Published on February 13, 2022

With the new temporary peak-hours vehicle reservation system limiting entry to the park between 6 am and 4 pm, maybe you’re wondering what you’re going to do if you don’t secure one of those reservation permits.

Rest assured. There’s plenty to do.

Let us introduce you to just a few of the many things to do outside Yosemite’s park gates in Mariposa County. After all, the outdoor recreation opportunities and beautiful natural scenery of the High Sierra don’t magically end at the park boundary.


There is no shortage of stunning hiking trails outside of Yosemite National Park that you can explore without needing a temporary peak hours vehicle permit.

Visit waterfalls on the Lewis Creek Trail in the Fish Camp and Tenaya Lodge area or wander out to Diana Falls & Swimming Hole from its trailhead near Coulterville.

hikers exploring wildflower-filled trails in hite cove
The trail through Hite Cove just west of Yosemite National Park follows the South Fork of the Merced River through a gorgeous river canyon. In spring, you’ll some of the regions best wildflower displays right here.

The Merced River Trail takes you for a relatively flat riverside ramble with options for a refreshing swim in the summer. And the Hite Cove Trail follows the South Fork of the Merced River to an old mining camp at Hite Cove.

Get the details on these hikes and more from this 4-Day Itinerary of hikes near Yosemite, but outside the park boundary.

And that doesn’t even include the trails that leave from the Hetch Hetchy area. These are inside the park, but you don’t need a temporary peak hours vehicle permit to visit Hetch Hetchy. Or try exploring the miles and miles of pine-scented hiking trails in the Sierra and Stanislaus National Forests bordering Yosemite.

Keeping it Cool: The Merced River and Beyond

Kids whitewater rafting on the Merced Rive with a guide
Take advantage of the cool rushing water in the Merced River to experience whitewater rafting at its best.

In addition to picturesque hiking, the Merced River Canyon is also home to some of the area’s most popular whitewater rafting trips and excellent fly fishing.

kids jumping from the action tower at the splash and dash aqua park
Cool off from the summer heat at the Splash N Dash Aqua Park on a fun and challenging water obstacle course.

In summer, once the raftable rapids have subsided, the inflatable obstacle course at the Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park on nearby Lake McSwain is the spot to stay cool. Both Lake McClure and Lake McSwain offer a wide variety of on-the-water fun from sailing to waterskiing or jet skiing.

There’s so much to do along the Merced River, you could spend a whole 4-day vacation exploring it.

Mountain Biking

mountain biker pauses to enjoy the view at exchequer mountain bike park
Whether you’re into challenging descents and wild jumps designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers, or just a beautiful bike ride with scenic views, you’ll love hitting the trails at Exchequer Mountain Bike Park. Photo Grant Parker at Exchequer

Inside Yosemite, biking is limited to paved trails only. Don’t get us wrong. Biking is a great way to get around, but just a little further west you can really take your bike for a spin at the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park. You’ll find both wide family-friendly trails and steep, technical single-track, along with views overlooking Lake McClure. Remember to plan for a refreshing dip in the lake post-ride!

The Stanislaus and Sierra National Forests are also prime riding country both for casual family outings as well as the hard-core bikers. And if you’re traveling through the town of Mariposa, be sure to check out the trails at the Stockton Creek Preserve.

Horseback Riding – Soak in Scenery from the Saddle

cowboy crossing a stream on horseback
See the West as it was meant to be seen – from the back of a sure-footed American Quarter horse. The genuine cowboys and cowgirls at Yosemite Trails offer a variety of rides for beginner to expert riders.

Explore the area near Fish Camp and Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite by horseback with Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures. Each ride involves the unique experience of crossing a creek on horseback. Plus, experienced riders comfortable with long periods in the saddle should ask about taking the back-way into the nearby Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Ride the Railroad

historic steam train at Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
The historic narrow-gauge steam engines at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad are a train-lovers dream. Climb aboard for a special ride, and then stop to visit the Thornberry Museum, and pan for gold.

There is nothing quite like listening to the sound of a steam train whistle as the narrow-gauge engines at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad prepare to transport you through the forest and into the past. Choose from a quick 1-hour narrated tour, or really experience something magical with a moonlight special – a dinner train ride with live music or theater performances.

Time Travel

family discovering California's gold rush history at the Mariposa History Center.
Imagine what life was like for the men and women hoping to strike it rich during California’s gold rush at the Mariposa County History Center. Photo: Patrick Pike

The quest for gold built many of the historic towns near Yosemite, and you can immerse yourself in the stories by simply wandering the streets of towns like Mariposa, Coulterville, or Hornitos.

Enrich your trip even further by planning some gold panning of your own. Various options range from free lessons on gold panning to more extensive experiences for a fee.

Take deeper dive into gold rush history and check out the Northern Mariposa County History Center in Coulterville or the Mariposa Museum & History Center in Mariposa.

Once these stories of intrepid miners have come to life in your mind, be sure to stop by the California State Mining and Mineral Museum for a peek at the Fricot Nugget – a beautiful 13.8-pound piece of crystalline gold.

If you prefer more recent history, make a stop at the Yosemite Climbing Association Museum & Gallery close to downtown Mariposa. There you’ll find a rock climbing hub filled with images, gear and other memorabilia commemorating epic climbing stories every bit as enthralling as Alex Honnold’s Free Solo exploits.

Find Welcome & Refreshment in Rural Towns

couple shopping in Mariposa
Explore Yosemite Mariposa County’s charming rural towns to shop for gifts, grab a bite to eat, and more.

Speaking of historic towns, Mariposa County is full of hidden gems like Mariposa, Coulterville and Hornitos where retail, dining and recreation are all in reach.

The town of Mariposa is home to historic buildings, museums, wine tasting, locally-brewed beer and even a beautiful and easily accessible nature preserve, the Stockton Creek Preserve, with great hiking.

Hornitos is a gold nugget of a town where the past is still very much alive. Can you imagine the hero/bandit, Joaquin Murietta, who some say provided the inspiration for Zorro here? Plus, it’s just a stone’s throw from Lake McClure.

In historic Coulterville, the town feels as if you’re walking through the set of a wild west film, just as long as the wild west has modern cars on its roads.

Find Even More to Explore

This is just a small sampling of activities in the greater Mariposa County area. For even more ideas for things to do outside Yosemite, be sure to visit our list of 100 Things to Do in Mariposa County.

To explore lodging options, things to do and places to eat, visit, 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.

Categories: Outdoor Activities, Things to See