Considering that people have been flocking to the High Sierra & its surrounding area since the turn of the 20th century, it’s impressive that there’s still so many lesser-known ways to enjoy the region. Here’s a few great examples of hidden gems in California High Sierra to visit this summer.
Estimated at 3,000 – 6,000 years old, the Bennett Juniper is America’s largest specimen of a Western Juniper. Standing at over 86′ high and a circumference of 480″, this gnarled & knotted monster is something to behold. On a windswept meadow in the Stanislaus Forest at 8,500 feet, imagine all the summer droughts, hard winters and lightning strikes it must’ve taken over the year. With no official signage, it’s a true adventure. Combine it with hiking on the trail of the Gargoyles & you got yourself an awesome weekend in the High Sierra.
Before heading out be sure to check the status of the trails on the Forest Service website: Trail of the Gargoyles & Bennet Juniper
Directions: Head up Highway 108, about one hour east of Sonora halfway between Strawberry and Dardanelle Resort. Take Forest Road 5NO1 most of the way. The road is informally know as Eagle Meadow Road, although it goes far beyond Eagle Meadow. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended with a full tank of gas. Bring water and a camera & note that there are no public facilities.
Stateline Fire Outlook
Lake Tahoe is home to many scenic overlooks like the Tunnel Creek trail which get lots of attention from guidebooks & tourists, but one of the best ones gets “overlooked” – Stateline Fire Outlook. A quick all skill-level hike topping at a 1.5 mile loop & elevation gain of 291 feet, it’s a perfect hour-long stroll. Offering spectacular panoramic lake views as your reward at the summit, do yourself a favor & make this one of your must do hikes when in North Lake Tahoe.
Looking like a lumber pile left by Greek or Roman gods, the 60-foot basalt columns are another sight that you need to see to believe. Formed on site from a volcanic eruption 100,000 years ago, it left an impressive wall of columns. Then, the glaciers came in & exposed the columns which naturally polished and enhanced the lava’s natural hexagonal patterns. Voila, the Devils Postpile! Now you got yourself one of the funkiest, one-of-a kind natural sights out there!
Kings River Canyon
This list wouldn’t be complete without calling out Kings Canyon National Park. Nearly the entire park could be called a hidden gem. Compared to its neighboring sibling Sequoia National Park, this park gets half the visitors but offers views & scenery similar to Yosemite but without its summer crowds. One particular attraction to not miss is the Kings Canyon Scenic byway. Skirting the banks of the roaring Kings River, especially booming during late spring snowmelt, the river’s canyon isn’t just deep… it’s DEEP! Reaching up to 8,200 FEET in depth, you can define this crevasse as an abyss & is in fact one of the deepest canyons in North America.
Historic Summit Tunnel
When it comes to historical significance, the town of Truckee may have the most things you can see in person of ANY mountain town in North America. One of the more unique things to see is the historic summit tunnel. While no longer in use since 1993, this path through the Sierra is significant. When Theodor Judah began dreaming of a way through the “Range of Light” via train, it was thought of next to impossible. Through the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, “Crazy Judah” proved them wrong! While he perished before his vision came to fruition, the tunnel – painstakingly bore by hand – served the region for over 125 years. To explore the tunnels, be sure to bring a headlamp and/or flashlight. And set aside some time to catch a sunset at one of the best spots in the High Sierra – the Rainbow Bridge.
Directions: Take I-80 west to Donner Pass Road follow the winding road up to Donner Pass Ski Ranch. Park in gravel/dirt parking lot across the street from Donner Pass Ski Area.
There’s something strange happening in them hills outside of Bishop. Specifically, one known simply by locals as “Gravity Hill.” Skeptics claim it’s an optical illusion. Some believe it’s due to the magnetic elements in the ground or something even more paranormal. No matter your beliefs, at a precise point in the road where it appears to be going uphill, stop the car and put it in neutral. At first your vehicle will slowly creep forward, then it will gain speed going uphill! As gravity gets a grip on this crazy situation, the car will slow and finally come to a stop. For other hidden gems in California, check out Bishop’s 10 weird & wonderful things to see in the Eastern Sierra.
Benton Crossing Road
Ever wonder where those photos of people skateboarding or cycling with the Eastern Sierra as a backdrop were taken? More likely than not it was on Benton Crossing Road. As Highway 395 hugs the Sierra Nevada, this road lies perpendicular, providing a vital route up and down the backbone of the mountain range. Connecting Mammoth to Benton Hot Springs, Benton Crossing Road receives minimal traffic making for the perfect road cycling destination. Some highlights include unique rock formations called the Benton Crags, Owens River, and the north shore of Crowley Lake. For more lesser known hidden gems up and down the Eastern Sierra, be sure to read the top 10 Instagram worthy spots in Mono county.
The High Sierra is filled with geological oddities that are a sight to behold. And while there’s legendary ones like Half Dome, others are just as interesting but lesser known such as Globe Rock. It shouldn’t come as a surprise since this attraction is in a place called the “Secret Yosemite.” The massive smooth granite boulder sits on top of another rock like a tee. It’s as if a giant troll put it there for his game of golf and then forgot about it. Even though it’s outside the park’s boundaries, the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is filled with scenery, views, and attractions just like this one. If you need a break from the crowds, enjoy this along with other hidden gems in Madera county.
If you’ve seen the must do attractions in the Sierra Nevada or just want to escape the crowds, these hidden gems in the High Sierra are a great option.
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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