The fabled western slope of the Sierra Nevada range encompasses a sweet cross-section of California terrain, from wildflower-dappled foothills all the way up to ice-crusted alpine peaks. Yosemite Mariposa County centers squarely on 1,463 square miles of this splendid topography, and at a magical time of year (think March to April), visitors can enjoy higher-elevation winter sports and lower-elevation springtime fun – all in one trip.
The best of winter and spring in one glorious weekend? Yes, it’s a thing in beautiful Yosemite Mariposa County.
Arrival: The Journey Begins
With an atlas of options, road trips to Yosemite Mariposa County can follow many routes including the off the beaten path routes or the more direct ones. Whichever your choice of highway, the late winter/early spring approach will roll by fields of verdant green hills with colorful pops of wildflowers as you approach the great Sierra Nevada.
Pack a picnic basket, try for an early start, and find that perfect roadside spot to toss out a blanket for al fresco breakfast or lunch on your way. To make it even easier, here’s a guide to great picnicking in Yosemite Mariposa County. Upon arrival, make your winter/spring base camp (see “Where to Stay” below) and power up for the days ahead.
Day 1: Snow Sports
Today’s theme is late winter fun and in a good year, late winter could be as late as mid-march. National Park ski areas are few and far between, but Yosemite is a fortunate exception. No manmade snow here! Badger Pass Ski Area was established in 1935 and is California’s original ski area! One of the Sierra’s most family and budget friendly slopes, Badger Pass offers downhill skiing, a snowboard terrain park, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing, just off Glacier Point Road. And with peak elevation of 8,000 feet, Badger Pass’s ski season extends from mid-December through mid-March for perfect spring conditions.
Snowshoeing in Yosemite is always a great option. Cross-country skiing is another. Both offer low-impact, high-cardio ways to explore Yosemite’s winter wonderland. Badger Pass is a hub for trails that lead to epic Yosemite Valley rim vistas. The National Park Service’s Winter Trails brochure is an excellent guide. Peelable layers are best for winter play this time of year, as conditions may feel more like spring. Goat Meadow Snowplay Area is a great puffy-coat option, located between Fish Camp and Yosemite’s South Gate entrance. Free admission, too. And for youngsters (and the young at heart), sled, tubing and toboggan runs abound.
Skiing and snowboarding not your thing? No problem, enjoying some later winter snow can be as easy finding a patch of it along Glacier Point Road or in Wawona Meadow, hopping out of the car and building a snowman or having a good old fashioned intra family snowball fight.
Continue your excellent snow day with dinner at one of Mariposa County’s fine establishments. Steal away for a nightcap in town, and return to your hotel for crystal-clear winter stargazing as you relax ahead of your season-changer of a day tomorrow.
Day 2: Spring Fling
Here’s the magical pivot. Courtesy of local topography, Yosemite Mariposa County can go from winter to spring with only a short drive between each season’s signature conditions. Just a few miles and a few thousand feet downhill from Yosemite’s winter playgrounds, discover sunbeams and sparkling blue skies. With the frozen high country in your rear-view mirror, western Mariposa County foothills flash electric green.
Does anything shout spring more than a field of wildflowers? The showy display begins in March across the rolling ranch lands of Mariposa County. This, where the Great Central Valley rolls up to the Sierra and was called by John Muir “… the floweriest piece of world I ever walked.” Abundant bursts of orange California poppies line vintage country roads, perfect for nice n’ easy car or bike touring.
Hornitos Road and the Hite Cove Trail are favorite places to witness the wildflower parade. Taking the John Muir Highway (State Route J132) between Coulterville and Buck Meadows is another spectacular path. For inspiration, check out our Yosemite Mariposa County wildflower guide.
Spring conditions work equally well for exploring on two wheels. Yosemite Mariposa County is a renowned destination for mountain biking. From pastoral country roads to national forest trails, gentle grades to steep single tracks, there’s something for every skill level. Chain-stretchers can check out the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park on the banks of Lake McClure and after, the fun and funky Gold Rush town of Coulterville to refuel.
Day 3: Hybrid Times
Continue your season-bending weekend by spending a day with the titans of Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Valley temps (at about 4,000 feet elevation) can range from cool to warm this time of year. The perfect winter/spring hybrid!
Yosemite Valley’s opening annual act is a great time of year to roam around, with the waterfalls (and Park visitation) still a month or so from reaching peak flow. Start with the ethereal beauty of Bridalveil Fall – it’s an easy amble from Southside Drive for the best view.
It’s also the ideal time to take on one of Yosemite’s most renowned hikes: The Mist Trail. Originating near Happy Isles in eastern Yosemite Valley, the Mist Trail delivers spectacular, high-def views of both Vernal and Nevada falls. Even at pre-peak flow, the mist from these pounding cataracts washes in waves over the trail. Waterproof layers are a must on this trail in spring. Note that in wintry conditions the lower portion of the Mist Trail is closed, and hikers should plan to take the winter route – the lower half of the John Muir Trail and the upper half of the Mist Trail – to visit both Vernal and Nevada Fall.
For your lunch break, grab burgers or sandwiches from the Village Grill, and head to the sandy bank of the Merced River anywhere around El Capitan Meadow. Sun on your back and ice water flowing by it’s the perfect winter/spring sensory experience.
Winter to Spring: Where to Stay
When it comes to winter/spring weekend lodging, there are several schools of thought. Some like to base camp closer to snow sport hubs: Fish Camp, El Portal, or vacation rentals inside Yosemite. These will give you a head start for the ski lifts or snowshoe trails. For others, staying in central Mariposa County is attractive for any number of reasons, including the widest choice of hotel accommodations and more restaurants and nightlife. Either way plays! Here are just a few options.
The four-diamond property just two miles from Yosemite’s South Gate, Tenaya at Yosemite, is one of the Sierra’s top mountain resorts. Accommodations include deluxe rooms, suites and two-bedroom Explorer Cabins with private porches. Tenaya is a winter/spring recreation hub, offering ice skating and sledding, as well as Sierra National Forest hiking and biking trails.
The Yosemite View Lodge features a dramatic riverside setting and is the closest resort to Yosemite Valley located outside the park gates. With two restaurant options, multiple hot tub spas, the Yosemite View Lodge Convenience Store and EV charging outlets, the El Portal property has a nice balance of amenities.
Also in El Portal, the Yosemite Cedar Lodge is another go-to choice for winter-to-spring weekends. The property offers indoor and outdoor swimming pools and spas, and its very own Merced River Walk. The Cedar Lodge Restaurant is a tasty option for family-style cuisine in a split-level setting.
Yosemite Vacation Rentals
The Redwoods at Wawona offers more than 120 vacation cabins and spacious luxury homes located off Chilnualna Falls Road. Options range from cozy one-bedroom cabins to the Yosemite Luxury Estate, an eight-bedroom, seven-bath cluster perfect as a multi-generational winter/spring base camp. And Yosemite Mariposa County has hundreds of Airbnb properties for independent vacation rentals.
The hip and historic county seat, Mariposa has hotels and inns for every budget, all on or within walking distance of the town’s charming main street. Check out brand name options like Best Western and Quality Inn or historic stays like River Rock Inn or Mariposa Hotel Inn. Yosemite’s Arch Rock Entrance is just up Highway 140, making this a most versatile winter/spring base camp.
Winter to Spring – Make it Your Fling
Perfect for a gear-shifting getaway, Yosemite Mariposa County is within easy reach to the Bay Area, Central Valley and Los Angeles. With activities and locations that offer the freedom to mix and match your daily play agenda to the weather forecast, make your move to this winter/spring destination for a weekend of season-bending recreation.
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.