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Regardless of your interests or hobbies, visiting historical sites gives you an opportunity to engage with a place. To develop a fuller appreciation of those hardy individuals that spent time in the High Sierra. From the spark of “parkitecture” to the booming gold rush era, each of these historic landmarks provide us a better understanding of why the High Sierra played such a vital role in our nation’s history.

Rangers Club (Yosemite)

Yosemite isn’t home to just one or two national historic landmarks. It has FIVE of them including the Rangers Club. The first director of the park’s Rangers wanted a gathering place for camaraderie amongst the “troops.” So, out of his own pocket he built the Rangers’ Club in 1924. It’s considered by architects as the first example of the “rustic architecture” style known as parkitecture. To learn more about this building the other four national historic landmarks and their significance in our nation’s history, head over to Visit Yosemite | Madera County’s – National Historic Landmarks article.

Donner Memorial State Park (Truckee)

nkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Climbing the Sierra crest even today can be a challenge especially in winter. It’s good idea to pack a blanket, have a full tank of gas, and even some snacks just in case the roads become unpassable. Back in the 1800’s, can you imagine how hard it was to cross these tall peaks in a wagon? Within the Donner Memorial State Park’s boundaries, you’ll find the Emigrant Trail Museum and the Pioneer Monument, built to commemorate those who emigrated to California from the east during that time. It’s also the site of the Donner Camp where members of the ill-fated Donner party were trapped by weather during the 1846-47 winter.

Columbia State Historic Park (Tuolumne)

Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne County

A bit further south and west in the foothills is the Columbia State Historic Park. Founded in 1850 within two years of discovering gold in this town, it became the 3rd largest city in California. Despite the Gold Rush, those days are long gone. But, you can still experience them in what is now the best-preserved Gold Rush town in the state of California and arguably in the country. That might be why Hollywood has done an assortment of films here too. Expect to see individuals within the park dress in garments from that time. Sip on a sarsaparilla. And even visit a blacksmith shop where you can see iron being skillfully forged into finished goods.

Bodie Historic District (Mono)

Bodie Ghost Towns of the High Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Mono County Tourism

On the other side of the spectrum is the Bodie Historic District in the Eastern Sierra. Instead of a well maintained town filled with people, Bodie is like a place that time forgot. A time capsule. Where it feels as though its residents just got up and left, leaving their belongings and everything else behind. It’s the living embodiment of a true ghost town in the High Sierra. Preserved in a state of arrested decay, they maintain the town just as it was found without any restoration. It was home to nearly 10,000 residents at its peak with over 65 saloons. Now that’s a lot of booze! To make a plan and visit Bodie, head over to Mono County’s Places To Go Page for Bodie.

Movies are awesome. Podcasts are insightful. But they’re nothing like the real thing. Get up close and personal at these historic sites in the High Sierra to really get a feel of what it was like in the past.

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

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