Many mountain ranges have ski towns focused only on one time of year. The High Sierra is very fortunate to offer an assortment of mountain towns featuring fun & adventure all year round. Don’t believe us? Here’s just a sampling of the best mountain towns in California High Sierra to visit ANY time of year.
The town of Oakhurst is the perfect place to setup your basecamp not just for Yosemite but the treasure trove of adventure to be had in the foothills of the Sierra. Pretty much any time of year you can hop on a mountain bike and feast on more than 2,000 vertical feet of singletrack in Bass Lake. Step back in time to the logging days of the late 19th century and set off on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. In the winter, there are a host of unique natural phenomena to see and things to do. For example, set off on a pair of cross-country skis to get a taste of what Yosemite was like when Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir visited. While in the summer, the waters of Bass Lake provide a perfect backdrop for paddling or any water sport you can imagine.
Just like a proud parent, we think all the towns & communities surrounding the Lake Tahoe region are amazing, and we can’t say one is better than the others. But for those looking for an enclave filled with shops, boutiques, & lakefront restaurants that are right on the crystal clear waters of North Lake Tahoe, then you may want to consider Tahoe City.
In the winter, you’re located mere minutes from an assortment of ski resorts like Palisades Tahoe, Homewood Resort, and Granlibakken Ski & Sled Hill. In the summer, you’re just steps away from fun. Just walk down the stairs to Commons Beach for a dip or listen to some free, live outdoor music. September’s “Secret Season” boasts leaf peeping hikes, high-altitude training and races including the World Championship Spartan Race, locally-sourced menus, and the renowned Autumn Food & Wine Festival. Let’s just say the fun never stops… it just evolves based on the time of year.
The southernmost Golden nugget of the Gold Rush towns. Its BIG backyard is the envy of so many other cities – Yosemite National Park. And yet Mariposa has kept its small-town charm and wears it well. Stroll the main thoroughfare and pick up a gift for a friend or family. Sip on wines grown within the county or enjoy a frosty pint brewed locally. Take in California’s bounty by visiting the California State Mining and Mineral Museum. Home to the “Fricot Nugget”, a 13.8 POUND monster that was found in the American River in 1864. Try your hand at prospecting with Prospect Yosemite. And don’t forget the explosion of wildflowers each season on the Hite Cove Trail.
Amongst the towering pines and situated at 4,000 feet above sea level, Twain-Harte provides a perfect basecamp to the High Sierra in any season. In the summer, its elevation provides naturally air-conditioned air yet low enough to provide mild winters. During the warmer months, explore the many trails on Sonora Pass such as Leavitt Meadows giving you access to alpine lakes. Take in the unique volcanic formations on the Trail of the Gargoyles or the Columns of the Giants. Once the snow flies, get your adrenaline fix on the slopes of Dodge Ridge, or for some frosty fun, visit the biggest snow play park in California – Leland Snow Play. At over twelve acres in size, you’ll have more than enough room to build a snowman, go tubing, or anything else you can imagine.
This list wouldn’t be complete without including this adventure mountain town. Nestled in the eastern side of the High Sierra, when it comes down to outdoor mountain fun, Mammoth Lakes is the champion. Mammoth’s ski season typically starts in early November and runs up to July 4th or even longer. Mammoth Mountain covers over 3,500 acres and often boasts some of the deepest annual snowpack in the country. During the summer, the ski area morphs into a mountain bike haven offering over 80 miles of lift-accessed singletrack, kids adventure center, a Via Ferrata and serves as the gateway to Devil’s Postpile National Park and the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park . Couple that with hot springs, thousands of acres of wilderness to explore (Yosemite, Ansel Adams, & John Muir Wilderness areas), and events like the Bluesapalooza & you can’t go wrong.
Being only twenty minutes from the shores of “big blue”, this cozy town is usually lumped in as part of “Tahoe,” but it shouldn’t be. It has its own charm and character. In addition to the natural beauty you find in this part of the Sierra, what really makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest is its historic and vibrant downtown. Truckee’s mountain cuisine is just as elevated as its elevation. Start off with a dinner on top of a hilltop at the Cottonwood which provides you an overlooking view of downtown Truckee. Then head down to Main Street and stop for a drink at Bar of America, located in a beautifully restored 19th century historic building. This is merely a sampling of the foodie fun you can have along with your hiking, biking, and skiing adventures.
For some, going on vacation is to get away from it all. For others, it’s about getting inspired. Why not combine them both into one! Not too far from the cozy town of Angels Camp is a quaint cabin that some of the GREATEST literature of the American West was written, by the likes of Bret Harte & Mark Twain. It’s also home to the annual frog jumping jubilee & is one of the most picturesque downtown’s your eyes will ever see. You can stroll the main street or head out to New Melones Lake for hiking, mountain biking, & even amazing fishing. In the end, you’ll come home reenergized and inspired to make something as everlasting as Bret Harte & Mark Twain themselves.
Escape the noise of daily life and reconnect with nature by visiting the scenic town of Markleeville. In the summer, take a short stroll to see a waterfall in Grover Hot Springs State Park. Or push yourself to the limit with a road biking adventure to the top of Monitor Pass. In the winter, get your fix of powder skiing at Kirkwood Mountain Resort or just enjoy some serenity on a pair of cross-country skis in Hope Valley. Whatever you do, be sure to leave some time to explore all the new dining options available in Markleeville.
A bouldering paradise. A fishermen’s dream. Scenery that’s unreal. So incredible that nearly 400 films have been shot in a place called Alabama Hills just outside of town. And yet Bishop is a town that embraces its past. It holds annual events such as Mule Days which plays host to the largest non-motorized parade in the world. And the Laws Railroad Museum gives you an opportunity to see what life was like when settlers came to the Owens Valley. Due to its location, you can enjoy pleasant weather in the winter and do things like rock climbing or hiking and still see snow-covered peaks from a distance. This is but a glimpse as to why Bishop is one of the best mountain towns in California.
As you can see, there’s no wrong time to visit the Sierra Nevada. This is just a taste of the best mountain towns in California High Sierra. Don’t just stop here, explore all the towns that exist in the foothills, mountains, and valleys in this area. You won’t be disappointed.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at https://localfreshies.com
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