Ready for a romantic winter weekend away? With its gateway mountain towns, date-night restaurants, local merchants, and artisan makers, Yosemite Mariposa County is extra breathtaking with winter’s snow-kissed peaks and storybook evergreen forests.
A scenic half-day drive for most Californians, Yosemite is extra-magical in the winter. Once you’re here, cozy vibes rule. Our winter rendezvous itinerary features a long weekend of Yosemite’s must-see places and must-do experiences.
Day 1: Auspicious Arrival
Everyone’s favorite place to start? The heart of the Park: Yosemite Valley. The panorama from Tunnel View is pulse-quickening with national park superstars El Capitan, Half Dome, Clouds’ Rest, and Bridalveil Fall filling the horizon and their beauty is elevated with their tops all frosted in snow. Take that “ussie” in the foreground of one of Ansel Adams’ favorite vistas!
Follow Southside Drive into the Valley and take a hand-in-hand promenade to the base of Bridalveil Fall or Lower Yosemite Fall. Both torrents begin building up in winter, preparing to flow with their signature wild abandon. Look up from Lower Yosemite Fall to find Lost Arrow Spire, the detached granite pinnacle rising skyward to the right of Upper Yosemite Fall. There is a poignant Miwuk legend associated with “Hum-mo,” or Lost Arrow, about the power of love.
The waterfalls, granite cliffs, and powderful meadows of Yosemite Valley are the perfect backdrops for stealing a kiss. If you catch it right, during or just after a winter snowstorm, the Valley goes all snow-globey. This is also where to discover a trio of only-in-winter natural phenomena to add to your Yosemite love story: Firefall, Frazil Ice, and Snow Cone.
If your relationship is next-level ready (or someone needs a little nudge), stop by the most venerable public building in the Park: the Yosemite Valley Chapel. A cherished venue for weddings and marriage vow renewals, the Chapel’s especially photogenic with a blanket of snow around it.
Close out your afternoon with a few turns around the open-air Curry Village Ice Skating Rink, with Half Dome soaring on high above. If time and energy are still on your side, there’s no better way to cap things off than happy hour at The Ahwahnee Bar. Raise your glasses with champagne or craft libations like the El Capitini and Lucky Catch, as well as zero-proof cocktails and bar bites.
After this epic day in Yosemite Valley, you’ll be ready to retreat to your hotel or vacation rental for a quick tune-up before dinner. Depending on where in this wonderfully expansive county you’re staying, dinner options abound and range from casual to candlelit. Another option: if you’re in a vacation rental or Airbnb, then slip into your flannel PJs early, light up your own candles, and dine in.
Day 2: Snowflow
You know that flow state, when everything just feels easy and natural, right? It’s just as relevant for relationships as it is on a fluffy carpet of Sierra powder. And that’s what Day 2 is all about. Winter is playtime in Yosemite Mariposa County! Ski, board, snowshoe, or sled, Yosemite Mariposa County has you covered.
Kickstart your day with an espresso drink, avocado toast, and pastry from Sticks Coffee or Pony Expresso, and check into the local bean scene. There’s something about the mountains that inspires good coffee and the promise of new horizons.
Downhill skiing in national parks is somewhat of a rarity; there are only three in the country, and Yosemite has one. Established in 1935 as California’s first ski resort, Badger Pass Ski Area is tucked just off Glacier Point Road and generally open December to March. With five lifts and mostly green and blue runs, Badger offers easy-going terrain for carving perfect easy lines. Between runs, soak up some Sierra sunshine on the expansive slope-side deck and chat about how lucky you are.
Badger Pass is also a hub for more than 90 miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, including the 7-mile round trip to Dewey Point that takes you to the most magnificent views at the rim of Yosemite Valley. Another great place for snowshoeing is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, where these tawny titans reach their massive limbs skyward as you crunch along the well-traveled trails.
If this all sounds a bit ambitious and you just feel like revisiting your inner child glee, opt in for a few tandem sled runs at Goat Meadow Snow Play Area. This gently sloping oasis is somewhat hidden in the Sierra National Forest, between Fish Camp and Yosemite National Park just off Highway 41.
However you choose to whoosh, it’s going to be a full day. Best bet for closing out your romantic adventure? Find a local establishment with happy hour and tasty nibbles, then scoot back to your lodging early. From happy hours to nightcaps, the Night Owl guide is your best bar stool friend.
Day 3: Deeper Engagement
Day 3’s about going deeper and savoring the moments with one another and making time slow down. There’s no better way to start a day like today than stepping out for a leisurely brunch. Brunch with a side of Gold Rush-era history and lore is on the menu at the Coulter Café in Northern Mariposa County’s tiny but mighty town of Coulterville. Mariposa has its own set of brunch venues like The Grove House. If you’re staying in a vacation rental, forget about getting out the door early – keep your slippers on and take advantage of that kitchen!
With today’s theme of engagement and immersion, we suggest spending a day in one of the Sierra’s chillest mountain towns. Mariposa is laced with Gold Rush history, hip boutiques, artisan merchants, and great dining. It’s set at the crossroads of Highways 49 and 140, offering wide sidewalks lined with antique and boutique shopping, foodie-fired restaurants, and tasting rooms.
Ready for a refreshing intermission? After yesterday’s high-energy snow play, chances are you might have a sore muscle or two. The perfect couples remedy: a late afternoon spa escape. Tenaya at Yosemite’s Ascent Spa is one of the Sierra’s top glow-havens, with a rejuvenating range of therapies including massage, body wraps, facials, and nails, all at the award-winning Tenaya at Yosemite resort. (Post-treatment dinner option too, see below.)
Sinking into an aromatic herbal steep bath before your full-body massage at the Yosemite Health Spa at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort is just the romantic weekend Rx. Japanese and Tibetan-inspired therapy rooms with candles, music, and more. Cedar hot rocks sauna with eucalyptus or lavender-infused water bucket, with a rain shower just outside.
Your last sunset in Yosemite Mariposa County calls for a special date night. In a region with many peak experiences, perhaps the top dining delight is Tenaya at Yosemite’s intimate Embers Restaurant. This is your basic three-hour, look into each other’s eyes love story; four- and seven-course dining menus with local wine pairings are guaranteed to write a legendary new chapter in your book of love.
If you’re staying in Mariposa, going with Fredrick’s of Savourys checks all the boxes with contemporary American with steak, seafood, and pasta, plus a full bar with signature drinks. Charles Street Dinner House is another steak and seafood emporium with big booths to sink deeply into for enjoying a quality dinner with loving company.
After dinner is the perfect time to wish upon a star. Winter stargazing is revelatory here, with no light pollution and one of the darkest night skies in California. Enjoy the show on the way back to your lodging, or from your hot tub if you’re so lucky.