Springtime in the California Gold Country is all about vitality. Like a gazillion fuzzy chia pets waving green in the breezy sunshine, these rolling ranch lands burst to life once winter’s storms have passed. The lengthening days bestow short-sleeve warmth, the wildflowers begin to pop and the many lakes in the region beckon for the first water sports of the year.

Sprinkle in some deep Gold Rush history and you have a full itinerary of indoor and outdoor activities that will both inspire and energize after the long winter rest. Here are four days of springtime magic where green meets gold in Mariposa County…

Yosemite wildflowers in spring - poppies and lupines
Orange poppies and beautiful blue-purple lupines. Photo: Theresa Ho
boquet of flowers at McClure Point bright pink flowers lining the road in tuolumne
Day One:

Flowers Upon Arrival

Depending on your arrival date, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted with a colorful wash of wildflowers on your drive up. There’s a saying here — spring marches uphill — which means that the western edge (lower elevation) of Mariposa County typically gets its first waves of color in March or April. Orange poppies, purple lupine, scarlet monkeyflower — they simply lift the soul when viewed against the vivid green backdrop.

Downtown Mariposa
Mariposa Photo: Jon Kwiakowski

Whether you’ve booked a quiet, rural stay or opted for historic lodging in the Gold Rush town of Mariposa, it’s time to check in and get situated. Grab a bite to eat, sip some wine and spread out a map for your days of springtime exploration. Another great way to orient yourself is by using our regional guide to Mariposa County, full of local flavor and nearby attractions.

Man walking through spring flowers in Stockton Creek Preserve
Spring flowers at Stockton Creek Preserve

Pro Tip: If you’re staying in the town of Mariposa, consider an evening walk at the Stockton Creek Preserve. Located just four blocks from downtown, the oak and wildflower-dappled foothills of this peaceful sanctuary will set the mood for the rest of your trip.

whitewater rafting on the merced river Splash N Dash Aqua Park
Day Two:

Great American Lake-Off

Just like your waiter asks “still or sparkling?” we like to ask visitors “flat or whitewater?” Both choices are winners in Mariposa County. From kayaking calm lakes to rollicking down the rapids of the Merced River, boating is a key part of your spring getaway.

Kayaking Lake McSwain at sunset
Kayaking Lake McSwain

Kayak from Lake McSwain up to the New Exchequer Dam for a peaceful paddle (10 miles r/t) surrounded by oak-studded hills (rentals available beginning late April), or choose your fav boat launch at one of the four campgrounds on Lake McClure and drop a fishing line along its astounding 80 miles of shoreline. If wakeboarding is more your lean, pick a sunny spring day and enjoy for your first sesh of the year. McClure’s unique horseshoe shape creates plenty of protected, glassy water for all your grabs, spins and tricks.

Tenaya at Yosemite's main lodge
Tenaya at Yosemite

Not far from the historic enclave of Fish Camp and its star property Tenaya at Yosemite, sits Bass Lake. Circled by pine forests at an elevation of 3,400 feet, visitors can enjoy picnicking, spotting bald eagles in a known nesting area and boating. Angel Falls is just over a mile from Falls Beach, with spring snow run-off cascading down its 60 feet of sloping granite.

Kids rafting the Merced River
Photo: Zephyr Rafting

Located along Mariposa County’s southern boundary, Eastman Lake is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and sports camping, boating and fishing, not to mention 8 miles of multi-purpose trails. The day-use areas are perfect for spring picnics, while birders can spot golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, wood ducks and bald eagles.

If the rumble and tumble of whitewater is high on your thrill list, then the Merced River beckons. As spring snowmelt fills the river canyon, rapids with names such as Stark Reality (Class IV) and Percolator (Class IV) come to life. Having an experienced guide at the helm is essential, and there are several professional whitewater tour companies that offer half and full-day trips each spring.

Church in Hornitos
Church of St. Catherine of Siena in Hornitos

Pro Tip: Check out the “ghost town” of Hornitos. Once a hub of Gold Rush activity, this rough & tumble outpost claims as its own legends such as chocolatier Domingo Ghirardelli and bandit-hero Joaquin Murrieta.

Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park spring mistbows at vernal fall
Day Three:

Glisten Up

What better way to celebrate the freshness of spring than a day trip to Yosemite Valley?

You’ll be greeted by thundering waterfalls and sunlight glistening on massive walls of granite.

Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail
Vernal Fall (Mist Trail)

For a master class in waterfalls, make the short walk to the viewing platforms at Bridalveil Fall (0.5 mile r/t) and Yosemite Falls (1 mile r/t). Spring equals snowmelt, with peak flows in May, and the trails are paved for access. For those in search of a workout, the granite stairs of the Mist Trail climb up to Vernal and Nevada Falls making for one of the top — albeit strenuous — hikes in Yosemite Mariposa County.

mirror lake in Yosemite valley
Mirror Lake

Another shimmering destination in spring is Mirror Lake. Tucked into the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, hikers begin at the Mirror Lake Trailhead (Shuttle Stop #17) and follow interpretive signs along a flat, two-mile r/t route. Essentially a pooling bend in Tenaya Creek, the size of Mirror Lake is at its max in spring making for beautiful reflections of Half Dome looming overhead and Mt. Watkins off to the east.

Pro Tip: Yosemite waterfalls are pumping in spring, which means lots of mist drifting on the mountain breeze. Be sure to gear up and bring a waterproof shell, hat/hood, and small towel to keep your phone dry for those killer pics!

family visits the mariposa history museum baskets in the Yosemite Valley Museum
Day Four:
Indoor Voices

While titanic rock and thundering waterscapes distinguish Yosemite from anywhere else on the globe, its indoor attractions are just as legit.

Fricot nugget at the California Mining and Mineral Museum
Fricot gold nugget Photo: Courtesy California State Parks

Spring is the perfect time for some museum-hopping in Mariposa County. The town of Mariposa — with a population of about 1,500 — out-cultures the rest with not one but three museums. The Mariposa Museum & History Center focuses on Gold Rush history with exhibits on the Yosemite Valley Railroad and the Miwuk who have lived in the area for millennia.

The California State Mining & Mineral Museum digs deep into the Gold Country’s mining past, including the “Fricot Nugget” — a nearly 14-pound chunk of crystalline gold found in 1864.

Yosemite Climbing Association Museum & Gallery
Yosemite Climbing Association Museum & Gallery

The newest addition to the local museum scene is the Yosemite Climbing Association Museum & Gallery. From first ascents of Yosemite’s big walls to vintage climbing gear and historic photos, the space is dedicated to granite and the climbers who have made these rocks famous.

Named the Nicest Place in America by Reader’s Digest in 2022, Coulterville is worth the culture stop for its Northern Mariposa County History Center. Check out the exhibit on John Muir and his local stay at the Hotel Jeffrey with President Teddy Roosevelt, or delve into the Chinese history of Yosemite Mariposa County with the Sun Sun Wo showcase.

Couple shopping in Mariposa
Shopping in Mariposa

Whether perusing the museum gift shops or pricing wares in the local boutiques, shopping Mariposa County is a favorite indoor activity. From Yosemite souvenirs to fine art and thrifting, you can find something for everyone before heading home.

Pro Tip: Download the Coulterville Walking Tour Map and explore this Sierra foothill gem where historic buildings dot main street. Top off your Gold Rush ramble with a meal at the Coulter Cafe & General Store.

Upper Yosemite Fall
Upper Yosemite Fall

Spring Loaded

The history of California is indeed golden, and when that history partners with the vibrant bloom of spring the results are truly magnificent. From whitewater rafting to lakeside snacking, and from waterfall chasing to museum hopping, there’s no better place than Mariposa County to get your zest on. So come celebrate the warming days and center yourself on the invigorating stage where green meets gold.