Fun Things to Do in Mariposa CA, Near Yosemite National Park

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Exploring downtown is one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
Downtown Mariposa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

The writer was hosted.

The stunning landscapes of Mariposa County vibrating with waterfalls, gigantic trees and soaring birds made it an easy choice for my first-ever solo hiking trip.  The amazing food, sightseeing and friendly people I met in the town of Mariposa make me want to go back. Soon.

Where is Mariposa?

Mariposa County is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, covering 1400 miles, and includes the popular destination, Yosemite National Park. Located just outside of Yosemite is the small town and county seat, Mariposa, population 1300.  

It is a history center, steeped in California gold rush and gold-mining history, and is the kind of town that has a committee that passes out caterpillars to local schools and businesses so that everyone gets to participate in the annual Butterfly (Mariposa) Festival, now held at the fairgrounds.

Grab a map from the Mariposa County Visitor Center for a full list of historic sites like the Mariposa County Courthouse and Mariposa County’s Old Stone Jail and local events like a night with the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. There are loads of outdoor activities such as rafting in the Merced River, and biking and hiking trails in and near Mariposa. Main Street in downtown Mariposa has an artsy Western vibe, lined with locally owned gift shops, wine shops, restaurants and art.  

Yosemite National Park

A view of El Capitan in Yosemite is one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Mariposa is worth a road trip on its own and it is also important to keep it in the Yosemite road trip plan because unpredictable weather can affect access to the park.  For example, a large section of the park closed 24 hours after my arrival, due to flooding.  

The winter of 2023 rocked Yosemite with 12’ of snow and the unusually warm weather following that snowfall was melting the snow faster than the ground could absorb it.  Several areas (Glacier Point) were already closed because the road was still blocked by piles of snow.  I was able to do a full tour and hike a little, but we shifted plans quickly to maximize my time there.  

All visits to Mariposa County must include a visit to Yosemite National Park and the sequoias in Mariposa Grove.  Hike the trails, volunteer, check out the park programs or take a 360 Tour to get the lay of the land and fantastic photos of Half Dome, El Capitan and the Yosemite Valley.  

Hike Hite Cove and Hire a Guide

Exploring the trails with a local guide like Bill King is one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
Bill King and I on the trail. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Even though there are no grizzly bears in CA (despite the grizzly on the CA flag), there are black bears, mountain lions and bobcats.  The last thing I wanted to do on my solo hiking trip was to stress about encountering wild animals so I hired local hiking guide, Bill King, co-founder of the non-profit, Mariposa Trails, dedicated to caring for the trails of Mariposa County.  

Bill is a retired urban planner who also worked for the National Park Service for many years and co-founder, Beth, is a naturalist with a mind for business management and a heart for animals.  The Hite Cove Trail is clearly marked and there were other people on the trail. However, my hike was enhanced by Bill’s knowledge of the area, the fauna and flora.  Not to mention he came prepared with amazing snacks and a first aid kit.   Bill and Beth also lead trail tending opportunities.

Trail Tending 

Three women in hard hats and one with a chainsaw on a trail tending crew, one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
Some of my trail tending crew – Mariposa Trails co-founder Beth is on the right with the chainsaw. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

As I focus more on ways to be a more responsible traveler, I look to involve myself locally on all trips.  In Bhutan, we brought baseball gloves to the girls’ softball team and had lunch with them.  In Mariposa, I chose trail tending – after all, I use the trails so it’s only fair I also offer to take care of them.  

I was welcomed by a local group of volunteers. And we worked in an area that had been completely devastated by 2022’s Oak Fire.  A few in the group were assigned chainsaws. Two days of training is required to become a chainsaw volunteer. The rest of us were given loppers.

Our job was to clear fallen trees and branches from the trail.  Some sawed, some lopped and some cleared. Everyone was friendly and no one minded that I had no experience in trail tending.  I was treated to a break by a gorgeous waterfall that is known only to locals. I also was “treated” to 2 rattlesnake sightings near the waterfall.  It was a fantastic way to be off the beaten path and to meet locals.

Eat great food in Mariposa

Enjoying Sho-Mi Ramen at the Little Shop of Ramen is one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
Sho-Mi Ramen with tofu at the Little Shop of Ramen. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Little Shop of Ramen is special.  It shares space with The Local Grape, a wine bar and bottle shop, and is owned by wife and husband team, Melissa and Travis.  They chucked their tech and finance jobs in Northern Cali and moved to Mariposa to pursue their passions: ramen and wine.  

Melissa learned to make ramen through family recipes and research. After 4 years of trial and error and ramen buffets, she created what I feel confident calling magical tare.  And if perfecting her regular ramen recipes wasn’t enough, she also offers gluten-free ramen and tare.  She does caution celiacs, however, that as meticulous as they are, there could be airborne gluten.

Travis is an aspiring winemaker and impassioned localvore. He focuses on using grapes and wines produced in the Sierra Foothills AVA (American Viticulture Area).  He also launched the Mariposa Wine Association and hosts wine dinners with topline chefs at different Mariposa vineyards that “tickle your taste buds and play with your palate.”

Charles Street Dinner House off Highway 140, near downtown Mariposa, has been around since my friend and former Mariposa resident, Eric, lived there in 2004. He had his (second) wedding there and emphatically recommended I try their fish.  They offer exceptionally fresh fish and a delicious traditional dinner house menu of steak, chicken and pork chops.  

I wasn’t able to make it to Charles Street this trip but it does have consistently good ratings at 4.5 and above.  

Wine Tasting & Other Libations in Mariposa

Five wine bottles on the counter at Castro Oaks Fine Wine, one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
Some of the available wine options at Castro Oaks Fine Wine. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Mariposa may not YET be known for its wines, however, there are several wineries, breweries and cideries in the county.  I didn’t get to try all of them on this trip. But I did spend some time in the tasting room at Casto Oaks Fine Wine shop and got to sample several of their bottles.

Casto Oaks vineyard is about 10 miles outside of town, where they grow Zin, Cabernet Sauvignon and merlot grapes. The best part was the big hug I got when I returned.  I was starting to feel like a local. A local who likes wine.

The Local Grape

Enjoying wine and art at The Local Grape is one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
This historic painting from the 1880s helps show off the amazing wine selection at The Local Grape. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

As I mentioned earlier, The Local Grape shares space with The Little Shop of Ramen in a historic building known as “The Gold Coin,” originally built in 1850.  It’s a wine bottle shop and bar that showcases wines made with local grapes, a passion pursuit for co-owner, Travis.  

Grab a stool at the bar or a table near the original mural painted in the 1800s. And sip Syrahs and Cabs and whatever specials Travis is featuring.

Sierra Cider

Sustainable farming team, David and Dana, also husband and wife, grow 19+ varieties of apples that produce a cider that they say rivals a fine wine.  I did not get to visit, but it is top of my list when I return.

1850 Restaurant and Brewery

Another husband and wife team (noting a theme here?), Jake and Hanna, opened the 1850 Restaurant in 2013 and started brewing in 2017.  Their brewing experiment now occupies 9000 square feet and employs 50 people.  One local had a hard time choosing between the fried chicken served with sweet and tangy sauce and the smoked ribeye when I asked for his favorite dish.

Hideout Saloon

This place should have been first on my itinerary.  I vow to return and start my next trip with a game of darts or free pool at The Hideout Saloon.  Live music, lots of character(s), food, drinks and very very local.

Visit The Yosemite Climbing Museum, founded by Ken Yager

Ken Yager and Kim Orlando at the Yosemite Climbing Museum, one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
Me with Ken Yager at the Yosemite Climbing Museum. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Famed climber, Ken Yager, started the world’s largest rock climbing museum and the Yosemite Climbing Association in Mariposa which celebrates the spirit and evolution of the sport.  It also showcased the climbers, male and female who are the pioneers and legends in climbing.

Many of those legends contributed their personal gear to support Ken’s museum. He has collected over 10,000 artifacts from famous climbers around the world.  In return, Ken honors them by featuring their stories, photos and inventions in the museum.  

Renowned for his remarkable climbing skills, Yager is known around the world for his remarkable climbing skills and dedication. Ken started climbing at 17 and by age 18, he had climbed El Capitan 4 times. To date, Ken has climbed El Capitan 65 times and still leads groups on climbs and overnights.

The exhibits guide visitors through the decades, showcasing the remarkable feats, tools and stories of renowned climbers who have left an indelible mark on the sport. On my tour, Ken enthusiastically explained to me –  in detail – how the pitons have improved over the years.

California State Mining & Mineral Museum

Viewing displays like the Counts House at the CA State Mining & Mineral Museum is one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
The Counts House at the California State Mining & Mineral Museum. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

The California State Mining & Mineral Museum showcases California’s rich mining heritage. It was designated as one of the best small museums in the US by the Smithsonian Institution.  

I toured the museum with retired local firefighter and current Board president, Chris Allen.  I like that the museum offers context for the artifacts: encased dioramas of the doctor’s office, the school, the bank and the post office.  There is a lot of space dedicated to the history of explorer, presidential candidate and military veteran, John C. Fremont and his wife, Jessie Fremont.  

Fremont’s story reads like a PBS mini-series, wrought with affairs, war, elections, the gold rush, financial ruin and wild success.

Highlights of the Museum

  1. Watch giant quartz rocks be pounded into sand at the stamp mill, pan for gold and don’t miss the newly redone Miwok Native American exhibit. Locals from the Miwok tribe directed the permanent exhibit to ensure accuracy.  
  2. Enter the recreated roundhouse and explore traditional Miwok regalia, tools, jewelry and artifacts. Learn about the value of acorns to the tribe and the various ways the Miwok utilize them.  
  3. Notice the images and plaster casts of the tribal elders’ hands who participated in the building of the exhibit, signifying a hands-on experience.  
  4. Mariposa history continues in adjacent buildings outside the museum. The Counts House was built in 1854 and later belonged to George and Samuel Counts.  It is filled with clothing, furniture and linens from the period. Creepy (interesting?) Note: the walls contain human hair (a lot of it) for strength.  
  5. The Mariposa Gazette is still active but their historic printing equipment used to publish the local newspaper is housed in one of the adjacent buildings.  Check the website for demonstration dates.
  6. The blacksmith is back!  Several times each month a local blacksmith demonstrates how to turn iron into useful tools, square head nails and prairie diamonds (iron horseshoe ring).
2023 Chevy Equinox parked at Tenaya Lodge, near Yosemite.
The 2023 Chevy Equinox helped me travel more responsibly on my solo hiking trip to Yosemite and Mariposa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Responsible Road-Tripping

Road-tripping is an incredible opportunity to embrace responsible travel and leave a positive impact on the environment and the communities along the way. While responsible road-tripping can include sustainable travel elements like reducing your carbon footprint by driving an electric vehicle, even if an electric vehicle is not in your garage there are many other ways to travel responsibly. Responsible travel is about conscious choices that minimize the negative impacts of travel. Choosing local hotels and services, and engaging locals in conversation contribute to a positive travel experience.

If you’re not driving electric, choosing a vehicle that offers safety features to assist in courteous driving is a solid alternative. For example, Chevy loaned me a 2023 Chevy Equinox for my first solo hiking trip to Mariposa and Yosemite, CA. It was not electric, so instead I looked for other ways to contribute to responsible travel.

The Equinox is loaded with safety features like lane keep assist, following distance alert and adaptive cruise, warning me if I needed to give other drivers more room on the highway. I especially appreciated the assist while traveling alone. Intelligent stop/start shuts off the engine when power isn’t needed (like at a stoplight), which saves fuel and power. The engine starts back up once driving resumes.

Beyond safety features, I looked at ways that GM, Chevy’s parent company, engages local communities and found that their Ultium cell battery plant in Tennessee is committed to replanting local vegetation around the site perimeter and they sponsor youth sports across the US.

Also, GM’s Sustainable Workplaces teams and interior designers repurpose local oak, cherry, hackberry and beech trees displaced by construction. They enlist a local Tennessee small business Good Wood to design unique furniture pieces and wall treatments from the reclaimed wood to be used in common spaces in the new Ultium plant.

General Motors Commitment: Our Plan to Protect the Environment | General Motors (gm.com)


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