The Sierra sun warms your face as the days grow longer. High country snowmelt fills the streams to brimming, then arcs gracefully over polished granite. Wildflower meadows pop with a kaleidoscope of colors, while in the scented forests a carpet of pine needles bounces underfoot. The curtains are suddenly drawn and a life-affirming revival shimmers all around you…welcome, friends, to spring in Yosemite Mariposa County.
Here are some of our favorite ways to celebrate this season of new beginnings. From misty walks to frisky wildlife and engaging museums, it’s easy to build your own itinerary of casual ramblings and intrepid explorations. Here are even more ideas to enjoy the symphony of Yosemite in spring.
Most important of all? Enjoy the show!
Wildflower blooms start in early spring at lower elevations near Mariposa and the spectacular Hites Cove. Then they continue through many summer months with wildflower blooms in Tuolumne Meadows against a backdrop of the High Sierra.
We have a saying in Yosemite Mariposa County….spring marches uphill. And with elevations ranging from 1,000 feet to 13,000 feet that translates to a long viewing season for our pigment-blessed cast of wildflowers.
Is it spring before the dogwoods bloom? These showy white ‘blossoms’ are not flowers, but are actually the bracts (modified leaves) surrounding the yellow flowers in the center. But whatever you call them, the dogwood blossoms are a popular hallmark of spring weather. Photo: Kenny Karst
The show begins in March throughout the rolling, oak-studded ranch lands of Southern Mariposa County and Northwest Mariposa County. As you drive or bike (It’s BYOB, bring your own bicycle) these vintage country roads, washes of poppies can be seen dancing in the distance, and puffy clouds add dimension while the occasional spring shower keeps the garden well-tended.
Our uphill procession reveals a variety of blooms in the steepening, mixed forests of Central Mariposa County and Northern Mariposa County. Get your hue on at the main stage of vivid-osity known as the Hite Cove Trail where California Poppies paint the Merced River Canyon’s walls orange, or drive from Coulterville to Buck Meadows along the John Muir Highway (J132) and stop to explore the backroads and hiking trails of the Stanislaus National Forest.
The third act brings us to Yosemite National Park. Mid-spring is an exuberant season here, with waterfall mist spritzing the wildflowers along the Valley Loop Trail, and picnics among the blossoms of Wawona Meadow in Southern Yosemite. There are countless wildflower encounters along the hiking trails of Yosemite Mariposa County if you feel like stretching your legs.
As late spring gives way to summer and trails reappear through the last patches of snow, it’s the High Country’s time to shine. Everything from lupine to monkeyflower and paintbrush, you’ll have plenty of time to discover these little darlings in all their technicolor glory (with some — like the snow plant — peeking up through the white stuff in all its crimson glory)!
Posy Pointer: It is illegal to pick wildflowers so encourage kids to bring crayons and a sketchbook, or take photos for a collage back home. Use this Yosemite wildflower illustration guide to help identify these mood-brighteners.
Spring wildlife viewing is like fauna from heaven as Yosemite black bears and their cubs come out from their dens in search of a much-anticipated feast. Throughout the county, California mule deer nibble fresh grasses, flower buds, and tender spring shoots until their spotted fawns are born late in the season. Coyotes, foxes, and lots of busy squirrels will keep you company, too, including the Douglas squirrel which John Muir described as “fiery, sputtering bolts of life.” Be sure to keep score with Beast Mode Yosemite! — our family-friendly game that provides more information on the animals you might spot.
Spring is a great time to keep your eyes open for wildlife in Yosemite Mariposa County.(Note: mother deer often leave their fawns hidden while they eat. Do not disturb a fawn even if you find it alone. Mom will likely return soon.)
Spring is a birding bonanza in Yosemite Mariposa County when visitors can expect to hear the songs, squawks, and screeches of the nearly 300 species that call this home. Located along the Pacific Flyway — a prolific route for migratory birds — the county also plays spring host to nesting birds as they welcome hatchlings into the world. Try a walk in the lush Stockton Creek Preserve after lunch in the charming Gold Rush town of Mariposa, or for bonus points spot a water ouzel along the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. Kids love these busy birds as they dive underwater for tiny fish and build nests behind waterfalls.
View Clue: Be sure to bring binoculars and a telephoto lens.
In Yosemite Mariposa County, spring is synonymous with rushing water. Find some out-of-the-way cascades, like this one along the Chilnualnal Falls Trail.
Okay, between you, me, and the trail marker, totally alone might be a stretch, but the number of fellow waterfall aficionados will be greatly reduced by exploring Mariposa County outside of the ever-popular Yosemite Valley. Fortunately for us, spring snowmelt doesn’t demand an audience to cascade over cliffs!
Top hidden falls: The modest 20-foot cascade and bathing suit-ready Diana Falls and Swimming Hole; the multi-tiered granite bowls of Fish Camp Falls (aka Jackson Hole/Lewis Fork Ditch) near the world-class resort Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite; the surprisingly strapping Foresta Falls as viewed up-close-and-personal from a footbridge perched majestically atop of the Merced River Canyon; and Chilnualna Falls — the often overlooked gem in Wawona which has all the pomp and circumstance of its more famous cousins in the Valley.
Best time of year for maximum waterfall flow? Late April through early June, though earlier in the spring is no slouch.
Spraying It Safe: Bring a waterproof shell for keeping dry beneath misty waterfalls, and likewise a small towel for drying your camera lens.
In Yosemite Valley’s quieter cousin, the Hetch Hetchy Valley, spring waterfalls thunder and granite cliffs soar without all the hustle and bustle of more popular parts of Yosemite National Park.
Cumulus clouds reflecting off steel-blue water. Granite massifs sheering vertically into its depths. A rough-hewn tunnel that begs for silhouette photos. An accessible dam with enlightening plaques and views that plunge into the Tuolumne River Canyon. And, oh yes, another killer waterfall. These are just a few of Hetch Hetchy’s calling cards as it holds court in the less-visited region of Northern Yosemite.
Whether you just feel like taking a drive for some dramatic views or want to lace up and navigate the north shore’s gauntlet of cascades, Hetch Hetchy shouldn’t be missed. The relatively flat 5.5-mile round-trip trail to 1,000-foot Wapama Falls absolutely gushes in spring, with several footbridges crossing smaller tributaries along the way. Photographers get snap happy over Hetch Hetchy’s crisp reflections, while Kolana Rock is impossible to ignore as it knifes into the water.
Reservoir Score: The Hetch Hetchy Entrance to Yosemite National Park is only open during daylight hours so plan your visit accordingly. Overnighters can find the right base camp for their spring fling with plenty of lodging options in Yosemite Mariposa County ranging from world-class resorts to sleeping under the stars.
Get ready for some hands-on history while learning about the gold rush era at Yosemite Mariposa County’s museums.
If you need to use your indoor voice for a spell after all that outdoor fun, Yosemite Mariposa County has just the solution — a museum hop of historic proportions. With seven museums to choose from, there’s a compelling saga for everyone.
The picturesque Gold Rush town of Mariposa boasts three of its own including the Mariposa Museum & History Center, the California State Mining & Mineral Museum, and the recently opened Yosemite Climbing Museum. Clip in and discover!
The hop continues at the Northern Mariposa County History Center. Located in the authentic Mother Lode monument of Coulterville, the museum offers a self-guided outdoor walking tour for a full-contact mining town experience. After an afternoon of exploring, sit down for some tasty eats on the patio at the Coulter Cafe.
Yosemite National Park backs up its stellar reputation with an astute coterie of museums. From the multi-cultural Yosemite History Center in Wawona to the Yosemite Museum and the kid-centric Happy Isles Nature Center in Yosemite Valley, visitors can get a deeper understanding of the natural beauty that surrounds them, not to mention the stories of those who came before. Hidden away in Yosemite Valley (just behind the Yosemite Museum and theatre) is the village of the Ahwahneechee, a replica of how Yosemite’s first inhabitants lived in the miraculous valley.
Archival Advice: Be sure to check hours of operation for all museums when planning your visit, and dress in warm layers for your spring indoor/outdoor experience — Mariposa County’s weather can vary greatly due to its range of elevations.
To explore lodging options, things to do and places to eat, visit Yosemite.com, the #1 trip planning site for vacations to Yosemite National Park and historic Mariposa County. To stay up to date, follow @YosemiteNation on social media and subscribe to our newsletter, “The Wanderer”. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for great videos on the people and places of Yosemite Mariposa County.
It’s time for a mini-road trip to discover the freedom of the open road, and the many small-town gems along various routes through Yosemite Mariposa County.
Discover the ‘other’ domes in Yosemite Mariposa County. From Sentinel Dome to Lembert Dome, there is plenty to explore and love beyond the famous Half Dome.
Discover a multitude of fun family events and festivals in Mariposa County. These county celebrations provide extra interest and entertainment in a county filled with things to see and do. Whether you enter the howling competition at the Coyote Festival or help clean up trash at Yosemite’s Facelift, you’ll be glad you did.