John Muir had it right when he penned the words, “Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best.” The High Sierra California region is a mountain range that’s unrivaled in geography, topography, and scenery. A place that everyone from families to adrenaline junkies will enjoy.
How could we talk about the Sierra Nevada without mentioning the crowning jewel of these mountains – Lake Tahoe. Every nook and cranny as Mark Twain cooed is where the Angel’s breath is filled with an almost infinite amount of Instagramable locations. Take in Bonsai Rock, a granite stone in the lake that resembles an artful bonsai sculpture. Enjoy a sunset via a short hike to the top of Cave Rock for a 180 degree view of Tahoe. Finally, get your fix of adrenaline by pushing your limits and try rock climbing with a local guide on the Via Ferrata at Palisades Tahoe just outside of the historic town of Truckee. Or just get back to nature by exploring what a 19th century emigrant called the “Land of Ice & Fire.”
California Gold Rush
San Francisco’s team is named after the magical year gold was discovered in the foothills of the High Sierra California region. It was one of the most influential dates in the High Sierra’s history. Literally overnight it changed the landscape of the West and helped propel California into becoming a state. You can still catch glimpses of this past by visiting ghost-towns such as the Bodie State Historic Park. Visit vibrant and lively towns born from the era such as Mariposa and see the state’s rich “rock” history at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum. And if you want to try your hand at gold panning, you still can at places like the Matelot Gulch Mining Company in the Columbia State Historic Park, the Angels Camp Museum or Prospect Yosemite.
National Parks Galore
Not one. Not two. But THREE national parks live in the High Sierra California region for you to visit that encompass over 1,613,920 acres of land within the Sierra Nevada. And that doesn’t include all the wilderness such as Ansel Adams Wilderness or John Muir Wilderness. We understand that some of you just don’t have a lot of time, and that’s why we suggest looking at the Majestic Mountain Loop. It’s an itinerary that covers all three parks within three days. With that being said, we HIGHLY recommend slowing down if you can to really get to know these amazing parks.
Yosemite National Park
First up – Yosemite. Known for nature’s version of a cathedral, the walls of Yosemite Valley are truly one of the great wonders of the world. Due to these tall granite cliffs, it’s home to one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the world, especially during the spring run-off. Don’t forget to check out Ansel Adams’ Gallery and experience the Parkitecture-style in person by enjoying a hot toddy or meal at the Ahwahnee Dining Room. If visiting in the summer, head up into the truly “High Sierra.” As the snow melts, you’ll be rewarded with a birds-eye view of the valley from Glacier Point or the wildflower bounty in Tuolumne Meadows. Finally, cap off the trip with a visit to the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa or Tuolumne Grove.
SEKI For Short
Connected by the Generals Highway and having a border with each, both Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are typically named together (SEKI). But don’t let that confuse you. They each have their own distinct personalities and attractions.
Sequoia National Park
As the name alludes, Sequoia is the star of the show for these titans of trees. It’s home to the largest tree in the world – General Sherman. What’s most wondrous about this park though is the sheer size and quantity of groves within its boundaries. And that’s only scratching the surface from the many other attractions such as Moro & Hospital Rocks.
Kings Canyon National Park
To the north you’ll find Kings Canyon, the polar opposite of Sequoia. The focus here is about wilderness. A true gateway for natural adventurers. To see most of the park, you’ll need to take John Muir’s words seriously “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt” and go hiking in the park. Even if you don’t feel like going for a long stroll, this park is worth the visit for the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. Starting out at 7,000 feet high, it winds its way down into the deepest canyon in the United States. As you stand at Roads End, you’ll realize why John Muir once called this canyon “a rival to Yosemite.”
Don’t Forget The State Parks!
The National Parks may get all the glory, but California’s state park system is a wealth of natural attractions to explore. See for yourself where the first Giant Sequoia was discovered in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Take in the nation’s ONLY bi-state park – Van Sickle which straddles both Nevada AND California giving you views of Lake Tahoe. Learn the true story of the infamous Donner Party at the Donner Memorial State Park & Museum. Or shove off on the same train from Back to the Future III in the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. See one of the oldest lakes in western hemisphere at the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Enjoy the largest ghost-town of its kind preserved in a state of “arrested decay” at the Bodie State Historic Park.
Yes, the Rockies are tall, but when it comes to the highest point in the contiguous United States, it’s right here in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – Mt. Whitney. It’s a no brainer to be on the peak bagging list for any serious mountaineer. Even if you aren’t climbing this peak, the area to the East is a must visit for everyone.
And Big Spaces
Known as the Eastern Sierra, it’s a place with so many adventures you could fill thousands of lifetimes with plenty of elbow room. And what connects it all might be one of the greatest road-trip thoroughfares in the country – Highway 395. Running parallel to the massive peaks to the West, you’ll find quick road-trip diversions such as California’s Switzerland. Unique geological oddities like Devils Postpile National Monument. Or even one of Hollywood’s most favorite filming locations since the early 20th century, Alabama Hills.
The Sierra are unmatched when it comes to snowy fun. Winter storms deposit FEET of snow at a time. In between these powder producers, you’ll find nice sunny weather to enjoy the bounty. Go skiing or snowboarding at world-class resorts like Palisades Tahoe or Mammoth Mountain. Make legendary turns in Truckee-Tahoe, the birthplace of California ski culture where ski history roots run deep, dating back to the 1800s. Explore the hidden High Sierra resorts like Bear Valley, Dodge Ridge or June Mountain. Twirl on a pair of ice skates on legendary rinks like Curry Village in Yosemite Valley. Or better yet, just take in the winter wonderland via a snowshoe hike or head out on a pair of cross-country skis across the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Haven’t gotten enough about the Sierra? Here’s 10 Sierra Nevada Mountain Facts we’re pretty sure you don’t know… and if you do, you must be a lover of the High Sierra California region just as much as us! Then here’s 6 unique places to visit in California High Sierra that are lesser known but still just as amazing.
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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