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Whitewater rafting in Yosemite National Park near Mariposa County, California
Trey Clark
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  • States:
    California

Enjoy time together, Old West-style, in Mariposa County's charming gold rush towns and the unmatched natural beauty of Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park may be the reason that brings you to the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California, but you’ll want to make Mariposa County your homebase to stay, play and experience it all. Mariposa is the western gateway to Yosemite, and all four Yosemite highways travel through the county to the park's iconic granite peaks, pristine waterways, picturesque meadows, giant sequoias and cascading waterfalls. The region's mountains, lakes and rivers provide an endless array of kid-friendly outdoor fun, and the county's towns are full of entertainment and attractions perfect for bringing the family together.

Old-West Atmosphere with Modern Entertainment

As you walk past historic buildings in downtown Mariposa, you’ll be transported to a bygone era of prospectors and outlaws. The Mariposa Museum & History Center presents an authentic picture of life before, during and after the California Gold Rush. Down the street, learn about bold explorers at the Yosemite Climbing Association Museum & Gallery. In the park, local Indigenous American culture and geologic history are on exhibit at the Yosemite Museum and nearby Happy Isles Nature Center.

You’ll find top-notch culture in art galleries and music venues too. In fact, Mariposa is the smallest town in the USA with its own symphony orchestra, which performs several shows a year. Back in the park, the Yosemite Theater features live shows every evening during the warmer months. Specialty stores and antique shops can be easily spotted next to must-try breweries and wineries, providing bigger city amusements among small-town vibes.

Showcasing artifacts and exhibits at The Mariposa Museum & History Center

Showcasing artifacts and exhibits at The Mariposa Museum & History Center
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Patrick Pike

Wild Fun on Rivers and Lakes

Whitewater rafting is the most exciting way to experience the waters of Mariposa County, especially the Merced River. Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions and OARS Adventure Company provide child-friendly voyage options. For a more subdued ride, rent rafts and meander down the calmer section of the river inside Yosemite National Park. The unparalleled scenery here also sets a beautiful backdrop to cast a line for trout or bass. Several companies have family fishing packages with equipment and instruction included.

Swimming holes can be found all around Mariposa County, perfect for beating the summer heat. Tenaya Lake’s crystal-clear water is as refreshing as it is stunning. Lake McClure and Lake McSwain both have recreational areas with water access for kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and motorboats. Splash-n-Dash Waterpark in Lake McSwain is North America’s largest floating water park featuring slides, jumps and bounces to entertain every family member.

Snorkeling in the family-friendly waters of the Merced River

Snorkeling in the family-friendly waters of the Merced River
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Hannah Schiff

Hiking and Biking Paradise

Hiking trails that offer views of Half Dome make up only a smidgen of the over 1,200 kilometers of trails worthy of exploring in and around Yosemite. Lower Yosemite Falls is one of many shorter, kid-friendly hikes, while the Mist Trail past Yosemite’s Vernal and Nevada Falls is for the more experienced hiker. Guide services lead groups on all types of hikes, and for those looking for a real challenge, the Yosemite Mountaineering School will have you climbing the big walls in Yosemite in no time. Outside the park, Hite Cove is one of the best wildflower walks in the USA, while the Stockton Creek Preserve is a must for birdwatchers.

For adventure on two wheels, The Exchequer Mountain Bike Park, near the shores of Lake McClure, consists of well-maintained trails in the foothills of the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains, including children’s trails and hardcore descents. In Yosemite, there are around 20 kilometers of paved bike paths, perfect for an evening ride with the whole family.

Hiking trail to Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park

Hiking trail to Vernal Falls in Yosemite National Park
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Trey Clark

Tours for the Whole Family

Mariposa County is also home to tours that cover everyone’s interests. The Valley Floor Tour, an open-air tram with a national park ranger, provides history on the people and events that shaped the region. Take a scenic flight with Airborrn Aviation Services from Mariposa/Yosemite Airport and catch unparalleled views over Yosemite and the Sierras. The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offers scenic train rides through the Sierra National Forest, gold panning experiences, a rail museum on-site and special moonlight rides with live music around the fire.

The epic scenery of the famed Valley Floor Tour in Yosemite National Park

The epic scenery of the famed Valley Floor Tour in Yosemite National Park
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NearEMPTiness

Memorable Family Trips Start at the Hotel

How you rest up and recharge at night is just as important as how you spend your days. Mariposa County is home to lodging options for all budgets. In the park, properties such as Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village and The Ahwahnee keep visitors within view of Yosemite’s iconic vistas. Outside the park, properties like Yosemite Cedar Lodge and Yosemite View Lodge, both in the quaint village of El Portal, offer on-site fun like swimming pools and picnic areas. Tenaya at Yosemite in Fish Camp takes it up a notch with rock climbing walls. Luxury meets the great outdoors at AutoCamp Yosemite in Midpines. The property features a clubhouse full of amenities including a scenic roof deck, fire pits and swimming pool, while sleeping accommodations include luxury tents, cabins and fully outfitted Airstream trailers.

The beautifully rustic exterior of Tenaya at Yosemite in Fish Camp

The beautifully rustic exterior of Tenaya at Yosemite in Fish Camp
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Getting There

The Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT) is the nearest international airport, but San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Sacramento International Airport (SMF) offer more global flight options. Rent a car from any of those airports, drive a couple hours through California’s Central Valley to Mariposa County and start making family memories.

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