Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is the epitome of America’s great wilderness. A magnetic mainstay on any road trip through the USA, not only is Yosemite National Park perhaps the most photogenic place on the planet, but it’s also an adventure playground and all-round place to chill.
But did you know that Yosemite Mariposa County, where the national park is located, is equally as impressive? With a fascinating history, charming locals and culture of its own, this region begs to be explored in itself.
Read our Yosemite Mariposa County guide to keep your travel dreams alive, ready for the ever-closer date of international borders opening (we know you can’t wait).
WELCOME TO YOSEMITE MARIPOSA COUNTY
Road tripping to Yosemite is as iconic a travel must-do as snapping a pic with Mickey or standing atop the Empire State Building. Not only because of its outstanding scenery and ample outdoor adventures but due to its proximity to LAX and SFO. Being so close to both hubs makes it a breeze for Aussie travellers to land in the US and get on the road pronto. Whether you’re road-tripping by car, campervan, or a giant RV (it is the US after all), Mariposa County is the perfect base to explore Yosemite. It’s a smooth 30-minute drive to many of the park gates, plus the drives are totes gorgeous!
Heading from San Francisco? Journey Highway 140, to the heart of the gold rush town of Mariposa. Shopping, dining, and snoozing in the Old Town District feels like you’ve stepped back in time. In spring, if you’re feeling adventurous, between Mariposa and Yosemite, take a class IV ride on the Merced River Canyon rapids. In summer, the lack of rain turns the river from a wild ride to a lazy river.
Another neat route is via Fish Camp, where the Pioneer Yosemite History Center and Victorian-era Wawona Hotel impress. Be sure to drop Glacier Point in your rental vehicle’s GPS, it’s an idyllic lookout point to see Yosemite’s Half Dome! Alternatively, in summer, the high-country region of Yosemite is open and easy to explore via Tioga Pass. Tenaya Lake’s should be high on your road trip to-do list for its shimmering aquamarine lake.
If you’ve got Yosemite FOMO, weave your way around the park’s four entrances so you don’t miss a thing.
TOP 7 YOSEMITE Mariposa County MUST DO’S
- Go skydiving with Yosemite Skydive and then follow it up with a drink and meal at the amazing local bars and restaurants – such as the June Bug Café – in the charming town of Mariposa.
- Try your luck at panning for gold at the Mariposa Museum & History Centre and learn about the town’s gold mining history. Also worth checking out is the fascinating California State Mining & Mineral Museum.
- Spend the night in Mariposa and then drive one hour to Yosemite National Park where some amazing vistas await, such as:
- The iconic Tunnel View scenic lookout point, located at the western entrance of Yosemite Valley, perfectly captures the mighty El Capitan and Half Dome and the roaring 188-metre-tall Bridalveil Fall in the same frame. Perhaps take a picnic here and enjoy the views over lunch?
- Another iconic shot of Yosemite is to be found at Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome where you can pose in front of the curved tooth of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, as well as the rolling Sierra Nevada high country.
- Take the short detour from the valley to the southern end of the park and admire the impressive scale of the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove. There are around 500 mature giant sequoias here, some reaching 87 metres, and are considered some of the oldest living things in the world.
- Finally, visit the Lower Yosemite Falls and capture an iconic American road trip shot. To find the perfect vantage spot of the 98-metre waterfall, trek an easy 1-kilometre along a paved, wheelchair-accessible trail to a misty photo point. Visiting the falls in spring is the best time to see this roaring waterfall.
- You can’t visit Yosemite National Park without putting your hiking shoes on and exploring one of the dozens of trails that skirt throughout the park at least once during your time here. More serious hikers, or anyone that’s up for the challenge, can tackle rigorous day hikes to see some dramatic vistas, whilst those with less time (or enthusiasm) can enjoy a leisurely wander along shaded forest paths amongst equally impressive scenery. We recommend staying here for 3 to 5 days to really soak in all the beauty of the park.
- For something more extreme, feel the adrenaline pumping through your chest and brain as you zoom along six different ziplines at the Yosemite Zipline Adventure Ranch, located in Mariposa. This two-hour zipline tour of Yosemite National Park is absolutely the best way to enjoy the surrounding vistas. There are also aerial ropes courses, roping lessons, and gold and mineral panning to do once you’re out of your harness.
- If you’re visiting in winter, hit the slopes on skis or snowboards inside the Badger Pass Ski Area. California’s first established ski area has been a family-friendly winter destination for years, due to its low prices and casual atmosphere with an abundance of slopes open for all levels: beginners to intermediates to advanced. You can also go snowtubing, snowshoeing and cross country skiing here.
- Finally, before going home, relax and warm up at the Badger Pass Lodge. Enjoy the sweeping views of the surrounding gorgeous landscape over a hot chocolate or glass of wine, or get outside and go snowshoeing or ice skating as well as downhill skiing and snowboarding. Tenaya Lodge is also a fantastic place to go on a snowshoe hike, ice skating, sledding and more. At other times of the year, you can also go hiking, mountain biking, archery and guided fly fishing.
From panoramic vistas of planet Earth at its most photogenic, to amazing adventure on soil and snow, get inspired by these tantalising visual treats.
Go hiking and look down on the high country of the Sierra Nevada mountains, spot bears in the wilderness, go white-water rafting and tear down slopes on your skis or snowboard. Whatever you’re into, Yosemite National Park will hand it to you on a silver platter.
TAKE THE TUNES WITH YOU
Chill out to Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights” as you gaze out your window to the rolling scenery of Yosemite National Park, and then put on something a little more upbeat, such as the Ike & Tina Tuner’s “River Deep – Mountain High,” as the mighty El Capitan comes into view.
This Spotify playlist will lead you on a sonic journey that perfectly complements your visuals on your road trip to this amazing part of California.
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