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Sierras, California

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Ansel Adams’ first published photographs appeared in the Sierra Club’s 1922 Bulletin.
  • Mono Lake is saltier than the oceans and as alkaline as household ammonia.
  • The Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks protect nearly half the world’s sequoias.
  • More people have climbed Mount Everest than have hiked the full Pacific Crest Trail.
  • The Donner Party of settlers was trapped in the Sierras during the range’s worst winter in history (1846-1847).

Mountainous wonderland

The Sierras is one name for the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which extend for about 400 miles north to south in eastern California. The range also is called the High Sierra or simply the Sierra.

This great tract of natural wonders embraces three national parks, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks, noted for glacier-carved canyons and huge sequoias — the world’s largest living thing, plus the magnificent Yosemite, also sculpted by glaciers and particularly noted for its waterfalls and granite domes.

Several peaks top 14,000 feet, including Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. The landscape also encompasses remarkable lakes. The alpine Lake Tahoe, in the northern Sierras, is the largest (192 square miles) at 6,229 feet above sea level. More unusual, the salty Mono Lake is striking for the mineral towers rising from its waters.

In the southern end of the Sierras, the Kern River courses through a valley known for its wildlife, particularly its 350 species of birds.

The Sierra Club was born, in 1892, specifically to make the Sierras more accessible to people and, in this way, “to enlist the support and cooperation of the people and government in preserving the forests and other natural features of the Sierra Nevada.” The club played its role in ensuring that the territory of the Sierras is today a popular playground for vacationers.

The national parks attract the full gamut of visitors — from those who drive the scenic byways to those enjoy hiking and camping in the woods. National forests and state parks in the Sierras are available for these diversions, too.

Development has turned select mountains into popular ski resorts, such as Mammoth Mountain at Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth also is noted for challenging mountain biking in summer and for the fishing.

Lake Tahoe and its environs offer a complete package of touristic opportunities: facilities for the usual snow-season sports at Heavenly Mountain, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley, a sparkling lake for seasonal fun on the water and full-service resorts with gaming, shopping, spas and more.

The Sierras, not surprisingly, have broad appeal, but are especially appreciated by the venturesome.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Ride horseback or hike through some part of the Pacific Crest Trail, a national scenic trail that extends from Mexico to Canada on a zigzagging route of 2,650 miles.
  • Come to Mammoth Lakes in August for the Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza.
  • Paddle a kayak past eerie tufa (limestone) towers in the salty Mono Lake at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, then make time to wander through the ghost town in Bodie State Historic Park.
  • Go for a serious adrenaline rush riding the alpine trails (reached via a gondola) at the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Trail names like Kamikaze Jump Run and Skid Mark paint the picture.
  • Choose whitewater rafting on the Kern River, which runs from the base of Mount Whitney. The valley also happens to be prime territory for birders.
  • Try cross-country skies or snowshoes on alpine trails at Northstar-at-Tahoe. Stop at warming huts for hot chocolate.

Things to do for Centrics

  • At Mammoth Mountain, join a guided snowshoeing excursion under the full moon. Or, ride behind sled dogs into the wilderness. Or, just ski.
  • Go ice skating at Squaw Valley USA or Heavenly Mountain, or if you want to don the skates in summer, try the year-round ice skating rink at Northstar-at-Tahoe.
  • Fish from the shores of June Lake, in the shadow of the Sierras. Or, find an outfitter in Bishop for fly-fishing in the area.
  • Hook up with a guide-instructor for spring skiing or snowshoeing in the Inyo National Forest on the east side of the Sierras, where snow hangs on for a longer season then on the western slopes.
  • Choose a guided river trip down the North Fork Stanislaus River. Or, hike the trail that encircles Lake Alpine.
  • Sign on for a photography class at Yosemite’s Ansel Adams Gallery. Some classes let you literally walk in Adams’ footsteps to the sites of his best-known shots.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Ride the gondola to the 11,053-foot summit of Mammoth Mountain for the great views.
  • In Kings Canyon National Park, drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, climbing around 4,000 feet into the Sierras. Or, make that the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, which takes you across the mountains from Calaveras Big Trees State Park to Grover Hot Springs State Park. These roads are closed in winter.
  • Also, soak in the hot mineral pools of Grover Hot Springs State Park.
  • Take a walking tour of the Silver City ghost town at Bodfish. The town is a collection of vintage buildings moved to a single site from Kern Valley locations.
  • Schedule spa time at your resort on Lake Tahoe.
  • At a little place called Fish Camp, pan for gold at the Gold Rush City Miners Camp and ride an authentic steam train, meaning the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. Choose a dinner train ride, all the better in moonlight.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit California at