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Town of Mariposa

Town of Mariposa

Mariposa, first settled in 1849, is the southernmost town on the Golden Chain. The streets follow the original street grid laid out by General John C Fremont in 1850. Several disastrous early fires convinced settlers to rebuild with stone, brick and adobe. Consequently, many of today’s existing structures in the historic downtown had been built by the late 1850s, with most of the remaining ones completed by 1900. Because they’ve always been in use, the old buildings haven’t had to be restored or recreated.

Change has come gracefully to Mariposa. Mariposa remains one of a handful of California counties with nary a stop light. You’ll find a warm welcome at our lodgings and small-town friendliness in the shops, galleries and restaurants. Feel the old West as you stroll up the historic main street or take a tour of the 1854 court house, the oldest court house west of the Rockies still in continuous operation. Experience the old days in the exhibits at the Mariposa Museum and History Center, named one of the best small museums in America by the Smithsonian Institute.

A mile and a half south of town, on Highway 49S, is the Mariposa County Fairgrounds. Labor Day weekend brings the county fair, a fun-filled, four-day gala combining traditional farm and rural exhibits, art, cultural and craft displays, a lively midway and a variety of entertainment events. During the other 51 weeks of the year, the Fairgrounds serve as venue for numerous activities such as rallies, get-togethers, dances, dinners, flea markets and a variety of events sponsored by various volunteer organizations. Please check our Calendar of Events to see what’s happening during your visit.

The fairgrounds also hosts the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, featuring exhibits and displays that illuminate the mining practices of Gold Rush days, such as an authentic 1860-70s operational gold-processing stamp mill, and the mining tunnel, which allows visitors to see and experience an underground miner’s life. The museum collection was started in 1865 and includes over 13,000 minerals, rocks, gems, historic artifacts and fossils.

Midpines and El Portal

Highway 140 out of Mariposa climbs to Midpines Summit (elev. 2,960), where East Whitlock Road winds off through the former Whitlock, Sherlock and Colorado mining districts. The highway then descends through the woods and meadows of Midpines on its way to the Merced River at Briceburg. From Briceburg the highway follows the Merced Canyon to El Portal and the Yosemite’s Arch Rock Entrance.

Midpines makes an ideal base for outdoor recreation. Much of the area is Sierra National Forest or BLM land, laced with hiking trails and Forest Service roads. Bear Creek’s upper reaches include several scenic swimming holes. The Merced provides rafting (in the spring), swimming (from late spring until winter rains), fishing (pretty much all year round), wild life, hiking, camping and solitude. Once you pull into your campground, B&B, cabin or motel, there are no crowds, no traffic – yet the restaurants, shops and historic streets of Mariposa are only 10 miles to the West, and Yosemite Valley 25 miles to the East.

At Briceburg, a suspension bridge crosses the Merced, giving access to the former Yosemite Valley Railroad right of way, which runs along the river’s north bank. A well maintained BLM gravel road runs down stream four and a half miles, passing three campgrounds and many beaches and turnouts on the way. Below that you can continue hiking to the North Fork of the Merced (about three miles farther), subject to small slides and rattlesnakes in late spring and summer. Upstream of the suspension bridge, the right of way is open to hikers only.

Nearing El Portal you will find picnic areas and campgrounds along both sides of the river (paved road access to the north bank is provided via Foresta Road, as you first enter El Portal). El Portal, at the Park boundary, was the terminus of the Railroad. Today an old locomotive (actually a logger) and caboose are on display near the former Bagby Station, which was moved here in the 1970s. Along with NPS housing, many of the Park’s administrative offices are located here, as are two nonprofit organizations, the Yosemite Association and the Yosemite Institute.

Hornitos and Catheys Valley

The western portions of Mariposa County encompass rolling foothills, dotted with oaks and some pine. This is ranch land, with some of the richest grazing areas in the state. But these western foothills hold more than cattle and sheep. There are many attractions for both the outdoor enthusiast and the historian.

Driving east on Highway 140, the first community you reach is Catheys Valley, which originated as a ranching community in the early 1850s. Here, you can slow down and explore the winding, unfrequented side roads, which are perfect for bicycling, and put you in the midst of wild flowers (in spring), numerous field birds, soaring hawks and the occasional golden eagle, and offer periodic amazing vistas of distant Sierra peaks.

Hornitos holds the mystery of a ghost town. Still inhabited by a few souls who appreciate its tranquility, memories and the surrounding ranch land. It challenges today’s tourist to imagine that in 1860 it was the center of a district whose population was some 6,000, and by 1870 had topped 10,000.

Back in 1855 Domenico Ghirardelli built his first store here, before moving to San Francisco and Chocolate fame. Outlaw (or Robin Hood) Joaquin Murietta is said to have frequented the dance halls and saloons, from which he maintained secret escape tunnels. Today there remain stone and brick buildings, some still whole, more in ruins. One old building still in use is the Plaza Bar (open Wednesday through Sunday), worth stepping inside to be carried back to an earlier era. Besides these attractions for the history buff, Hornitos and the surrounding countryside today are prime country for birders, wildflower seekers and bicyclists.

Coulterville, Greeley Hill and Buck Meadows

At the intersection of Highways 132 and 49 lies the community of Coulterville (“official” population 115), State Historical Landmark No. 332, Coulterville is an authentic California gold rush town that serves as the commercial hub of Northern Mariposa County. During its heyday, it was a major gold mining and supply center. Coulterville is filled with historic buildings and memories of the ‘49ers. The Northern Mariposa County History Center, on the northwest corner of the intersection, features displays and old photographs of the town at various periods since its founding in 1849. A prominent feature of the tour and of the town today is the Hotel Jeffery, built in 1854. It entertained the likes of John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt. The Magnolia Saloon, one of the oldest parts of the hotel is worth a look, even if you don’t order anything. Other highlights of the town are the IOOF building; Sun Sun Wo, one of the oldest adobes in the state and still in remarkably good shape; and the local graveyard where, among other notables, are the graves of George and Margaret Coulter. A small park, complete with tennis courts and a public swimming pool hosts many community events and offers a shady picnic area for bicyclists, other travelers and local residents.

Just six miles further east on Highway 132 is the community of Greeley Hill. Transitioning from the rolling Oaks and grasslands below, the tall pines and lush meadows are a dramatic change in scenery.

Buck Meadows, which also shares the tall pines and lush meadows that you find in Greeley Hill, is located at the northeastern corner of the County along Hwy 120, just a few miles from the entrance to Yosemite.

Fish Camp, Wawona and Yosemite West

The air cools and the scent of pine mingles with fir and cedar as you venture into Mariposa County’s southern end. The community of Fish Camp, just two miles from the Yosemite National Park entrance, is home to charming bed-and-breakfast inns, cabin rentals, and a magnificent world class hotel, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite.

Highway 41 approaching Fish Camp passes through Sierra National Forest, with many side roads leading to hiking and equestrian trails, and the always popular Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, an authentic, steam powered trip into the past – and into some impressive mountain scenery.

Just inside the park’s south entrance, the Mariposa Grove of over 500 giant Sequoia trees greets visitors with some of the most magnificent, oldest and largest living things in the world. Venturing on to Wawona, there is the classic Victorian style Wawona Hotel, the Pioneer History center where Yosemite’s recent past comes alive, and the Wawona golf course. The South Fork of the Merced (crossed by a historic covered bridge) flows gently through Wawona, a lovely place to camp, meditate or swim.

The road to Yosemite continues on into Yosemite Valley, passing through Yosemite West, where a number of privately owned mountain homes and condos are offered as vacation rentals. At Chinquapin the Glacier Point Road leads to the Badger Pass ski area in winter and to Glacier Point in summer. Descending to Tunnel View, the road offers a spectacular panorama of Yosemite Valley, with landmarks from Bridalveil Falls to Half Dome to El Capitan revealed before you.

Lakes McClure and McSwain, and Lake Don Pedro


It is fascinating to reflect that Lake McClure and Lake Don Pedro, which at their closest lie within three miles of each other, represent the lower reaches of the Merced (McClure) and Tuolumne (Don Pedro) rivers, here so far removed from the granite valleys, waterfalls, and alpine meadows of Yosemite with which both are dramatically associated. Nestled in the foothills, these tranquil lakes are water lovers’ paradise, offering camping, fishing, sailing, house boating, water skiing and jet skiing. Combined, the two lakes offer almost 20,000 surface acres of water (at maximum lake levels) and over 200 miles of shoreline, filled with coves large and small where you can either set up in one of the on-shore campsites or anchor your houseboat for the ultimate water camping experience (marinas on both lakes offer rentals on houseboats and many other kinds of craft, as well as launching ramps for your own boat). Available fish species include salmon, trout, bass, catfish, bullheads, crappie, bluegill and others.

Both these lakes are easily accessed via State Highway 132, about eight miles east of Coulterville. Lake McClure and its baby sister, Lake McSwain, also can be entered at Merced Falls, about 27 miles from Merced and 25 miles from the town of Mariposa, via Catheys Valley. The Bagby recreation area (camping, picnicking, swimming, fishing and boat ramp, but no marina), on Lake McClure’s upper reaches, is situated on Highway 49, 15 miles north of the town of Mariposa and 12 miles south of Coulterville.

Foothill Area: Ben Hur

The foothills are a quiet, dreamy land where you can travel miles meeting only the occasional rancher’s pickup. Approaching from the west, your eyes are drawn to the mountains’ drama and grandeur, you barely notice this belt of low hills, generally no more than 10 miles wide, marking the transition from Central Valley to Sierra. Yet once within them you feel cut off from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. What these roads lack in traffic congestion, they make up in wild life, especially birds. Get out of your car, and you hear a symphony of songs and calls.


Coming from Mariposa County on Ben Hur Road, you can park at the relatively undeveloped north end of a lake, where hiking and equestrian trails leads over the hills along the east shore. Since so much of the foothill area is fenced ranch land, this is one of the few opportunities to get out and hike through the grasslands and blue oaks.

Yosemite: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park enthralls visitors with its diverse terrain, abundant wildlife and incomparable beauty. 750,000 acres of soaring cliffs, cascading waterfalls and lush meadows make Yosemite one of the world’s natural wonders.

Yosemite Valley is the heart of the Park, and its most popular attraction. Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall, cascades 2,425 feet to the Valley floor far below. Light dances across the sheer granite faces of El Capitan and Half Dome, a natural performance unlike any in the world. A shuttle system, a web of paved walking paths and trails, and plentiful dining and lodging accommodation options make a trip to the Valley effortlessly easy.

Tuolumne is located far above the Valley, transporting you to breathtaking views and pristine lakes. This is the high country, nearly inaccessible in winter, when heavy snows blanket the road and freeze the rivers. In the spring and summer months, winter melts away and the meadows bloom. The waters of Tenaya Lake and the Tuolumne River soak up the heat of the sun, inviting you to swim, fish and hike along their banks.

Yosemite’s Badger Pass, California’s first established ski area, has been a favorite family destination since 1935. Enjoy the fresh powder and rewarding scenery along Badger Pass’s varied trails, or bounce your way down the snow tubing hill. When you’re ready to relax and warm up, slide on over to the Badger Pass Day Lodge to savor hot cocoa and sweeping views in cozy comfort.

Visitors stand transfixed for hours, taking in the color-saturated spectacle of sunset atop Glacier Point. Watch the sky behind Half Dome flame pink and orange while the Valley sinks into deep blue shadow. Stay to see the full moon rise and the stars shine out, impossibly close from your perch 3,200 feet above the Valley floor.

The Wawona area has continued to weave a spell over visitors ever since, enticing people to stay longer to listen to the babble of the Merced River and breathe the fresh air. Nestled on a beautiful meadow near the South Fork of the Merced River and 25 miles south of Yosemite Valley, Wawona’s first name was Pallahchun, the Miwok word for “a good place to stop.”

The square-mile Mariposa Grove is home to 500 mature Giant Sequoias, Earth’s largest living organisms and among her oldest as well. Thanks to the trees, the grove stays cool and quiet on the hottest summer’s day. Take a guided walk or stroll on your own through these awe-inspiring prehistoric giants.

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