The perfect time to visit Yosemite Mariposa County is right now! We all can get caught up in work deadlines, the school and sports shuffle, and all those everyday tasks that keep home life running right on schedule. When it’s time to unplug, Yosemite landmarks like the Mist Trail, El Capitan and Half Dome, historic Gold Rush towns with all the amenities, and naturally rejuvenating forests add up to an immersive antidote to that ever-challenging work/life balance.
Yosemite Mariposa County offers an affordable and accessible vacation destination that’s an easy drive for most folks in California. Here’s how to map your next Yosemite getaway.
Gateways for the Getaway
Yosemite National Park is flanked by historic western communities with a mix of affordable lodging, local shops, dining, and nightlife – putting you at the heart of wow-level wilderness and authentic local culture.
Discover Gold Country gem Mariposa at the crossroads of Highways 49 and 140, the historic county seat built on a bedrock of Golden State history. Way too interesting to simply zoom by on your way to Yosemite National Park, Mariposa offers a “mother lode” of attractions, from museums to live music venues.
Sip local wine at tasting rooms steps from your hotel, dine at farm-to-table local restaurants, window-shop Mariposa’s Main Street boutiques, and recap the day with a relaxing nightcap. This USA Today Top 10 Small Town Culture town is studded with great indendent markets, cafés, bars, shops, and character. And “All-Season” Highway 140 is your runway to Yosemite day tripping.
Just a ten-minute drive east from Mariposa toward Yosemite National Park, Midpines is a recreation haven with a zen vibe. Chief among the reasons to “be here now:” mid-elevation hiking trails to explore the surrounding Briceburg and Merced River environs.
With Yosemite National Park just 25 miles away, Midpines is perfectly situated as a playfully rustic base camp for a golden California getaway. Spring entertains a signature Yosemite Mariposa County pursuit: whitewater rafting on the protected Wild & Scenic Merced River. And summer is high season for picnicking along “Wa-ka-la,” the Ahwahneechee name for the Merced.
El Portal is literally “the portal” to Yosemite, the last small town before the Park’s Arch Rock entrance. Along the way, keep an eye out for the first Yosemite National Park signs where you can carefully pull over and snap post-worthy pics. After a day of Yosemite Valley adventures, on your return trip keep an eye out for the granite formations that cantilever over Highway 140. You might even see the face of a dog welcoming the crew back to town.
El Portal served as the terminus for the historic Yosemite Valley Railroad A free town highlight is the open-air display of equipment and buildings from these railroading days. The turntable, historically restored by the Yosemite Conservancy, is fully functional and can be moved by a few people; give it a push!
Fish Camp is a whistle-stop hamlet along Highway 41 on the southern approach to Yosemite National Park. Logging played a role in Fish Camp’s development, and the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offers narrow-gauge train tours and a wonderful rail museum. Big Creek burbles cold and clear through town on its merry way to the South Fork of the Wild & Scenic Merced River, and the surrounding Sierra National Forest offers hiking and biking trails.
Fish Camp is minutes away from the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Grizzly Giant, the tallest Sequoiadendron giganteum in Yosemite National Park, soars over 200 feet tall and is thought to be 2,700 years old. Tucked inside the Park’s South Gate, see Mariposa Grove – and the rest of Yosemite’s nearly 1,200 square miles of wilderness wonder – for $35 per car, the Park pass is good for seven days. Now that’s old-growth vacation value.
For many, Yosemite is all about Yosemite Valley, but in fact, the Park sparkles well beyond the Valley Rim. A shining example is historic Wawona. Wander in Wawona’s golden bowl of timeless attractions and discover the Yosemite History Center, Wawona Golf Course and Meadow, and the stately Wawona Hotel.
Photographers get snap-happy over Wawona’s historic covered bridge, one of just a few in California. Built in 1857 by Galen Clark, steward of the Yosemite Grant, the bridge was covered in 1879 by the proprietors of the new Wawona Hotel. The bridge spans the South Fork of the Merced River, a lovely place to camp, meditate or swim. And Chilnualna Falls, one of Yosemite’s rare year-round waterfalls, flows steadfastly above town.
Located inside Yosemite National Park, the small neighborhood of Yosemite West provides easy access to many of Yosemite's most iconic locations. It's nestled into the forest midway between Yosemite Valley and Wawona's Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, and the top of the community is just a half-mile from the intersection that leads to Glacier Point (or Badger Pass Ski Area in the winter).
The turn-off to Yosemite West can be easy to miss, but you'll find a wide variety of vacation rental cabins in this area, ranging from small condos to sprawling log homes as well as a few scenic hikes, including a short walk to a historic fire tower with gorgeous views into the south fork of the Merced River and up to Buena Vista Crest.
Massive Wonders, Grand Values
Yosemite Mariposa County is located 3-4 hours from San Francisco and 6-7 hours from Los Angeles, making it ultimately accessible for most Californians. For a soul-restoring vacation break that’s close, easy to navigate, and small-town affordable, Yosemite Mariposa County is your getaway within reach. Pack your favorite road trip bag, it’s go time!
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.