For those who like to play as hard as they work, the High Sierra offers plenty of opportunity. From late nights and live music in South Lake Tahoe to backcountry adventures in Yosemite National Park the adventure doesn’t stop until you throw in the towel.
Courtesy Greg Von Doersten | AuroraPhotography | Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Rise and shine with Ed’s best omelet at the Driftwood Café in the Heavenly Village to fuel up for a day on the mountain. Gear rentals are available in the village at Heavenly Sports. Save time by making reservations in advance before enjoying a day of wide-open groomers or a challenge in Mott Canyon or Killebrew Canyon. The Heavenly Ski and Ride School provides group and private lessons for skiers and riders of all ages and abilities.
The après party starts at Tamarack Lodge during Unbuckle with the Heavenly Angels, live DJ’s and drink and food specials.
Those looking for the full winter experience should also plan to visit Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Each resort is a short drive from South Lake Tahoe and each serves up a variety of terrain from the terrain parks that are home to Olympic athletes at Sierra and the big mountain skiing at Kirkwood.
Cross-country skiers have plenty of trails to explore from the 35 km system at Camp Richardson to the 80 km at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
Indulge in a luxurious meal at Park Prime located in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The menu features local grass-fed beef and wines from the heart of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Catch a show at Vinyl before calling it a night.
Day 1 Highlights
Glam and glitz meets the rustic and laid back vibe of a mountain town in South Lake Tahoe. Straddling the border of California and Nevada, the town offers endless outdoor exploration coupled with all night entertainment.
Start the day with a warm breakfast at Heidi’s Family Restaurant. Indulge yourself with fresh Belgian waffles or go light with a variety of crepes. Afterwards, take a short drive to Pope Beach and let that meal digest while you soak up the rays and take in the views.
Continue north on a scenic drive and explore the beautiful shores of Emerald Bay. A one-mile hike from the parking area takes explorers to the lakeshore and the historic Vikingsholm Castle. Daily tours are offered for those who want to discover more about the Scandinavian-inspired architecture. Paddleboard and kayak rentals are available at the beach for those who want to head out to Fannette Island and explore the teahouse. Or hike the shoreline and check out Eagle Falls. This area is also one of the gateways to the Desolation Wilderness for those looking for a deeper adventure.
Head back to town and take a ride on the Heavenly Gondola and enjoy stunning views of Lake Tahoe from the lodge at the summit. Enjoy a snack at the Tamarack Lodge, which serves smoky barbecue and artisan pizzas.
After spending the afternoon exploring the village, check out a sushi dinner at the Naked Fish and get ready for a night on the town. The Montbleu Casino and the new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino host a variety of headlining musicians every weekend, or catch some laughs at the Improv Comedy Club at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
For a different kind of dinner experience, sign up for a dinner cruise on the MS Dixie II. Enjoy a gourmet meal and live music while watching the sunset from Tahoe’s clear waters. On special occasions, Rock the Boat Parties transform the MS Dixie into a floating nightclub with three levels of DJs and bands that keep the music bumping late into the night. Camping is available at the Zephyr Cove Resort, or shuttles take partiers back to South Lake Tahoe where lodging is available at all casinos.
Day 2 Highlights
Hit the road bright and early and get ready to head deeper into the High Sierra. Don’t forget to grab a quick cup of coffee and some fresh baked goods at Freel Perk Coffee in Meyers before heading south on Highway 89. The scenic drive over Monitor Pass and the surrounding areas including Ebbetts Pass are a popular destination for road bikers. Each July, the region is home to the Death Ride, where the best of the best ride 129 miles and 15,000 vertical feet over 5 mountain passes including Monitor, Ebbetts and Carson passes. Alternatively, the area is home to great hiking and fishing.
The Grover Hot Springs State Park is open year-round for both tent and small motor home camping. Spend the day exploring the many trails through the park or fishing in the Hot Springs Creek before taking a dip in one of two pools fed by six natural springs.
Take a short drive into Markleeville and dine at the local’s favorite Mad Dog Café at Woodfords Station. For those who plan to spend an extra couple of days in Markleeville, the Creekside Lodge is a quaint spot along the Markleeville Creek. Enjoy dinner at the Wolfcreek Restaurant which hosts live music on the weekends.
Continue south to Bridgeport for more outdoor adventure. Surrounded by National Forest lands, Bridgeport is a center for hunting, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. Each June, the town hosts the Bridgeport Trout Tournament, which brings the whole family together for a day of fishing and fun. Nearby Twin Lakes is also stocked with trophy-sized trout and once set the California state record for brown trout. Stop at Twin Lakes Resort and rent a boat for a day on the lake.
Just south of Bridgeport is the Travertine Hot Springs, voted by Lonely Planet as one of the top U.S. Destinations in 2013. The Travertine springs are the most accessible in the area and offer several different pools for guests to soak in.
Discover the history of the High Sierra by visiting the Mono County Museum housed in the original Bridgeport Elementary School built in 1880.
Rhino’s Bar has some of the best fried chicken in the High Sierra, so be sure to add that on your must-do-list before settling in for the night at the Bridgeport Historic Inn.
Day 3 Highlights
Grab an espresso and pastry at 1881 Coffee Café in Bridgeport. Set in a vintage Victorian-style house, the restaurant offers free Wi-Fi and is the perfect location to catch up while enjoying a cup of coffee.
Once a bustling town during California’s gold mining boom, Bodie is now a preserved snapshot of life in the 1800s. Explore the church, school, homes, stores and saloons, and imagine yourself wandering the streets of the Wild West. (Before setting out for Bodie, make sure you have water and snacks as there are no services.Also note that the last three miles are a graded, dirt road that can be rough, so drive carefully).
After working up an appetite reliving the past, drive south to Lee Vining and have lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli (yes, it’s in the Mobil Gas Station), or the Mono Market for a grab-and-go homemade burrito before beginning your next adventure.
The mythical-looking limestone formations at Mono Lake’s South Tufa Reserve are not to be missed. A self-guided tour allows visitors to observe the towers as well as surrounding wildlife, including gull and brine shrimp. During the summer, naturalist guided tours are offered daily for a chance to learn more about this unique ecosystem.
End the day with a scenic drive on the June Lake Loop. If your legs are itching for one last adventure, hit the trail for an easy 2-mile hike around Gull Lake and take in the surrounding peaks. Drop by the June Lake Brewery for a well-deserved pint of delicious craft beer.
Finish the day with a steak dinner at the Carson Peak Inn or more casual fare at the Tiger Bar & Café and don’t forget to try a slice of fresh baked pie or German chocolate cake. Book a cabin at the secluded Double Eagle Resort and Spa for a restful night’s sleep.
Day 4 Highlights
Get an early start for a day in Yosemite National Park. After a delicious breakfast at the Silver Lake Café down canyon in June Lake, head to the east entrance to Yosemite via Highway 120 and Tioga Pass Road. Generally visitors should plan to arrive in the popular Yosemite Valley before 9 a.m. to find parking. Allow 2 hours from June Lake. You can help cut down on traffic in the park by using public transportation. The YARTS bus offers rides from June Lake, Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes daily in the summer.
Catch your first taste of Yosemite at Tuolumne Meadows. Be sure to stop at Olmsted Point for magnificent views of Half Dome, Clouds Rest and Tenaya Lake before continuing on to Yosemite Valley. The options for exploring the park are endless, from guided bus tours to self-guided bike tours and back country backpacking. Hike the famous Mist Trail and experience Vernal and Nevada Falls up close and personal.
Kids may enjoy the opportunity to become a Junior Ranger while exploring some of Yosemite’s biggest attractions and discovering the natural history of the area with a park ranger. Additionally, young adventure seekers can learn a new skill with rock climbing, downhill skiing and cross country skiing lessons offered seasonally. Guided walks and hikes are catered to visitors’ interests including twilight hikes, photography walks and historic tours. It’s not possible to enjoy all Yosemite has to offer in one day, so be sure to take notes for your next trip.
Head back to Tuolumne Meadows and spend the night at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge after enjoying a hearty family-style dinner with the other campers. If you are unable to get reservations at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, continue driving to the east side where June Lake, Mammoth Lakes, and Lee Vining will have availability.
PLEASE NOTE: Highway 120 East over Tioga Pass to Yosemite’s east entrance is closed in the winter months, usually from mid-November to mid-May.
Enjoy a day hiker omelet and a cup of coffee at Basecamp Café before heading out to explore the sites, such as Devils Postpile National Monument, a must see in the area. This immense columnar basalt rock formation is a great opportunity to learn about the geological activity that formed the mountains of the High Sierra. Additionally, the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail meet up in the park, giving plenty of opportunity for day hikes and longer adventures. Don’t miss the chance to see the San Joaquin River rushing over Rainbow Falls.
After a fun-filled day, grab a local brew at Mammoth Brewing Co. The tap house recently opened The Eatery serving braised short ribs, lobster corndogs, and shrimp and bacon beignets among other things. For something a little more indulgent, check out The Underground in Mammoth Village serving up French Cuisine. Settle in for the night at The Alpenhof, a Swiss style chalet conveniently located near the village.
Day 6 Highlights
Courtesy Mammoth Lakes Tourism
Mammoth is known for some of the best skiing and riding in California, and during the summer, Mammoth Mountain transforms into one of the largest bike parks in the country, with 3,500 acres offering over 80 miles of single track. Beginners can learn in the Discovery Zone, while the more experienced will enjoy miles of challenging trails. Rent all you need at Main Lodge or at the Mountain Center in Mammoth Village. For a more relaxed day, take in a scenic gondola ride to 3,369 meters and soak up the 360° views, while learning about the area at the Eleven53 Interpretive Center.
Stop by Lakanuki Bar & Café for a taste of the Hawaiian Islands for happy hour. Enjoy Tuna Poke, Teriyaki burgers or a Lomi Lomi Kale salad. After dinner, take advantage of the free shuttle system in Mammoth Lakes to experience a night out on the town. Rafters hosts live music every weekend. Alternatively, head back to The Alpenhof for a night in the hot tub and a quiet night relaxing.