Sometimes outdoor activities in California’s High Sierra require expensive gear, hard-earned skills or a serious time commitment. For those new to adventurous activities, the idea of planning an adventurous vacation can be daunting. And once you leave they leave you feeling like you need a vacation. What if we told you that you can still escape to the High Sierra and enjoy a mix of adventure AND come home relaxed? Welcome to the concept of the “soft adventure”.

What Is A Soft Adventure

Think of a soft adventure as the lighter version of adventure travel. The focus isn’t about climbing the highest peak or riding the hardest trail in the country, but it still isn’t a beach getaway either. Soft adventures are focused on nontraditional destinations or looking under the proverbial rock in popular locales.  Participating in a soft adventure can also mean going out with a guide that can provide the required gear and a watchful eye while you rock climb or hike to a mountain top.  The goal of a soft adventure is to remove stress and exhaustion from the experience and let you focus on making memories that last a lifetime.

Examples Of Soft Adventures In The High Sierra

From migrations of waterfowls to soaring as high as one and exploring waterfalls and scenic vistas of the High Sierra, here are some of the best soft adventures in the Sierra Nevada.

Do Chase Waterfalls

Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy Yosemite National Park
Wapama Falls at full volume in the early spring – Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne County

The Sierra receive copious amounts of snow in the winter, and once it begins to melt in the spring, the thundering roar you’ll hear is the symphony of waterfalls coming to life. In the early part of the season, start in the lower elevations such as Wapama Falls in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy region. As the snow line rises, continue your journey eastward to a lesser-known mecca for falls – Lundy Canyon.

See The Great Migration

Mono Lake Birdwatching Birding
Photo by: Ian Parker – Image appears courtesy: Evanescent Light Photography

In addition to waterfalls, spring is when tens of thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, and other migratory bird species stop in Owens Valley to feed on various delicacies like alkali flies and brine shrimp. Regardless if you’re into birdwatching or a birding enthusiast, you’ll be blown away at the sea of birds that are here this time of year. Don’t know where to start? Check out Bishop Visitor Center’s birding homepage or better yet join in on the fun at the annual Owens Lake Bird Festival which happens at the end of April.

Soar Over Lake Tahoe

hot air balloon over lake tahoe
Hot air balloon over Lake Tahoe – Image Appears Courtesy: Local Freshies®

Have you literally done and seen everything there is in Lake Tahoe? We got one for you then – enjoy big blue from a hot air balloon! Considered by many as one of the most unique air balloon rides in the world. It’s the ONLY balloon operation that begins AND ends on the deck of a boat. Departing at sunrise, you climb to over 10,000 feet providing unparalleled views of attractions like Desolation Wilderness. For more unique soft adventures, check out Visit Lake Tahoe’s Bucket List Must Do’s.

Snowshoe Into A Sunset

couple snowshoeing on the shore of Lake Tahoe
Photo by: Chris Bartkowski – Image appears courtesy: North Lake Tahoe Tourism

Lake Tahoe’s alpenglow is legendary for creating magnificent sunsets. Alpenglow is the narrow band of reddish or pinkish glow seen on the summits of mountains as the sun sets for the night. Turn it up to 11 by booking a sunset snowshoe tour with Tahoe Adventure Company. You’ll trek through Tahoe’s peaceful forest creating long shadows. Experience the solitude of winter at this special time of day while learning local natural and human history. Scheduled every Friday through the end of April, the trail is chosen based on the group’s activity level and snowpack to make the most of the evening’s fun.

Sip On The Sierra’s Bounty

california high sierra wine wineries
A Wine Toast – Image Appears Courtesy: Local Freshies®

Even if you aren’t a wine enthusiast, California is synonymous for amazing wines. Names like Napa Valley and Sonoma are the first ones that come to mind. Expand your horizons and embrace the essence of soft adventures in the world of wines and visit the foothills of the Sierra. Experience arguably one of the oldest wine regions in North America and savor an award winning port wine. Or have your pick of the litter at the Vintage Press Restaurant in Visalia which Wine Spectator stated has “one of the best wine lists in the world.” For a different twist on wine consider a visit to Hinterhaus Distilling in Arnold just outside of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. They’ve created an award winning vodka that has been distilled out of 100% California wines that has the aroma of cotton candy and as smooth as the waters of the Sierra itself.

Enjoy A Frosty Pint

Alibi Ale Works – Incline Brewery and Taproom – Image appears courtesy: North Lake Tahoe Tourism

With the backbone of the Sierra providing some of the purest water in the country, you would expect amazing beer, and you’re absolutely right. Throughout the Sierra, you’ll find dozens of award-winning breweries. If you’re skiing Mammoth Mountain, don’t miss out on the Double Nut Brown at Mammoth Brewing. Enjoying the sunshine and hiking trails in North Lake Tahoe? Combine that adventure with a trip onto North Lake Tahoe’s Ale Trail featuring breweries such as the iconic Alibi Ale Works. Even rock climbers testing their abilities in Bishop’s famed bouldering locales will find Mountain Rambler Brewery. Pretty much every nook, cranny, and town is serving tasty libations.

Take A Scenic Drive

poppy, flower, wildflower, canyon, river, hike, trail, sightsee, things to see, california
Highway 140 in all its spring glory – Image appears courtesy: Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau

Another soft adventure to consider is take a scenic drive. While many of California’s national scenic byways are summer focused (i.e. closed in winter), you’ll find plenty of scenic drives that are at their peak in the spring with wildflower blooms such as Highway 140’s river run or in the Southern Sierra – Yokohl Valley. Up for a drive through a snow-filled winter wonderland? Then Historic US 40 up to Donner Summit should be on your bucket list. The segment just outside the historic town of Truckee-Tahoe starting at Donner Summit to Donner Lake is considered by many as not just one of most scenic drives in California but the entire country. 

Try Pedaling … On SNOW!

snow biking with Lake Tahoe in the distance
Photo by: Chris Bartkowski – Image appears courtesy: North Lake Tahoe Tourism

Spring in the High Sierra is about dual day adventures. Ski in the morning and paddle in the afternoon. Another sort of soft adventure that’s best this time of year – fat biking. Named for their monster truck like tires, they allow you to ride in places you wouldn’t think you could. Places like sandy beaches and you guessed it – snow! If you’re near Lake Tahoe resorts like Northstar and Tahoe Donner, you can rent them to try it out or even Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Company in Alpine County.

Hit A Sierra Grand Slam

owens river fly fishing
Fly Fishing on the Owens River – Image Appears Courtesy: Mono County Tourism

The High Sierra is legendary for its fishing especially trout. While many bodies of water are open for fishing all year long, it’s no wonder when the upper alpine lakes and streams open in the last week of April it’s called “Fishmas.” With fish coming off a long winter, many anglers attempt to catch a Sierra Grand Slam on this hallowed day. A Sierra Grand Slam is when you reel in a brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, and a Lahontan all in the same day. And for this holy grail in fishing, June Lake is ground zero for this feat. Even if you don’t want to go after this trophy, all of the alpine lakes in Mono County are teeming with fish.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Stay Up to Date

for updates on hidden gems, events, and more from California's High Sierra.

More Trip Ideas

More Trip Ideas

Keep Discovering

Need more reasons to visit the Sierra Nevada High Country?

Get a glimpse of the stunning scenery to see and activities to do in the Sierra Nevada.

View Gallery Brochure

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors