Mariposa County Claims its Roots in Butterflies, Yosemite Mountain Escapes and Gold Rush Days


Mariposa County lives life large. From the tiniest butterfly to Yosemite National Park with famed Half Dome, unparalleled grandeur sets the stage for vacations that live up to expectations--and surpass them!


Like gold prospectors who came to Mariposa County to strike it rich in towns such as Coulterville (where you can stay in Hotel Jeffery that once served miners their liquor, their ladies, and a place to sleep,) travelers today are finding gold nuggets. One of the most stunning pieces of gold is on display in the town of Mariposa, home to the California State Mining and Mineral Museum.


Smithsonian Institute called this the best state gem museum in the U.S., and it lives up to its reputation. A huge, sparkling gold rock weighing 13.8 pounds is one of the highlights of the collection artfully displayed in this California State Parks showcase.  Comprised of crystallized gold that shimmers in the light, the rare Fricot Nugget is the largest remaining intact mass of crystalline gold from 19th century California. Discovered in the American River in 1864, its size and beauty draw the imagination to the miner, William Russell Davis, who found this specimen and must have declared, "Eureka!" Sitting in a safe deposit box in Calaveras, California for over 65 years, the nugget's rightful owner, Marie Berton, agreed to donate this world class specimen to the museum in honor of her father, Jules Fricot. He was a Grass Valley (Gold Country) resident who purchased it from the gold miner, displayed it in Paris Exposition in 1878, and kept it in the safe deposit box where it sat even after he passed away.  How different life may have been for earlier settlers, the Miwok Indians, who ignored gold in the river beds, not having any use for something they couldn't feed the family with!


Another fantastic museum in the town of Mariposa houses many artifacts, gold rush collections, and documents key to the formation of Mariposa County. A large wall map in a room that houses a Gutenberg press offers a visual display that the "Mother of all Counties" once comprised one-fifth of the land in the State of California. Docents provide guided tours and relive the past through activities and special celebrations at the Mariposa Museum.


In ghost towns, forests, and mountains that whisper the history of thousands of years, Mariposa County's famed Yosemite National Park is a worthy moniker representing a county whose name in Spanish means "butterfly".  One of 58 California counties that vacationers might otherwise overlook features the striking Half Dome, a natural rock formation immortalized by Ansel Adams in black & white photos. The famous photographer who invented the zone system is remembered for contributions to preservation and promotion of the region, including the annual Bracebridge Dinner that Adams helped shape. With a love of culture and an eye toward nature, he artfully captured the essence of striking mountain formations carved by glaciers, and became one of the best promoters of Yosemite, selling his photographs of the park to collectors around the globe. While the Ansel Adams Gallery inside the park sells his prints at affordable prices, his original collection has been valued at $250 million, and a single photo sold in 2006 for over $600,000!


The beloved Yosemite that Adams so fiercely fought to preserve is today focused on conservation. It takes a huge effort to protect the fragile ecosystem, according to park rangers who meet and greet some of the three million annual travelers who visit Yosemite Valley. Paved paths designed to keep tourists from trampling the pristine meadows, and a policy that prohibits removing anything from the park (including pine cones,) help minimize and mitigate damage caused by millions of cars, campers, tour buses and people. The park's green programs are extensive and reach even the luxury hotels such as Ahwahnee, Wawona and Tenaya, where recycling is mandatory and biodegradable products are cutting edge. 


Who wouldn't want to protect and preserve this paradise? Mariposa's butterflies gracefully meander in meadows, part of a magical, surreal scene framed by cascading waterfalls that come to life in the spring, spilling melted snowpack into the Merced River. A fantastic place to stay along the river, Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, sits on the western edge of the national park less than 12 miles from the heart of it all. With some special rooms and suites overlooking the Merced, travelers who discover that the mountain hotels in and around the park are completely full, agree that this is one of the best kept secrets. With several restaurants and a gift shop on site, amenities include spacious rooms with conveniences such as microwave ovens, stovetops, and a small refrigerator in most rooms.


Downstream a bit further from the hotel and the mountain, you can suit up and climb into a guided whitewater raft excursion, enjoying the river first-hand. Considered some of the best rafting in California, class four and five rapids offer plenty of excitement and challenge, and the perfect way to cool your jets on a hot summer day.


For mellow water sports, rent a houseboat on McClure Lake, and enjoy views of the scenic Sierra foothills, taking it all in from the center of cool. Houseboats include sleeping quarters for up to 10 or 12 people, full kitchens, bathrooms with showers, high definition television, and even a slide that you can climb on and land in the lake for a refreshing swim.


Mariposa's accommodations run the spectrum from the four diamond Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, to an equally inviting Tenaya Lodge offering resort amenities such as indoor and outdoor swimming pools, full gym, on site restaurants with world class cuisine, an espresso bar, and an incredible calendar of events with themed weekends and holiday happenings. 


Big surprises come in unassuming places such as Coulterville, however, less than 90 minutes west of Yosemite Valley. The ghost town is home to Hotel Jeffery, an authentic gold rush hotel built in 1851.  With no less than 17 friendly spirits sharing the space, you can roll back the clock more than a century as you soak up the vibe and commune with the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the esteemed hotel guests. While he is not believed to be one of the hotel's ghosts, the playful characters that are reported offer an exciting element, and promise of an experience for those willing to open their minds to the unexplained. Indisputably memorable are the mesquite smoked ribs or prime rib served in the hotel restaurant. Slow cooked over flavorful wood, the tender meats simply melts in your mouth!


Before you go: If you are planning a trip to Mariposa County, home to Yosemite National Park, there are many museums, cultural attractions and events throughout the year. A new guide published by Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau provides complete coverage of the events and attractions you won't want to miss. Order the guide online at, or call and request your guide at (