Wide-eyed wonder is a natural reaction when your kids see Yosemite’s grand immensity for the first time, a feeling that will stay with them and continue to grow with each successive visit. The scale is Dr. Seuss level, with waterfalls tumbling thousands of feet, gigantic granite peaks scraping the sky, and ancient trees with colossal limbs akimbo. Yosemite Mariposa County is all about family fun focusing on the great outdoors (with some indoor activities in the mix, too). Here are five kid-approved things to do in family-friendly Yosemite Mariposa County!
Day at the Museum
Let’s begin with something unexpected in this outdoor wonderland – indoor activities! Yes, Yosemite Mariposa County’s museums rock – some, quite literally! Mariposa is home to the Golden State’s official California State Mining & Mineral Museum, where kids can learn about ‘49er Gold Rush days of yore and see the Fricot Nugget, a 13-lb. chunk of gold discovered in 1849. Mining artifacts and geodes, too. The Yosemite Climbing Association Museum & Gallery is a showcase for the sport and its El Capitan heroes and even has a replica of Yosemite Valley for perspective. The Mariposa Museum and History Center is one of the “Best Little Museum West of the Mississippi” according to the history nerds at the Smithsonian Institute, with exhibits focusing on local Native American and Gold Rush legends and lore.
Get your family rolling with a bike ride in Yosemite Mariposa County. In Yosemite Valley, bike rentals are available April through October, with everything from standard cruisers to tandems, small bikes for younger riders, and trailers for toting passengers. You can ride along a captivating loop at the base of massive cliffs that somehow feels as intimate as your local park. Rental stands are located at Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, and Yosemite Village (next to the Village Store).
Outside the Park, plug into a guided electric bike tour with Yosemite E-Biking and explore magnificent Gold Country terrain around Mariposa and Oakhurst for effortless fat tire fun. You can also E-bike or enjoy a variety of kid-friendly activities at Tenaya at Yosemite, the family-friendly all-season resort located in Fish Camp. On the other side of the “e(ffort)” spectrum, mountain bikers can grind gears up and down the trails of Exchequer Mountain Bike Park above Lake McClure. There are easier trails for younger kids and those new to mountain biking, as well as thrilling technical tracks with names like Gnarnia, Dirtsurfer, Do Not Enter, and Flying Squirrel.
River or lake, fly, lure or bobber, fishing is your hook-up for family outdoor fun. From glassy lakes dotting the Sierra foothills to roadside rivers where you can pull over and drop a line, an array of species dart below the surface: rainbow, golden, brown, brook, and lightning trout, bass, catfish, bluegill, and more. Kids under 16 don’t even need a fishing license to get their lines wet.
Young anglers can reel in the fun at places like Lake McClure & Lake McSwain, and multiple points along the mighty Merced River including Yosemite Valley, just off Highway 140, Bagby Campground, or any stream, creek, or pond you find along the way.
Jumping into a body of Sierra fresh water is one of the true recreational joys of Yosemite Mariposa County. Local water play flows in any number of forms, from swimming and easy Yosemite Valley rafting to guided whitewater runs and the bouncy fun of Lake McSwain’s Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park. Lake McClure & Lake McSwain are set in the “banana belt” elevation of Northwest Mariposa County where the climate’s right for three-season dips. The fully-equipped campgrounds that ring these lakes offer protected swimming areas with adjacent day-use areas, many with lifeguards on duty.
Rafting is a spectacular seasonal treat in Yosemite National Park. Four-person rafts are available for rent at the Curry Village Tour & Activities Kiosk, creating the opportunity for families to take a breathtakingly scenic float from Curry Village to the take-out point at Sentinel Beach. Water skiing is in play on Lake McClure and kayaking is a wonderful self-powered way to see the shoreline and avian life from Lake McSwain up the Merced River towards New Exchequer Dam.
Yosemite is famed for its rock climbing culture and vibe, and while we’re not suggesting a family ascent of El Capitan, learning to climb in Yosemite is pretty awesome. Imagine practicing piano at Carnegie Hall or taking batting practice at Dodger Stadium – climbing Yosemite’s rocks is the stuff of fantasies!
The Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service (YMS) knows the local cracks and crags better than anyone. Its reputation is rock-solid – founded in 1969 and based in Yosemite Valley, YMS is the only organization authorized to lead and teach climbing at Yosemite National Park. Kids 12 and under can take classes without parental supervision, and 10/11 year-olds can take regular classes accompanied by a parent or guardian. Even kids under 10 can learn the ropes in a private lesson with Mom and Dad (epic photo ops)! Beginners start with the popular “Welcome to the Rock” class where you’ll learn the basics and climb all day.
Extra Credit: Board Games
Keeping the kiddos entertained as you travel between Yosemite Mariposa County adventures can seem like a big ask. Fortunately, we’ve created a few analog ways to keep their digitally altered brains engaged: board games for the backseat! Hey, What’s That: Mariposa Landmarks and Beast Mode Yosemite will keep their focus on the flora, fauna, and geology rolling by outside. Download or print, and in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”