Get some altitude in mountain peaks, attitude on river runs, and time and space under the stars.
Trip length: 4-5 days
Total distance: 473mi/760km
Squaw Valley Ride this mountain resort’s high-flying tram to High Camp to zip around the ice-skating rink, jump in the pool, and dine while overlooking snowy peaks and views. INFO 530/583-6985
Northstar Resort (19mi/30km; 28min). Swing by the California Welcome Center in Truckee for tips. At Northstar , shop, bike, hike, and see outdoor concerts. INFO 530/587-2757
Kings Beach (7mi/11km; 12min). Get the hang of stand-up paddleboarding with a lesson at Tahoe Paddle & Oar. Or join a guided kayak tour. INFO 530/581-6900
Lee Vining (131mi/211km; 2hr52min). Visit the excellent Mono Lake visitor center to learn about this otherworldly landscape of chalk-white tufa towers ringing the lake. INFO 760/647-6595
Mammoth Lakes (29mi/46km; 38min). Get tips at the California Welcome Center . At Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center , tackle the climbing wall and rent mountain bikes. Then—massages at Snowcreek Athletic Club . INFO 760/924-5500
Bishop (42mi/68km; 49min). See images by adventure-photographer Galen Rowell at Mountain Light Gallery . Snack at Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ . INFO 760/873-8405
Independence (42mi/67km; 54min). View trout at Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery . Learn about a sobering slice of American history at Manzanar National Historic Site , a remote Japanese internment camp during WWII.
Lone Pine (16mi/25km; 19min). Head for the Alabama Hills , the setting of hundreds of films and TV shows. INFO 760/876-4444
Kernville (118mi/190km; 2hr12min). Got older kids? Get their adrenaline pumping on a bump-and-soak raft ride down the Kern River . Let them brag about their bravado over steaks at McNally’s . INFO 760/376-2629
Giant Sequoia National Monument (69mi/112km; 1hr53min). Pitch a tent at Princess Campground , with a lush meadow, campfire talks, and guided hikes most weekends. INFO 559/784-1500