Location: 35 miles (56 km) southwest of Yosemite entrance; 43 miles (69 km) from Yosemite Valley; via Highway 140 (map)
Population 1,769; elevation 1,953 feet (595 meters)
Mariposa is a historic town in a pretty mountain location, with a short but charming gold-rush-era main district. It hosts a handful of midrange motels, a scattering of art galleries and antique shops, and California's oldest county courthouse in continuous use (it dates from 1854).
Pro: It's a reasonable drive from Mariposa to Yosemite, especially in the winter, when Highway 140's lower elevation makes it the most chain-free route into the park. Mariposa itself is a pleasant little town with historical attractions of its own.
Con: You don't expect to find traffic backed up behind stoplights 20 miles from the nearest city, but such is the case on Highway 140, the route from Mariposa into Yosemite, where a 2006 landslide prompted the building of one-lane bridges to detour traffic to the opposite side of the canyon and back again in the slide area. There may be waits of 5 or 10 minutes for the light, and traffic can take a while to get untracked on the other side, especially if there's a truck or two ahead of you. You do get to see the landslide, though, an undeniably impressive sight. Because of the sharp turns onto the detour bridges, vehicles over 45 feet (13 meters) long aren't allowed on this route, and it's solid entertainment watching someone in a rented RV attempt to negotiate these corners.
Shopping: If you need basics, you'll find a nearly full-sized grocery store, the Pioneer Market, a block off the main street behind the rest area and the Mariposa Museum. There's a Rite Aid on Highway 49 at the north end of town, just past the 140/49 intersection.
If you're more of a recreational shopper, you should still be able to pass a few happy hours here: Mariposa has what must be one of the world's highest per-capita rates of art galleries and antique shops, and also hosts secondhand clothing stores, a gem shop, and - a sure indicator of civilization - a used-book store.
Coffee Emergencies: There's a Peet's Coffee inside the Pioneer Market. If your timing is good, you might also find the Java Joe's coffee truck in the rest area.
ATM Machines: Yosemite Bank has two branches with ATMs, one at the north end of town in the Miner's Inn center and one at the southern end in Pioneer Village. There are two more machines near the rest area, at Westamerica Bank and the Merco Credit Union. The Stage Stop Mini Mart & gas station, along Mariposa's main street, also has a machine. Finally, if you're a member of the Merced School Employees Federal Credit Union, you're in luck! You've got at ATM next to the Pioneer Market.
Medical Help: There's an emergency room near the north end of town at the John C. Fremont Hospital.
YARTS Stop: In front of the visitor center, which is at the north end of town at the junction of highways 49 and 140.
The Mariposa Museum: If you've got an hour or two to spare, check out this small gem tucked off Mariposa's main street next to the rest area. It's been acclaimed by the Smithsonian as the best museum of its size west of the Mississippi - the staff assure me of this, at any rate, and who am I to gainsay them? It certainly appears worthy. Highlights include lively, well-crafted displays on Mariposa's gold-rush history; frontier life, from schools to saloons; and the area's most notable pioneer, John C. Fremont. There's a working gold ore mill and a variety of other mining equipment on the grounds. The gift shop sells items ranging from books to tiny vials of gold dust. It's open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Adults are charged $3 for admission; kids get in free. For more information, visit the museum's website, which, in an inspired bit of meta-museuming, is itself an artifact from another century.
Walking Tours: Mariposa is an eminently walkable town, and you can see just about the whole city in a couple hours. Most of the scenery is along Mariposa's historic main street; stop by the Mariposa County Visitors Bureau at the northern intersection of Highways 49 and 140 for a free walking-tour guide that includes the locations and provenances of Mariposa's historical buildings, some of which date to the 1850's. For a quieter outing, head a block downhill from the main street to the Mariposa Creek Parkway, a path that runs parallel to Highway 140 along Mariposa Creek. It's also worth walking a few blocks uphill to see the historic Mariposa County Courthouse, built in 1854 and dispensing justice ever since.
59 guest rooms; outdoor pool and hot tub; free wireless Internet; free continental breakfast; pets allowed (extra fee)
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4 guest rooms, all with queen beds and private baths; all rooms non-smoking; $150 - $160 (see rates page)
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(855) 562-7596 · Website · 14 guests max · $175 - $355
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Little Lodge (Sierrascape Vacation Rentals)
2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1,500 square feet, 7-acre property; full kitchen; outdoor hot tub; wireless Internet; washer & dryer; $195 - $285 (see rates page); additional cleaning fees of $75 - $120; additional $20 per extra guest for parties larger than four
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