Spanish for ‘butterfly’, the town of Mariposa was named after the flocks of Monarch butterflies seen by early explorers. This historic town is situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, close to Yosemite National Park, with an elevation of 1754 ft offering spectacular scenery and an abundance of exciting outdoor activities.
Europeans were attracted to Mariposa, California, because of gold, and still to this day visitors love to pan for gold. Access to the town is easily attained via Highways 49 and 140. Highway 140 continues directly to Yosemite National Park.
Mariposa, first settled in 1849, is the most southern of the Gold Rush towns. The streets follow the original street grid laid out by 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. You won’t see strip malls or chain stores, and Mariposa remains one of the few California counties that hardly has any stop lights. You’ll be warmly welcomed 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. If you love history this is a must see! It is one of the finest remaining examples of nineteenth century Greek architecture and a California Historical Landmark. Inside you will find information about Mariposa County and its changes over the years and the elegant, very well preserved main court room.
Mariposa County is located at the southern end of California's Mother Lode region. During the California Gold Rush, great quantities of gold were found and extracted, first in local stream beds and later in hard rock mines. The Gold Rush in California resulted in the greatest migration for the search of riches that has ever occurred in the history of the world. Within the short five years after the discovery, more than 300,000 people (mostly men) started exploring the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada in order to strike it rich.
Many aspects of the area's mining history are depicted in exhibits at two local museums: the Mariposa Museum and History Center, located in the town of Mariposa, and the California Mining and Mineral Museum, located at the Mariposa Fairgrounds (2 miles east of Mariposa on Highway 49). It features over 13,000 objects, including mining artifacts, as well as gem and mineral specimens. You'll be impressed with the largest 19th century specimen of crystallized gold still in existence - a 13.8 point Fricot "Nugget." The museum also features a mine tunnel, a museum shop, a working scale model of a stamp mill, and offers educational programs.
You'll enjoy a visit to Coulterville, which is a designated State Historical Landmark with 40 historic buildings. It's located on Hwy 49, 27 miles north of Mariposa. It is considered to be one of the most unspoiled mining camps left along the entire Mother Lode. The Northern Mariposa County History Center is housed in the remains of the 3-story Coulter Hotel. It was destroyed in a fire in 1899, but rebuilt by citizens of Coulterville. Included in the museum interior is the former drug store next door where the fixtures are still in place, but provide the display for many artifacts of a mining town. Many other gold rush era buildings can be seen to this day. The Hotel Jeffery, built in 1854, has had important visitors such as John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt. Be sure to check out the historic bar, the dining room, or the delightful back yard and patio.
Five to eight miles west of Coulterville are the recreational areas of Lake McClure and Lake Don Pedro, both meccas for water lovers – fishing, boating, and swimming can all be enjoyed there. It is fascinating to reflect that Lake McClure and Lake Don Pedro, 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 of the Sierras, these tranquil lakes are a water lover's paradise.
On your way to Yosemite National Park you’ll enjoy the scenic drive along Hwy 140 bordered by the Merced River. After 18 miles you’ll see the Merced River Recreation Area at Briceburg. It has sandy beaches where you can have a family picnic, or stop to dip into the river on the way back from the park to cool off on a hot summer day.
This area is also great for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. For the more adventurous among you, rent a kayak or take a white water rafting trip with Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions (209-532-6249).
The Butterfly Creek winery, located just 4 miles north on Highway 140 outside the town of Mariposa on Triangle Road, is also worth a visit. The Gerken Family arrived in Mariosa on 1972 and have been developing their family and vineyards ever since. The mountain spring water, clean climate and zesty Sierra Nevada soil provide the perfect setting for the premium wines that Butterfly Creek Winery produces. Their wines are affordable and taste great! You can also order or purchase their wines in the Mariposa restaurants and surrounding area.
An exciting 4-mile scenic railroad excursion can be taken at Yosemite Park's south gate on Highway 41 - the famous Sugar Pine Railroad. This is a fun activity for the entire family. Take the logger train with a real steam engine train or ride the quaint "Model A" powered railcars. You might enjoy the Moonlight Special every Saturday and Wednesday which includes a steak dinner and music. Revervations are needed for this very popular event. (For more information see the brochure at the vacation home.)
Here you can also join the rush and pan for real gold at Gold Rush City. The prospector will give you a hand and demonstrate the technique to find gold. This is fun for adults and children alike!
If you are thinking of enjoying a dip in a lake on a hot summer day you'll want to go to Bass Lake, close to Oakhurst. There are numerous sandy beaches where the children can build sand castles and you can swim in the lake.
Or rent a paddle board, canoe, kayak or paddle boat at Miller's Landing. Then finish the day with a dinner at Ducey's on the Lake where you can eat for discounted prices between 4 and 6 pm every day.