The musical genius Prince crooned “sometimes it snows in April” about his native Minneapolis, but Yosemite Mariposa County can lay claim to its own surprising weather phenomenon: winter-wrapped spring. Spring often arrives early here, especially at lower elevations, providing visitors with a rare opportunity to take off their winter coats, get outdoors and run free while other parts of the country are still knee deep in the white stuff.
This secret-spring season is truly something to behold. As the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra stand guard to the east, the rolling foothills and river canyons of Mariposa County decide it’s time to wake up. The straw colors give way to green grass making for happy cows, oak trees leafing out signaling the new year, and poppies exploding in a sea of orange matched only by the glowing sunsets dotted with billowing clouds. Indeed, these vibrant scenes are the stuff of California legend. A clarion call to emerge from winter’s hibernation and take a revitalizing breath of what Mother Nature has to offer.
Secret Spring Explorations
As the saying goes in Yosemite Mariposa County, “spring marches uphill.” Translation? Spring comes early at the lower elevations and makes its way eastward and upward towards the Sierra peaks. This means that our secret springs can occur as early as January in the western portions of the county, with February and March reliably vernal. Here are just a few activities that make spring in Yosemite Mariposa County worth exploring.
Wildflower Hikes & Bikes
Spring’s uphill march begins in Mariposa County’s lower elevations, with the rolling pastureland of Catheys Valley (1,325 ft) displaying orange washes of California poppies set against the deep blue sky. This is a great place to bring your bike and feel the refreshing breezes of a winter-wrapped spring whipping past. Feel like exploring Yosemite Mariposa’s Gold Rush history? The “ghost” town of Hornitos is the ultimate pit stop for local tales.
The journey continues uphill to the town of Mariposa (elevation 1,949 ft) where coffee houses, restaurants, shops, and saloons line the charming streets. For travelers in the know, there’s a hidden gem two blocks off the main drag: Stockton Creek Preserve. Take a walk around the reservoir after lunch for blooms and birds.
Continuing along Highway 140 towards Yosemite, the Hite Cove Trail is a spring destination for wildflower lovers from across the region. Often popping as early as February, the first few miles of this trail takes hikers through a veritable sea of orange, with dozens of other multi-colored blooms dotting the landscape. Note: this trail follows the steep river canyon above the South Fork of the Merced River and requires special care, especially when hiking with children.
Fishing at Lake McClure & Lake McSwain
There’s nothing like getting out on the water early-season, and dropping a line in winter when it’s warm enough for shirt sleeves is even better. The undulating shores of Lake McClure & Lake McSwain (elevations 867 & 394 respectively) are the earliest to green, and the recreational activities are many here from fishing to boating and swimming. Break in your new fishing license (age 16 and older) and surprise your friends back home with “fish stories” from your secret-spring camping trip at one of Lake McClure & Lake McSwain’s numerous sites.
Yosemite Mariposa County is known for its stunning Native-American baskets, not to mention its bountiful picnic baskets. Trailgaiting (our affectionate term for picnicking) is a popular pastime here, and January through March along Hwy 140 in the Merced River Canyon provides a unique setting: mild temps, designated picnic areas and the rushing snowmelt of the Merced River as your life-affirming soundtrack.
Whether pro or amateur, SLR or smartphone, the photos that come out of Yosemite Mariposa County are worthy of a gallery wall. Nature blessed this corner of the Sierra with a sumptuous variety of landscapes, wildlife and downright characters. From waterfalls plunging over granite cliffs to horses grazing oak-studded hillsides and Gold Country prospectors still searching for that big strike, the shots practically snap themselves. Visitors to Yosemite Mariposa County are welcome and encouraged to post their latest inspired stories on Instagram and tag #YosemiteNation.
So, you’ve come up for a secret-spring vacay and some painterly clouds start dropping a little of the wet stuff. No cause for alarm — we’ve got the workaround. Museum-hopping in Yosemite Mariposa County is the perfect indoor activity when the weather doesn’t cooperate, or if you just need a break from all that outdoor fun.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the star of the show: Yosemite Valley. Set at 4,000 feet and surrounded by towering granite cliffs, Yosemite Valley can be surprisingly accessible during a secret-spring getaway. The natural beauty speaks for itself, and with a quick check of a reliable weather forecast there are winter days that can feel toastier than a well-roasted s’more.
Comfy Hotels & Clear Highways: Trip Planning Made Easy
Yosemite Mariposa County’s secret-spring season lends itself to easy travel. By combining reliable weather forecasts with snow-free highways and shorter booking windows for accommodations, visitors can get spontaneous, travel lighter and save money all at the same time.
Where to Stay
Picking the right accommodations in Yosemite Mariposa County is all about choices. From budget bunks to luxury resorts, from a hotel in town to a campsite under the Sierra stars, there’s a comfy stay in your travel future. Added bonus? January through March are the “quiet” months in Yosemite Mariposa which translates to big savings, greater availability and shorter booking windows.
Getting around Yosemite Mariposa County is made easy by its well-maintained highways. The network/nexus of All-Season Highway 140, Highway 49 and Highway 41 covers miles of territory, and those miles are unrivaled in their natural beauty. At lower elevations the hassle of snow chains is a non-issue, and though carrying them is essential when heading up to Yosemite National Park there are many a’ secret-spring day when chaining up is as far from your mind as the mundane routines you happily left back home.
Checking the weather is key to a winter-wrapped spring getaway to Yosemite Mariposa County. Oh, the joy you’ll feel reading 75 degrees in El Portal or 68 in Yosemite Valley (when it’s minus-10 in the upper Midwest). We may not be saying flip-flop weather, but it ain’t that far off! For a visual double-check of current conditions, check out the Yosemite Mariposa County webcams and revel in the magnificence that awaits.
Surprises All Around
After the busy holidays and sunlight-challenged months spent indoors at work or working from home, spiriting off to Yosemite Mariposa County is literally a breath of fresh air. With ease of planning and outdoor activities that belie the season, your secret-spring getaway will surprise your friends & family and elicit the response: wait, we can do that? Yes, you can.
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.