Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Make a road trip out of this mountain-filled 90-mile loop near Yosemite

Yearning for Yosemite scenery with fewer people? Head south of the national park to North Fork, the exact geographical center of California, and prepare to feast your eyes on granite domes, glaciated peaks, high mountain meadows, and not many other people on this 90-mile loop. Pick up a byway map at the North Fork Visitors Center, fill your tank with gas, and plan on a full day.

The loop begins two miles outside of North Fork on Minarets Road. Your first stop is the Jesse Ross Cabin, a hand-hewn log home built in the late 1860s. The twisty-curvy factor ramps up as the road winds from foothills to alpine country, hitting the mile-high mark at Mile High Overlook. Get out of the car to survey the panorama of the San Joaquin River, the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, and a wealth of peaks: Mammoth Mountain, Balloon Dome, and the Minaret Range. As you pass a succession of car campgrounds near the Mammoth Pool Reservoir turnoff (a worthy side trip for anglers), consider packing a tent next time. Pushing north, pause for a leg-stretcher at Arch Rock, its graceful granite curve caused by water erosion.

The pavement turns to dirt at the Minarets and Beasore roads junction. Your next stretch is slow and bumpy but still manageable in a passenger car. Jounce along to Globe Rock and snap selfies next to this giant, egg-shaped sphere balanced on a granite pedestal. (Teddy Roosevelt had his photo taken here.) Nearby, the century-old Jones’ Store is a must-stop for tri-tip and pie. Owner Diane Ortmann says, “We have no electricity, no telephone. When people come back here, they always say this is like going back in time.”

Hang a right on Sky Ranch Road. Two short but spectacular side trips await: a half-mile tromp to the summit of 7,539-foot Fresno Dome, for sweeping views of Soquel Meadow and a sea of conifers; and a walk through the Nelder Grove’s massive sequoia trees. On the one-mile Shadow of the Giants Trail, pay your respects to the (approximately) 2,700-year-old Bull Buck Tree, one of the world’s largest sequoias.

Too soon, your wheels return to fast-moving U.S. 41 near Oakhurst, where civilization awaits. 

Drive the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Drive the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Drive this 100-mile stretch of road and you immediately get a feel for what California looked like about as many years ago.
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Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Discover the High Sierra

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45
October
Average (°F)
Sept - Nov
66°
High
26°
Low
Dec - Feb
39°
High
21°
Low
Mar - May
55°
High
23°
Low
June - Aug
72°
High
41°
Low

Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and glistening lakes in summer, vibrant colors in fall—this is a land of dramatic and wild beauty. World-class mountain resorts circling turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, and at Mammoth Lakes cater to all, with scenic ski trails in winter and trails and vistas in summer.

Yosemite Valley…is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and gold and wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”  --photographer Ansel Adams

Yosemite National Park, a World Heritage Site, is here, roughly 3½ hours east of San Francisco. Whether you hike a mountain, ski the steeps, or lounge in a hot tub beneath a canopy of stars, you’ll find your perfect getaway. 

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John Dickey/TandemStock.com

THE CALIFORNIA QUESTIONNAIRE: Alex Honnold

The El Capitan free-solo rock climber explains his love for Yosemite and more California favorites

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Lone Pine

Discover the natural beauty and another side of California in a historic Owens Valley small town

Head to Lone Pine to see a different side of California—one that is less connected to...

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Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

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Groveb/Getty Images
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Chris Falkenstein

Yosemite in Winter

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Visit during the park’s quietest season for unforgettable snowy beauty

With its iconic granite domes and spires etched in snow, and a hushed beauty that’s both intimate and wild, Yosemite National Park makes a magical...

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CLIF Bar/Mason Mashon

The California Questionnaire: Jeremy Jones

The professional snowboarder’s biggest conundrum is deciding which Sierra Nevada adventure to tackle next

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In Yosemite Valley, the Merced River drops over 594-foot Nevada Fall and then 317-foot Vernal Fall, creating what is known as the Giant Staircase.
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At 14,505 ft. above sea level, Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States.
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Toni Zernik

Truckee

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This charming mountain town is the central hub for North Shore destinations

Up and over the hill from Lake Tahoe’s north shore, Truckee offers an easy base that’s away from the hubbub. Historically a logging town, Truckee...

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family-friendly resorts, snowy escapes

High Sierra peaks, deep drifts on a Mammoth volcano, family-friendly resorts, snowy escapes on the edge of Yosemite and more—California has enough alpine destinations to keep any skier or boarder...

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Relax after a day on the slopes

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Jeff Enegerbretson
Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.
Ansel Adams
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Trip 6-7 days 10 stops

Sierra Adventure

Granite peaks, alpine valleys, towering trees-the High Sierra is nature's playground all year-round
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Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border is a bucket-list staple, a place where the air is “very pure and fine...it is the same the angels breathe,” according to author Mark Twain. Lakefront towns dot the shoreline, each with...

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On your way to this park, save time to visit the charming Gold Country town of Murphys (a great place for wine tasting and innovative dining along the town’s main street). Then continue north and east to discover peaceful groves of giant sequoias at this under-the-radar park. Established in 1931...

January-February

Experience one of California’s most magical settings, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee) in winter, during this intimate and outstanding event. Some of the best chefs in the country...

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Courtesy of DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite
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Rachid Dahnoun/Aurora Photos

Spotlight: Lake Tahoe

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Majestic peaks encircle a turquoise-blue, year-round playground

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Spotlight: Mammoth Lakes

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Snowy winters, wildflower summers

Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the west, folks in this laid-back mountain town know they’ve got a good thing going. It’s a land of...

As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.
Mark Twain (recalling his first sighting of Lake Tahoe)
July - August

With a pine-and-peak alpine setting and a relaxed and friendly ambiance, this appealing event in Bear Valley, roughly halfway between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, includes performances by outstanding...

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Courtesy of Bear Valley Music Festival
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Kodiak Greenwood

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Visit bizarre formations, cinder cones, and a super-salty lake

There are few places in California—and maybe on the planet—that can make you think you might just be on Mars. This is one of them. At this high-...

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Kodiak Greenwood

Bodie

Tour the eerie remnants of a former boomtown

There's something eerily appropriate about bumping down the dusty desert road that winds the final few miles into Bodie State Historic Park. Round...

November - December

As autumn gives way to winter, slip away to this signature event, presented at the Majestic Yosemite (formerly Ahwahnee) in incomparable Yosemite Valley. Leading winemakers celebrate the fall...

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Courtesy of DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite
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Bishop

Explore an outdoorsy adventure town with an artistic side

Bishop brims with outdoor activities. Situated at the north end of the Owens Valley, with close access to some of the Sierra’s most dramatic high...

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Guided Adventures

Learn to climb, join a pack trip, and more

While there are plenty of ways to play on your own in the High Sierra, there’s a whole host of ways to learn a new activity, like how to catch and...

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Lucas Himovitz

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Look up at (and learn about) amazing giant sequoias

Established in 1931 to preserve a stunning stand of giant sequoias, this park offers one of the easiest places to see these towering trees. Head 4...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr
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The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest (by volume) tree in the world.
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Gold Rush history, epic high-country landscapes, hidden wine country, and charming country towns

Granite monoliths, waterfalls, alpine meadows—it’s no secret that Yosemite delivery some seriously big wow moments. But what is a secret is the bounty of awesome things you can see and do on your...

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Kodiak Greenwood
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Courtesy of Mammoth Chambers of Commerce

Manzanar National Historic Site

Learn about a sobering time in U.S. history

During World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans were moved from their homes throughout the West and brought to internment camps like Manzanar...

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Amy Meredith/Flickr

Bass Lake

Visit a mini Tahoe south of Yosemite

Some think of Bass Lake, the pine-trimmed reservoir about a half-hour’s drive south of Yosemite National Park’s south entrance, as a smaller...