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Sierra Adventure

Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, Mount Whitney and Yosemite National Park—this trip will create memories that will last a lifetime.

Start:Lake Tahoe
End:Yosemite National Park
5 - 8Days,7Stops,697Miles
Lake Tahoe
Justin Reznick/Getty Images
MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE
Sandy L. Kirkner/Getty Images
Mammoth Lakes
Michael H. Spivak/Getty Images
Mount Whitney
Ed Freeman/Getty Images
Lone Pine Lake
Andrei Stanescu/Getty Images
Sequoia National Park
Peter Amend/Getty Images
Yosemite National Park
Kodiak Greenwood
Stop 1

Lake Tahoe

1960 Squaw Valley Rd, Olympic Valley

Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California Nevada border is a must, a place where the air is 'very pure and fine...it is the same the angels breathe,' according to author Mark Twain. Lake-front towns dot the shoreline, each with their own appeal. Winter and spring snow lets you carve it up at world class alpine resorts. Summer brings out the water toys, yachts, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and almost anything that floats. Autumn paints the hills with golden aspen leaves.

Lake Tahoe lays claim to some of the country’s top alpine resorts. On the north shore, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Northstar California are top attractions, especially on powder days. On Tahoe’s south shore, Heavenly—one of the world’s biggest ski resorts—offers jaw-dropping lake views from runs as wide and bump free as a motorway. Heavenly has also bumped up the fun even if you don’t ski or board, with mountain zip lines, tube runs, scenic gondola rides, and a party like atmosphere on and off the mountain. Tahoe is also home to lower-key resorts—Boreal, Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood, Sierra at Tahoe, Soda Springs, Sugar Bowl and Tahoe Donner. You can also head out on groomed cross-country and snowshoe trails at Royal Gorge or Kirkwood. For a real treat, why not experience a sleigh dog ride near Squaw Valley, Kirkwood, or in Hope Valley, just south of Lake Tahoe.

In summer, many of these same resorts, especially Northstar, Heavenly, and Squaw, offer summertime fun such as mountain biking, hiking, and scenic tram or gondola rides, a great way to get high up in the mountains without a lot of effort.

Stop 2

MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE

US-395, Lee Vining

At this high desert reserve, on the eastern side of the towering Sierra, ghost-like tufa towers line the edges of a one million year old lake.

Learn about the natural and human history of the Mono Basin at the interpretive centre, just off US 395 north of Lee Vining and Tioga Pass (the only route into Yosemite from this side of the mountains). The decking offers dramatic views—Sierra peaks to the west, brushwood dotted desert to the east as well as the lake itself and tiny Wizard Island, a nesting site for Western gulls and other sea birds. Bird walks are offered at 8 am on Fridays and Sundays, from mid-May through to the beginning of September. The visitor centre is closed from December to March.

Explore Lee Vining Creek riverine habitat, blanketed with obsidian and pumice or walk the South Tufa Area for close-up views of the tufa towers formed by the interaction of freshwater springs flowing into the ultra-alkaline lake that’s 2½ times as salty as the ocean. Naturalists lead free walks in the South Tufa Area three times daily from late June until Labor Day (the Monday after the first weekend in September). Guided paddles are also offered through Caldera Kayak.

Stop 3

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the west, Mammoth Lakes is a place for serious outdoor lovers, who take to the slopes of the signature Mammoth Mountain and nearby June Lake resorts in winter and, when the snow melts, head out to fly fish in clear mountain streams, hike and mountain bike in high alpine meadows, and take a dip in natural hot springs.

In winter, Mammoth Mountain gets, on average, more than 30 feet/9 metres of snow, and is open longer than any resort in the state. Visit the village for shops, restaurants and nightlife. If you’re not a skier, you can take the cable car to the mountain’s summit at 11,053 feet/3,369 metres for jaw dropping views of the surrounding peaks. Wintry splurges abound, choose from motorised Snowcat tours to guided full moon snowshoe treks. Go tubing with the children. Glide through the wilderness on a dog-sleigh. Get a massage at local resorts or dinner at the cosy Lakefront Restaurant, surrounded by snowy pines.

Stop 4

Mount Whitney

Mt. Whitney

California’s eastern Sierras are home to some of the tallest mountains in the country. Among these giants is Mt Whitney, whose summit scrapes the sky at 14,494 feet/4,418 metres, making it the tallest mountain in the 48 contiguous states and a popular climbing destination.

People do race up and back in a day (10.7 miles/17.1 kilometres each way), but with awesome views of the Sierra’s tallest peaks and desert plains along the way, there’s no reason to rush. Pitch a tent for the night at Consultation Lake, then tackle the switchbacks leading to the summit. Climbing season is typically May to October, but it can snow at any time so all climbers should be prepared. Permits, awarded by ballot only, are required.

If reaching the summit isn’t your thing or you haven't got a permit, don't worry, you can still enjoy the area with a hike to Lone Pine Lake (a roughly 5.5-mile/9-kilometre round trip), including a stay Whitney Portal, a campsite in the pines, 13 miles/21 kilometres west of Lone Pine.

Stop 5

Lone Pine Lake

Lone Pine Lake

The Sierra Nevada Mountains scrape the sky with dozens of peaks higher than 12,000 feet/3,600 metres. But the king of them all is Mount Whitney at 14,500 feet/4,420 metres, the tallest peak in the 48 contiguous states (although its exact elevation depends on which government agency is measuring, numbers range from 14,494 ft/4,417 m to 14,508/4,422 m). Bagging the summit requires top-notch physical condition plus advance planning to secure a coveted hiking permit (only 160 people are allowed per day). But if peak-climbing isn’t on your agenda, get a taste for this beautiful alpine region by driving up Whitney Portal Road to the trailhead (at an elevation of 8,300 feet/2,500 metres) and hiking to Lone Pine Lake (a 5.6-mile round-trip). A steady ascent leads through Jeffrey pines and manzanita into the John Muir Wilderness, offering views of Mount Whitney high above and the Owens Valley far below. Picturesque Lone Pine Lake is bounded by sheer granite cliffs, huge boulders and hardy whitebark pines—a spectacular setting to rest and relax in. When you return to your car, call in at the Whitney Portal Store for mountain-sized pancakes and Mount Whitney souvenirs.

Plan your visit

Stop 6

Sequoia National Park

Generals Hwy, Three Rivers

Sequoia National Park’s Ash Mountain entrance, located in the small town of Three Rivers, offers a quick and curvy route to the massive sequoias of Giant Forest. Navigate the General Highway’s 130 curves and 12 switchbacks and you’ll be on the fast track to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest living tree by volume. Once there, get out and walk—it’s the only way to fathom the sequoias’ sheer size and regal beauty. Salute the General Sherman, then move on to the quieter Congress Trail, where hundreds more gargantuan trees grow. After you’ve been thoroughly astonished by these ancient giants, take a heart-pumping climb up Moro Rock’s 360 steps. Even young children can make it to the top of this bald granite precipice with a sweeping view of the saw-toothed Great Western Divide. For dinner, head to the park’s Wuksachi Lodge. In The Peaks’ glass walled dining room, every table overlooks a forest of firs and the Silliman Crest.

Stop 7

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Coming from the east, Yosemite unfolds with high-country beauty, a land of granite crags and alpine meadows, the best known being Tuolumne Meadows, with its well marked trails and endless scenery. From its tranquil edges, hiking trails lead in all directions, to the alpine lakes set below the spires of Cathedral and Unicorn Peaks, to a series of roaring waterfalls on the Tuolumne River. The meadow’s small visitor centre, housed in a historic cabin, features exhibits that focus on the area's geology, wild flowers, and wildlife.  Continuing west you'll reach the park’s signature site, Yosemite Valley, where shuttle buses can take you to all the key vistas.

California’s first national park and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, Yosemite attracts 4 million visitors each year, with good reason. Nearly the size of Rhode Island and covering more than 1,100 square miles/284,899 hectares, it features unforgettable natural beauty. Among Yosemite’s many bragging rights, its waterfalls rank high. In the list of the world’s 20 tallest waterfalls, Yosemite Valley scores three spots for Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Fall, and Ribbon Fall. Yosemite Falls holds the undisputed title of the tallest waterfall in North America. It is a challenging hike to the top of the 2,425 foot/729 metre falls, but fortunately there is an impressive view from the base too on an easy and scenic 1 mile/1.6 km loop that should be on everyone’s list. An easy walk to 620 foot/189 metre Bridalveil Falls takes you to an viewpoint below its billowing cascade. A more demanding hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls ascends granite steps to the brink of two massive drops, where you can watch the entire Merced River plunge over the rocky ledge. (Adhere to all safety signs and stay behind all ropes and signs.)

From Yosemite, continue south on the west side of the Sierra, following roads that dip down to the fertile Central Valley, to your last stop at a twin park that protects the world’s largest living things and a wild and rugged alpine canyon. 

 

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Road Trip Snapshot

Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

Stop 1Lake Tahoe
1960 Squaw Valley Rd, Olympic Valley
Stop 2MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE
US-395, Lee Vining
Stop 3Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes
Stop 4Mount Whitney
Mt. Whitney
Stop 5Lone Pine Lake
Lone Pine Lake
Stop 6Sequoia National Park
Generals Hwy, Three Rivers
Stop 7Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

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