Whether it’s a babbling brook, a rushing river or the still surface of a mountain lake, water simply draws us in. Just being near the stuff is soothing, as elemental as the words of Henry David Thoreau who said, “life in us is like the water in a river,” or as fundamental as Mark Twain when he cut to the folksy chase and proclaimed “everybody likes water.”
If being near water is comforting, then catching some sleep close by is next level. There’s something special about fluffing a pillow creekside after a day of hiking, or grabbing a cup of morning coffee and watching twigs float downriver as you ponder the world-class waterfalls you visited the day before. Fortunately for us, H2O beauty sleep is not only possible but encouraged in these parts. Here is our lineup of lodging near water in Yosemite Mariposa County…
Lodging Near the Merced River
The main fork of the Merced River has many moods: turbulent and misty as it tumbles down from Vernal Fall; serene and celebrated as it meanders through Yosemite Valley; purposeful and confident as it cuts through the Merced River canyon along Highway 140. To match these many moods, Yosemite Mariposa County offers a range of accommodations no matter your style or budget.
For H2O hotels inside the Park, Yosemite Valley Lodge is situated perfectly between Yosemite Falls (.5 mile walk) and the Merced River, with the nearby confluence of Yosemite Creek completing the trifecta. Glass & wood architecture teams up with on-site dining and a bike stand to make exploring the wonders of the Valley as simple as getting out your door.
Housekeeping Camp is the closest lodging to the water in Yosemite Valley situated along the Merced River, with its unique hybrid canvas coverings, open dining and protected sleeping areas, this retreat is a favorite for family gatherings and gathering of friends to camp for generations. The accommodations are built right alongside the riverbank making swimming and family rafting a mainstay for guests of these historic accommodations.
Known for its iconic canvas-sided tent cabins and the original 19th century glamping spot, including everything from standard motel rooms to wood cabins with baths and shared baths , Curry Village is the epitome of “camping” near the Merced River. This historic property makes freshwater fun easy with on-site raft rentals, while trailheads for Mirror Lake and the Mist Trail are a rock-skip away. Water, water, everywhere.
Just outside the Arch Rock Highway 140 entrance to the park in the steep-walled Merced River Canyon, the Yosemite View Lodge is as close as it gets to the river’s edge. Located in El Portal, this H2O gem boasts large comfortable rooms with fireplaces and kitchenettes and balcony views where guests are serenaded by the sound of the Merced flowing past, as well as enjoying on-site dining and outdoor activities such as hiking and whitewater rafting in the spring. Yosemite View Lodge also has multiple outdoor pools and an indoor pool to keep your H2O interaction flowing.
A short distance west along All-Season Highway 140, the Yosemite Cedar Lodge is a family-style hotel with direct access to the Merced River. Affordable with all-star amenities including kitchenettes in every room, the Yosemite Cedar Lodge has on-site dining as well as a river walk to gazebos near a private, sandy beach with tables and seating where guests can spread out a signature Yosemite Mariposa County picnic. In keeping with river whimsy, kids can search for carved bears on the premises using the Kids’ Guide to The Cedar Lodge map available at the front desk.
The Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort is a magical realm where families, backpackers and international travelers can rest peacefully in a grove of black oaks perched above Bear Creek. The Bug is home to the popular June Bug Cafe as well as the Yosemite Health Spa, and accommodations range from tent cabins to private rooms, and dormitory-style bunks to vacation rentals. There is a lush seasonal creek with swimming hole just a short walk from the property, or, just a few miles down the hill at the historic Briceburg Suspension Bridge, guests can explore the Merced River Recreation Area where rafting, swimming, and hiking provide one-stop outdoor fun.
Lodging Near the South Fork of the Merced River
The South Fork of the Merced River is content to weave its unhurried way through the wooded basin of Wawona in Southern Yosemite. Fed in part by the unsung (yet mighty) Chilnualna Falls and featuring refreshing swimming holes in the warmer months, the South Fork provides a bounty of activities just outside your door with a quieter vibe than Yosemite Valley.
Regal verandas, Adirondack chairs, stellar views of Wawona Meadow surrounded by Ponderosa pines…the Wawona Hotel is a top choice for water-adjacent lodging in Yosemite. Just several hundred feet from the famed Wawona Covered Bridge as it crosses the South Fork of the Merced River, the Victorian-era decor at this National Historic Landmark pairs nicely with evening piano in the dining room, not to mention on-site activities such as tennis, golf and swimming in the historic outdoor “swim tank” (pool).
For everything from romantic getaways to groups of friends and family holidays, vacation rental homes make a lot of sense. The Redwoods in Yosemite manages over 100 of these vacation cabins in Wawona alone, all within a short distance of the South Fork. Coffee on the deck, home cooked meals, fireplaces, and even hot tubs and the decor ranges from rustic to modern to suit every traveler’s needs. Take a walk to the local’s favorite Wawona Swinging Bridge & Swimming Hole for a natural granite waterslide and cool (yes, cool) invigorating fun.
Located along the meandering banks of the South Fork of the Merced River, Wawona Campground is the quintessence of water-inspired slumbers. Each of its 99 campsites has a picnic table, fire ring and food storage locker, while swimming, fishing and s’more competitions cap off the “roughing it” experience. Need reinforcements? The Wawona visitor center and Pine Tree Market are just a mile away offering local knowledge and pressing provisions. Open year-round, reservations are required at Wawona Campground from mid-April through mid-October, while the rest of the year sites are available on a first-come/first-served basis.
Lodging Near Lake McClure & Lake McSwain
Nestled in the foothills above California’s Great Central Valley and fed by the Merced River, these twin lakes are a water sports paradise. Boating, fishing, swimming…the 80 miles of protected shoreline provide calm waters and plenty of private coves to take a dip or feel that tug on your lure. Summers are hot here, and winters mild, offering 4-season pursuits without any concerns of snow that tops the Sierra peaks to your east.
Waterfront lodging at Lake McClure and Lake McSwain is all about staying under the twinkling starscape of Mariposa County’s pristine night sky. Lake McClure & Lake McSwain offer RV hookups, boat launches, boat rentals and supplies. If tiny house glamping is more your lean, there are a handful of cabin rentals at both Barrett Cove and McSwain campgrounds that translate to less gear and more room in the car for floaties, frisbees and water wings.
With five separate campgrounds (McClure Point, Barrett Cove, Horseshoe Bend, McSwain and Bagby) there is plenty of room to spread out and get your wake on. Fishing, water skiing, swimming and kayaking are on the daily H2O docket, with activities such as summer movie nights and Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park rounding out the fun.
History hounds who want to experience a bona fide Gold Rush town need to look no further than Coulterville. Just five miles away from Lake McClure’s Horseshoe Bend Campground, Coulterville has more historic buildings than residents and boasts a self-guided walking tour as well as the Northern Mariposa Country History Center. Heck, why not grab a bite and a beer at the Coulter Cafe & General Store and watch the world go by from their outdoor patio while taking in the authentic western scenery around you
Lodging Near Big Creek in Fish Camp
From its headwaters at nearly 8,000 feet in the Sierra National Forest, Big Creek meanders west through canyon and meadow to pause in Fish Camp before reaching its ultimate confluence — the aforementioned South Fork of the Merced River in Wawona. The vibe here is intimate — perfect for fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding or hiking with only the breeze in the incense cedars to keep you company — while lodging options range from world-class resort to creekside camping.
Just 2 miles from the South Gate of Yosemite National Park on Highway 41, the Tenaya at Yosemite Resort, Cottages and Explorer Cabins offers a full service resort, upscale triplex cottages and “cabineering” experience with ample privacy yet all of the perks of Tenaya at Yosemite’s full-service resort. Set on 27 forested acres, each cabin features two bedrooms, flat-screen TV, wet bar with Keurig coffee maker, microwave, and fridge. It’s just a 10 minute walk (or 30 second drive) to the main lodge, or take the short Tenaya Loop Trail to Big Creek right from your door and sip your morning joe while beavers build their dams. They may be busy, but you’re on vacation.
Also located onsite is Tenaya at Yosemite’s main lodge offering hotel rooms and spacious modern suites that keep you close to services and amenities like restaurants, pools, and other activities such as the full-service spa, Ascent. There are great amenities for kids too such as the Kid’s Game Room, and indoor pool and two outdoor pools, one of which is adults only.
Nestled into the fragrant evergreen forest, Tenaya at Yosemite’s Cottage Rooms and Suites offer a serene retreat with a fireplace and a private balcony or patio with every room. Of course, Cottage guests enjoy all main lodge resort amenities including room service, wifi, and air conditioning. The Cottages are just a short walk from the main lodge, but we also have 24-hour valet transportation to and from the Cottages.
Creeks provide the perfect backdrop to any camping experience, and Summerdale Campground in Fish Camp makes creekside slumbers as easy as the Sierra breeze. One of the prettiest small campgrounds in the High Sierra and just half a mile from Yosemite National Park, this loop of over 30 campsites sits adjacent to Big Creek and is surrounded by fir, cottonwood, and cedar. Open early May to mid-September, Summerdale Campground is within quick striking distance of such only-in-Yosemite Mariposa County activities as the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, and, of course, fishing just outside your tent door.
Flow On By
Just 150 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area and 280 miles from Los Angeles, the lakes, rivers, creeks, and waterfalls of Yosemite Mariposa County can’t be beat when it comes to dreaming streamside. With so many water-inspired activities, a dramatic natural setting and such a wide range of Yosemite Mariposa County lodging options, it begs to reason that Mark Twain had it right. Everybody does like water. Actually, that might be an undersell. Everybody loves water is more like it.
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.