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Take an Epic Drive From the Sierra to the Desert

Take an Epic Drive From the Sierra to the Desert
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Travel from the high country of Lake Tahoe to the low desert of Death Valley on a family-fun drive to explore California’s landscapes.

Trip length: 4 Days
Total distance: 474mi/762km

DAY 1
KINGS BEACH. Race the kids as you paddle the pure lake waters with a kayak from North Tahoe Watersports . Or play a round of disc golf at the 18-hole course in North Tahoe Regional Park  in Tahoe Vista. INFO North Lake Tahoe Visitors and Convention Bureau ; 800/462-5196

TRUCKEE (7mi/11km; 11min). Cast your troubles away while fly-fishing for rainbow trout at Northstar California’s Sawmill Lake . Stop for more info at the Truckee California Welcome Center, then explore the sparkling night sky on a Tahoe Star Gazing Tour . INFO North Lake Tahoe Visitors and Convention Bureau ; 800/462-5196

SQUAW VALLEY (18mi/28km; 32min). Ride the aerial tram to High Camp (elev. 8,200 feet/2,499 meters) and its miles of hiking trails. Climb to the summit of 8,900-foot/2,713-meter Squaw Peak on a 4.4-mile/7-km roundtrip trek or discover Sierra ecology and history on free guided hikes . Head back downhill and let the family choose creative mini-cakes made with organic ingredients at Batch Cupcakery . INFO North Lake Tahoe Visitors and Convention Bureau ; 800/462-5196

DAY 2
TAHOMA (16mi/26km; 29min). Cool off with a swim at Calawee Cove Beach in D.L. Bliss State Park . Marvel at the intricate carvings in Vikingsholm, a lavishly detailed 1929 estate built in a traditional Norwegian style, then hike to the kid-favorite cascades on Eagle Falls Trail at Emerald Bay State Park . INFO Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority ; 800/288-2463

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (12mi/20km; 23min). Behold an incomparable panorama of Lake Tahoe as you glide up to 9,136 feet/2,743 meters aboard the Heavenly Gondola . Up top, let the kids romp on forest trails and granite boulders, then savor artisan pizzas at the resort’s dramatic Tamarack Lodge. INFO Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority ; 800/288-2463

MARKLEEVILLE (35mi/57km; 55min). Hike to a waterfall on the Hot Springs Trail in Grover Hot Springs State Park , then soak and splash in the park’s thermally heated, mineral-rich swimming pools. Let the kids imagine what it would be like to have a one-room school at intriguing Alpine County Historical Complex and Museum . Dig into baby back ribs in the vintage dining room at Wolf Creek Restaurant . INFO Alpine County Chamber of Commerce ; 530/694-2475

DAY 3
LEE VINING (88mi/141km; 1hr42min). Wind through 8,314-foot/2,479-foot Monitor Pass to the east side of the Sierra and Mono Lake. Take a guided canoe trip on summer weekends with naturalists from the Mono Lake Committee (check out the committee’s excellent new store in town). Discover surprising gourmet dishes in a gas station, of all places, at Whoa Nellie Deli . INFO Mono County Tourism & Film Commission ; 800/845-7922

BRIDGEPORT (32mi/51km; 45min). Travel back to California’s rough-and-ready mining days at Bodie State Historic Park , one of best-preserved ghost towns in America. Stroll the streets of teetering buildings and look into homes still filled with their long-departed owners’ furnishings. INFO Mono County Tourism & Film Commission ; 800/845-7922

MAMMOTH LAKES (61mi/98km; 1hr21min). Mountain bike on more than 80 miles of single-track trails at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park . Power your rides with the awesome French toast and blueberry pancakes at The Stove (644 Old Mammoth Rd.; 760/934-2821), a long-time local favorite. INFO Mammoth Lakes Tourism ; 888/466-2666

Day 4
DEATH VALLEY (205mi/330km; 3hr39mins). Take the plunge on the epic drive from the Sierra to Death Valley National Park  —the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America. (Be sure to carry plenty of extra water when exploring the park.) Let the kids sleep in while you catch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point, then wrangle the whole gang on a morning walk in search of animal tracks in the Mesquite Dunes. INFO Death Valley National Park ; 760/786-3200

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