The West entrance is famous for its divine natural beauty and driver friendly roads. Hwy 140 is always open, allowing access to Yosemite National Park and its seasonal beauty year-round. Your journey begins in heartland Merced. Known as the Gateway to Yosemite, Merced is the natural starting point for the park whether you are traveling Highways 59, 99, 140 or coming by Amtrak or bus. Visit the California Welcome Center and let the friendly staff help you plan your trip. Then head for the Applegate Zoo, visit the Castle Air Museum or taste the region’s best at the Saturday Downtown Farmers’ Market.
Yosemite/Mariposa Tourism Bureau helps you go for the gold. Discover butterfly festivals, wildflower walks, art hops, wine trails and outstanding family dining. Gold Rush history museums and the sheer breathtaking beauty of the place may leave you wondering just where to begin when it comes to exploring Mariposa County. Our recommendation? Start with a visit to the Mariposa County Visitors Center at the corner of Highway 49 and 140 in the town of Mariposa. Experts at tailoring a trip to reflect your interests and tastes, they can help you find the best hotel, inn or B&B to fit your wallet and your needs – romantic, family-friendly luxurious, or RV -recommend restaurants and give a local’s perspective on everything from the best one of a kind shops to hidden haunts and must-drive country roads.
The Merced River Canyon. From the town of Mariposa, traveling to Yosemite National Park via Highway 140 means no matter what the weather is at the higher elevations, you have access to the wonders of Yosemite. But take your time and enjoy the journey. Because the road you are on travels by towns rich in Gold Rush lore, through river canyons blanketed in rainbow-colored stands of wildflowers, then past waterfalls cascading down granite walls. Treat yourself to a stop at the Briceburg Visitor Center where Rangers will point you to the very best places to hike, take a dip in the cool waters of the Merced River, or go for a walk on the wild side as the canyon hillsides bloom in the spring and summer.
Linger in lovely Mariposa. Find history at the junction of Highways 140 and 49 in the Gold Rush town of Mariposa. First settled in 1849, the town is rich with century-old buildings that today house charming restaurants and unique shops like the Bird’s Nest Tea Shop and Chocolate Soup Antiques. Literally walk back in time, stop at the Mariposa Museum and History Center where you can watch Blacksmiths at work or learn about the Native Americans, Spanish, Chinese and Miners who called the area home (some for thousands of years). On the weekends, walk over to the Mariposa County Courthouse for a tour of one of California’s oldest working courts, then make your way to the county fairgrounds for one of the nations’ best gem and mineral museums – the California State Mining and Mineral Museum. One of its highlights is its Junior Ranger program for kids. By night, take in art and culture Mariposa- style with gourmet fare, movies in the park, symphony concerts and getting to know the warm hospitality of the people who call Mariposa home!
The air cools and the scent of pine mingles with fir and cedar as you head toward the Southern entrance through Madera and Mariposa. The community of Fish Camp, just two miles from the Yosemite National Park boundary, is home to charming bed-and-breakfast inns, cabin rentals, and the magnificent Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite.
Once inside the park borders, continue north to Wawona, where you’ll find the Victorian style Wawona Hotel, the Pioneer History center, and the Wawona golf course. Also, The Redwoods In Yosemite offers vacation homes with Chilnualna Falls as a backdrop. 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 Wawona Road continues on to 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 panoramic view of Yosemite Valley, with famous landmarks including Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan.
Highway 132 (John Muir Hwy)
For travelers arriving from the west, Highway 132 provides a scenic, laid back route to Yosemite’s North Entrance. From east Modesto, the road follows the Tuolumne River through rolling hills and picturesque cliffs to historic La Grange—a charming, sleepy country town with its own unique mining history.
Continue east on Highway 132 to reach Lake McClure and Lake Don Pedro—both a water lovers’ paradise, offering camping, fishing, sailing, house boating, water skiing, jet skiing, and nearly 20,000 acres of water to enjoy it on. And golfers, bring your clubs. Lake Don Pedro features a lush, recently enhanced 18-hole golf course set among rolling hills and majestic oaks.
At the intersection of state highways 49 and 132, the community of Coulterville (population: 115) is truly a must-see stop. One of the most unspoiled Gold Rush towns, Coulterville features over 40 historical buildings such as the fully operational historic Hotel Jeffery and its original Magnolia Room saloon. Take the downtown walking tour to see why Coulterville has been named a California State Historic Site.
After Coulterville, Highway 132 climbs toward Greeley Hill, offering impressive vistas in every direction. You may pause there just long enough to eat or stock up. Or, if you’re ready for action, you may decide to rent an ATV or a horse and try out some of the many trails and off-road areas.
The North Gateway into Yosemite (Highway 120) winds through Northern California foothills dotted with Gold Rush towns then drops down into Yosemite Valley, close to Hetch Hetchy – Yosemite’s other grand valley.
If you’re looking to make the most of your trip to Yosemite, why not arrive through the North Gateway and leave on the John Muir Highway? Rich in history and folklore, every mile on the 120 takes you further back in time. You’ll travel through the beautifully-preserved towns like Jamestown and living-history treasures like Columbia State Park. Leave time for outdoor adventure—Tuolumne County is home to world-class river rafting and the Rainbow Pool swimming hole.
Don’t miss out on any of the rich history that Highway 120 has to offer!