander between historic buildings, cross a covered bridge initially built in 1864 by Galen Clark, and talk to living history performers who bring the pioneer days to life.

The Yosemite Museum in Yosemite Valley showcases the cultural history of the Miwok and Paiute people.

If you’re looking for more fun things to do in California, the Mariposa Museum and History Center in Mariposa, and the Northern Mariposa County History Center in Coulterville both provide authentic glimpses into people’s lives in the early 1800s during the gold rush.

Categories: Indoor Activities, Itineraries, Outdoor Activities, Restaurants and Dining, Things to See