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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 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.