Being the roof of the Golden State, California’s High Sierra attracts adventure seekers of every kind. While there are activities that can challenge the fittest athletes, you don’t have to be one to enjoy what makes it special. Here are 16 unique things to do in California High Sierra that covers the full spectrum of fun.
1. Riding A Gravity Fueled Mountain Coaster At Heavenly Mountain Resort
Located on the top of Heavenly Mountain Resort, the “tour” starts with a ride on the Heavenly Village Gondola. Rising from the Lake Tahoe Basin elevation of 6,229’ above sea level to the Tamarack Lodge at a whopping 9,150’ in under 20 minutes. The 2.4-mile journey provides eye-popping views of Lake Tahoe. Once at Tamarack Lodge, you have an assortment of activities available to you including the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster. The 3,400-foot-long coaster can pick up speeds to 27 mph, zipping through glades and giving you glimpses of “big blue.”
2. Mountain Biking Stanford Rock
One of the newest upgraded mountain bike trails on the west shore of Lake Tahoe thanks to the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association. Depending on your skill level, you can either attempt the full loop which features lots of rocks and steps as part of the descent. Or enjoy it as a more mellow singletrack flow trail descent by doing it as an out-and-back.
3. Taking A Stroll At Donner Memorial State Park
This California state park packs a big punch within its 3,200+ acres. Hikers, history buffs, snowshoers, and aquaphiles will LOVE this park. Situated on the eastern flank of Donner Lake featuring beautiful beaches, boat rentals, interpretive paths, and a visitor center detailing the history of the Donner Party, indigenous peoples, and more. For a quick afternoon stroll, we recommend hopping on the China Cove Loop. Clocking in just under an hour (round-trip), it follows the shoreline with the majority under a canopy of trees. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so our video showcasing it must be worth a million bucks.
4. Enjoying An E-Bike From Northstar Mountain Resort On Martis Creek Trails
For adrenaline junkies, the Northstar bike park is one of the top-rated parks in Northern California. While a park can be intimidating for first timers or beginners, we recommend dipping your foot or pedal into the off road experience by renting an E-bike. At the bottom of Northstar Drive, you can enter the Martis Creek trail network via Elizabethtown Meadows. From here, the singletrack network ebbs and flows with the terrain, giving a taste of mountain biking but not so challenging that it puts you off.
5. Kayaking On Twin Lakes At Bridgeport
The Eastern Sierra is filled with jaw dropping scenery that you can take in via car, foot, or even a pair of skis. One of the most unique experiences is to kayak on lower Twin Lakes near Bridgeport. What makes it so special? For starters, the lake’s speed limit is 5 mph, meaning you won’t have to fight against the waves of boats. Then you have the views – butting up to the Sawtooth Ridge and the famous Matterhorn Peak. This is the mountain that Jack Kerouac spoke of in “The Dharma Burns.” And the best part? This is but one jewel on the necklace of lakes you can go kayaking in the High Sierra.
6. Mountain Biking Reversed Peak Loop Trail In June Lake
Compared to other parts of the Eastern Sierra where settlers arrived to chase gold in places like Bodie, June Lake’s attraction since its inception was the scenery and the outdoor adventures. Affectionately nicknamed the Swiss Alps, its horseshoe canyon is breathtaking. While its neighbor to the south is filled with well-manicured mountain biking trails, June Lake’s two-wheel network is more about the XC adventure. The video gives you a glimpse of what’s in store for you.
7. Hiking Up To The Beautiful Blue Lake from Lake Sabrina
If you’re looking for one of the most beautiful lakes to visit in the summer, then Blue Lake just outside of Bishop should be on that list. The 6.2-mile round trip journey from the shores of Lake Sabrina (pronounced Suh-BRY-nah) immerses you into the beauty of the Eastern Sierra. Over the course of the 1,350 foot climb, you’ll be rewarded with roaring falls, colorful granite, and an assortment of scenery. Like a symphony, it all culminates as you summit the final ridge and see Blue Lake for the first time. The crystal-clear waters are teeming with fish, its shores covered in wildflowers, and as the backdrop, the tall granite peaks of the Sierra crest.
8. Seeing The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
People joke about how old their parents or grandparents are, but they are mere twinkles in the eyes of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Containing specimens that are more than 4,000 years old, it’s home to some of the oldest trees in the world. Located up high in the White Mountains, due to the elevation and the high alkaline content, these trees sit alone surrounded by a rocky landscape. Not until you walk amongst these natural monuments that are older than the Roman Coliseum will you appreciate just how resilient these trees are.
9. Hiking The West Side Trail Just Outside Of Tuolumne
The West Side Trail is a relatively flat path, perfect for a family outing that still provides jaw-dropping vistas. The route follows what was originally a narrow-gauge railroad. Along its path, you’ll come upon ruins as well as placards giving you a deeper look into the history of this railroad and region. Although it’s a great year-round hike, it really shines in the spring and early summer when the wildflowers bloom.
10. Taking In The Geological Features At The Columns Of The Giants
Out of the entire list, the Columns of the Giants are hands down the biggest bang for your buck. Located right off of Highway 108, an easy ¼ mile stroll puts you up close and personal to this one-of-a kind geological feature. The Sierra Nevada’s glacial periods as well as volcanic activity from long ago created these strange columnar, hexagonal basalt rock outcroppings that stretch impossibly up to the sky. So rare in fact, we named them as one of the must-see natural attractions in the High Sierra.
11. Tour Yosemite Climbing Association Gallery & Museum
Standing in Yosemite Valley and looking around, you understand why this place became the mecca of modern rock climbing. Nearly everywhere you look there is a different piece of granite that juts up to test your skills. To really gain an appreciation of the history that has happened here, you must visit the Yosemite Climbing Association Gallery & Museum. If you’re wondering where to start – Rock Climbing in Yosemite Mariposa County: Wall-to-Wall Thrills.
12. Enjoy The Upper Trail At The Stockton Creek Preserve
While the star of the show for the gateway towns such as Mariposa is Yosemite National Park, these regions are a veritable “gold mine” of hiking opportunities away from the crowds. Like the Stockton Creek Preserve located only minutes from the historic town of Mariposa. Within the 410 acre preserve, you’ll find a fine example of an oak studded foothills that are a birdwatcher’s paradise.
13. Hop On Board The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
They say the journey is the reward, and when you get on board a steam locomotive, that is so true. The shriek of a whistle blowing and the initial jerk as the train begins to move. The sound of metal clanking. No matter if you’re four or eighty-four, something about them brings the inner kid out of all of us. Even if you’ve enjoyed the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad during the day, we recommend reserving a spot on the Moonlight Express. Think of it as dinner and a movie but better.
14. Conquering The 007 Trail At Bass Lake Via A Mountain Bike
Next to the pine-trimmed lake that is affectionately nicknamed the “smaller version of Lake Tahoe”, you’ll find an assortment of mountain bike trails to enjoy including Bass Lake’s highlight – 007. An easy pedal up a gravel road, 007 provides an entrance every 500-1000’ vertical feet of climbing. So, depending on how much time you have, you can make the run as long or as short as you want. And each segment has its own personality. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your bike. Pedal Forward in Oakhurst will gear you up with the latest full suspension models and give you the scoop on mountain biking in the region. Or better yet, dive deeper into the hidden adventures that are available to you in Madera County.
15. Seeing The Roaring River Falls In Kings Canyon National Park
All that snowfall the Sierra Nevada receives each winter needs to go somewhere, and when it does begin to melt, the natural fireworks via its cascades are legendary. Within the deepest canyon in North America – Kings Canyon, you’ll find a hidden one that showcases the might of water, the Roaring River Falls. At less than a mile roundtrip and as the name alludes, the volume of water that rushes through two hulking pieces of granite creates such a crescendo that its roar is deafening. Learn more about enticing outdoor adventures including waterfalls in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks.
16. Taking The Path Less Traveled And Seeing The Sights From Hanging Rock In Sequoia National Park
The view from Moro Rock is truly breathtaking and worthy of a visit, but only a ½ mile away you can enjoy a view of the Sierra pretty much to yourself and is just as Instagram worthy – Hanging Rock. As the name suggests, a big hulking rock sits precariously on an inclined slate of granite that seems to be forever hanging over the cliffside. This underrated sight is one of the best places to get a unique sunset photo as well.
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.