College students know the drill. The fall semester starts out loose, with social gatherings and reconnecting with friends, then it’s study, study, study. The nose gets firmly pressed to the academic grindstone, a few months roll by, and the plot thickens with finals looming. A reboot is fast becoming mission-critical.
Fortunately, there’s a secret level waiting to be unlocked: a chill mountain getaway where relaxing outdoors is affordably fingertips away. A natural main stage where all your efforts are rewarded, inviting you and your hand-picked crew of CEOs to finesse some tasty eats, comfy rooms and epic fun on a budget that’s more than fair. Welcome, winter breakers, to Yosemite Mariposa County.
Snow, Merrells & MTB’s
Winter breakers in Yosemite Mariposa are choice-positive when it comes to outdoor activities. From skiing & snowboarding to hiking and mountain biking, this “tweener” season rewards the agility of a Sierra Nevada red fox as it delivers heart-pumping receipts for those who accept the challenge.
Yosemite Mariposa County snow sports are all about the fresh pow. One of only three ski areas located inside a U.S. national park (and the only one surrounded by the top-shelf beauty of Yosemite), Badger Pass Ski Area offers winter breakers copious choices with downhill, cross-country, snow tubing and terrain park all on-site. Whether you like to shred or cruise, Badger Pass says yes.
The festival of snow sports continues on multiple stages, with Yosemite Mariposa County snowshoeing a legit way to get away from the noise and take in the sights. The trek to Dewey Point puts winter breakers up high as you stand on the ridge 3.3K feet above Yosemite Valley and gaze across to the ice-laden face of El Capitan.
If basking in the solitude of trees is more your speed, affix your X-country skis or snowshoes and explore the backroad labyrinth of the Sierra National Forest near the Sierra outpost of Fish Camp. Post-adventure be sure to hit Jackalope’s Bar & Grill for Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding paired with a Peanut Brittle cocktail, and take a few laps around the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite’s outdoor ice skating rink to burn off those calories.
Want to laugh like its recess all over again? Post some action shots of you and the fam crammed onto a sled careening down the hill at Goat Meadow Snow Play Area. Epic snowball fights are optional.
Note: The snowpack in mid-December can vary so be sure to check ski conditions but rest assured that there are plenty of other outdoor activities to blow off steam if the white stuff has yet to drop.
With terrain ranging from Sierra foothills to accessible mountain valleys, lacing up the Merrell’s for Yosemite Mariposa County hikes is always on the menu during winter break. Yosemite Valley and Wawona (both 4K ft elevation) are often clear for takeoff, while the lower elevations in the Merced River Canyon are reliably cool and trail-ready. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias awaits hikers who want to wander through arboreal titans (snowshoeing, too, if conditions permit). Need a place to saunter “in town?” Stockton Creek Preserve awaits just a few blocks off the historic main drag of downtown Mariposa.
Criss-crossed with plenty of ups & downs, Yosemite Mariposa County mountain biking takes advantage of Exchequer Mountain Bike Park on the shores of Lake McClure then check out the funky Gold Rush town of Coulterville for snacks, pics, and a fully analog mining vibe.
Budget Crash Pads
The key to planning your peak reboot is finding a place to stay in Yosemite Mariposa County. There are different types of base camps, from affordable hotel rooms to hostel-inspired bunks and vacation home rentals for the whole travel party. Gaming skills come in handy when trying to land the best deal: timing, location and special offers all come into play. Hotel Hack: Look out for special offers on Yosemite.com to save money for more travel perks.
Affordable hotels like the Yosemite Cedar Lodge put you close to the action at a price within reach. Tucked neatly into the rugged Merced River Canyon and just 15 minutes from the Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite National Park, Cedar speaks to winter breakers who want all the fun at half the price.
Also located on Highway 140, the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort feels like a boho hideaway with its stilted cabins set among the trees. Offering everything from bunks to private tent cabins and even vacation homes, the Bug’s property has an adventurous campus vibe where winter breakers can recharge after too many hours in their academic feels.
If your winter break needs an infusion of Sierra metro, staying in downtown Mariposa is the answer. Its main drag is supremely walkable, and with bars & restaurants end-to-end there are copious culinary choices. Hotels like the Best Western Plus Yosemite Waystation offer clean, affordable rooms with amenities such as wi-fi, hot tub and rollaway beds. The River Rock Inn feels right, with Sticks Coffee next door plating avocado toast and dark roast that’ll wake you up and get you adventure-ready.
By pooling resources, winter breakers can book a Yosemite Mariposa cabin rental and go light on the Venmo. Located throughout the county, these vacation homes have plenty of room to store your skis & boards, not to mention full kitchens and many offer wraparound decks, hot tubs and Wi-Fi. Hotel Hack II: Sign up for “The Wanderer” to hear about the latest Yosemite lodging deals.
Local Roast & Ranch Water
With plenty of holiday drip, winter break is Festivus-forward in Yosemite Mariposa County. And there’s no better place to vibe check than around a table in one of its cozy coffee houses or night owl taprooms. Chilly outside, and warm inside.
The town of Mariposa is a runway to righteous roasts. Per capita pour-overs are off the charts, with Moonbow Espresso, Sticks Coffee and Pony Expresso Coffee House & Trading Post dotted along the historic main drag. For the quick hit, grabbing a cup along with your tasty turnover at Jantz Bakery makes getting on the trail that much easier.
Local watering holes in old town Mariposa keep the porch light on for visitors of all stripes. Located within a couple of blocks, the Hideout Saloon, the Alley and the Grove House make for a Gold Rush trifecta where live music accompanies generous pours. Belly on up.
As winter breakers know, eating on the cheap doesn’t always mean cheap food. There are Eater-worthy finds in Yosemite Mariposa County, from food trucks to diners and breweries. Check out the June Bug Cafe for Vegetarian Smoked Tempeh, Black Bean and Yam Enchiladas Mole, or introduce your Timberline IPA to smoked ribeye at 1850 Restaurant & Brewery.
Winter Break Hacks, The Sequel
- Check the weather. December temps range from freezing to downright mild depending on elevation.
- Dress the part. Waterproof. Layers.
- Bring AWD/snow chains, or take public transportation and let someone else do the driving.
- Tioga Pass closes for winter, so focus on Yosemite Valley & Southern Yosemites inside the Park.