The Sierra Nevada has gained many monikers over the years. Names such as “the High Sierra” or “the range of light” just to name a couple. Forming the eastern periphery of the state of California, this mountain range houses some of the most jaw-dropping scenery and natural attractions unlike anywhere else in the world. To help make you an expert on these peaks, here’s 10 Sierra Nevada Mountain Facts to impress your friends & family.

Sierra Nevada Means “Snow-covered Mountain Range”

Sunny winter day in the Sierra Nevada
Image by Javier RTG from Pixabay

As soon as your eyes meet the Sierra Nevada, what comes to mind? For most, they’ll typically say they’re big and snow-covered. And that’s exactly what it means! In Spanish, the term means “snow-covered mountain range.” How could such a fitting name come to be? Well, you have to go back to 1776 during the Spanish colonial period in California’s history. A Spanish soldier by the name of Pedro Font headed east and saw a range of high snowy mountains to the East. Describing what he saw, he mapped their features as una gran sierra Nevada or in English “a big snowy mountain range.” And voila… more than 200 years later, the name still stands.

Built By Fire Forged By Ice

half-dome-in-yosemiteApproximately 400 miles long, the Sierra are part of a larger network of mountain ranges called the American Cordillera. This set of ranges runs the full western border of the Americas and forms the eastern half of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The uplift of the Sierra Nevada began around four million years ago, but the canyons & granite you see today were exposed due to glaciers. Great examples of this include Kings Canyon, Hetch Hetchy Valley, & of course, the legendary Yosemite Valley.

There’s More Than One Sierra Nevada

Spain Sierra Nevada
Spain’s Sierra Nevada – Image by Makalu from Pixabay

Although we LOVE the High Sierra and the gorgeous scenery of the California Sierra Nevada mountains, there’s also another with the same name in Spain. They’re located in a region called Andalucia and contains Mulhacén, the highest point of continental Spain at a modest 11,411’ feet above sea level.

Highest Point Is Mt. Whitney

Mt Whitney on a cloudy day in the High SierraNot to be outdone by Spain’s mountain range, the Sierra Nevada in California doesn’t have just the highest peak in California but also the ENTIRE contiguous United States. Mount Whitney stands at a whopping 14,505’ above sea level. Each year, nearly 23,000 people attempt to summit this peak. While the mountain is within the Sequoia National Park, the best place to see it is from the Interagency Visitor Center on Highway 395. For more about this mountain and three others, check out our blog post four mountain peaks to see in the High Sierra.

Tallest Waterfall In The U.S.

Learn more about waterfalls in Yosemite

yosemite falls
Photo by: Kim Lawson – Image appears courtesy: Visit Yosemite | Madera County

Yet another shining example of the sheer immensity of the California Sierra Nevada range. We’re talking about none other than the tallest waterfall in the United States. The Yosemite Falls within the same named national park has a vertical drop of 2,425 feet. For more about waterfall options that cascade down from the High Sierra, check out our Waterfall season is here post.

Largest Trees In The World

Nelder Grove Bull Buck Giant Sequoia
Image appears courtesy: Visit Yosemite | Madera County – Photo by: Local Freshies

Sequoias and giant Redwoods are often referred to interchangeably even though they are VERY different species of tree. While both naturally occur ONLY in California, the Giant Sequoia is found in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Although their cousins the Giant Redwood are taller, the Sequoias reign supreme in size. General Sherman within the Sequoia National Park is the biggest. Weighing in at 2.7 MILLION pounds, standing 275 feet tall, and over 100 feet in width. It isn’t just the largest living tree… it’s also owns the title of largest living organism on the planet! For more about where to see these gentle giants, check out our article Sequoias – Modern Day Equivalent Of Jack And The Giant Beanstalk.

It’s The Sierra Not The SierraS

When you do visit the High Sierra, one thing that many mistakenly say is adding an “S” to the end. Sierra in Spanish is mountains (plural), so adding an “S” is like saying “the mountains’s.” Just saying Sierra is the way to do it!

Mountains With Their Own Unique Sheep

Photo By: Randy Smith – Image appears courtesy: Visit Bishop

Keen eyesight. Strong legs. Amazing balance. The original mountaineers of the Sierra Nevada. We’re not talking about humans, but rather the unique animal mountaineers of the Sierra – the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. Native only to this mountain range, these muscular mountain climbers can be found grazing the windswept sides of peaks in the winter to the rocky alpine habitats as high as 14,500 feet. To see them in person, as well as an opportunity to see unparalleled views via cross country skiing or snowshoeing, check out our article winter guided tours in the High Sierra.

Home To 3 National Parks & 2 Monuments

Devils Postpile
Devil’s Postpile National Monument – Image appears courtesy: Mammoth Mountain

The Sierra Nevada are home to not one or two national parks & monuments, but rather five! This includes the legendary Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and somewhat lesser known Giant Sequoia & Devils Postpile National Monuments. This network of interlinked parks provide a striking biodiversity in ecosystems, plants, & animals due to the huge range of elevations. You really need to see them all for yourself!

2nd Deepest Lake In The U.S.

Women taking scenic cell phone pic of Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe California
Photo by: Brand USA – Image appears courtesy: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority

Mark Twain’s words said it best about Lake Tahoe. He described it as the “fairest picture the whole world affords.” In addition to this beauty, it’s also the 2nd deepest lake in the United States with a depth of over 1,645 feet. So deep in fact that the exact depth wasn’t known until 1875. The lowest reaches of the sparkling gem of the Sierra can be found on the northern shore within Crystal Bay. For more fun and unique facts about Lake Tahoe, check out Tahoe South’s 4 fun things you may not know about Lake Tahoe.

Now that you’ve learned a little more about the “snowy range”, it’s time to explore this range for yourself. Have fun finding even more hidden golden nuggets of your own.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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