Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and beautiful lakes in summer, the High Sierras are a land of dramatic and wild beauty. You’ve heard of the beauty of Yosemite but you ask yourself – what else can I see in the area around Yosemite National Park? Within a few hours drive around Yosemite you’ll find the spectacular beauty of Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
This Two Week Itinerary of the the High Sierra Mountains of California includes Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, as well as the mountain towns of Mammoth Lakes, Truckee, and Lake Tahoe. This area is a year round destination, but this High Sierra Mountains itinerary was designed for the warmer months of late spring (May), summer and early fall. At that time of year Tioga Pass should be open making the drives much shorter. If Tioga Pass is closed during your planned visit you will not be able to get from Yosemite to Mammoth Lakes area without a very long 7 to 8 hour circular route. If Tioga Pass is closed consider removing Days 9 and 10 described below and spend more time in Sequoia Kings Canyon area.
This two week itinerary in the High Sierra mountains of California assumes a starting point and ending point of San Francisco. Kick off the trip with the three hour drive from San Francisco towards Truckee using I-80. The first stop is at Donner Memorial State Park. This is a great place to start if you are new to the area and want to learn about the local history and chat with folks about what you want out of your time there. When you’re finished at the park, head over to Donner Lake and do some kayaking or Stand Up Paddleboard. If you are camping, the Tahoe State Recreation Area Campground is an ideal spot to camp for the night.
Day 2 offers a number of choices. If the weather is hot you may want to float the Truckee River. This is a great way to relax and enjoy the great outdoors.
Visit Emerald Bay State Park. The park is one of the must see spots in Lake Tahoe, this stop is also usually the most crowded. But there are good reasons why it is so popular. Located in the southwest corner of the lake, the long bay opens up inside the narrow mouth at Emerald and Eagle Points, and its shimmering emerald green to azure blue waters beckon boaters, swimmers and hikers to explore its shoreline. Emerald Bay State Park is also the home of Vikingsholm, an impressive historic Scandinavian mansion turned museum.
If you’re up for a hike try the Eagle Lake Hike. Located near Eagle Falls, Eagle Lake is a mellow, family-friendly destination where you can view Emerald Bay from above. Just a mile in from the trailhead, the Eagle Lake Trail rises gradually as it follows the Eagle Creek drainage. Be sure to check out the falls, as well!
At the end of the day head to South Lake Tahoe. This is a great spot for your home base on your second night.
Continue your tour of the Lake Tahoe region. Spend some time at Sand Harbor State Park. With a beautiful, family-friendly beach, a visitor center, kayak rentals, and short hiking trails, there are plenty of reasons to spend the day at this state park.
One of the best hikes in the area, the Tahoe Rim Trail is known for its stunning vistas of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding forests. It gets you a little more off the beaten path, especially if you are able to go on some of the longer hikes. A few of the eastshore hikes to choose from include the Kingsbury Grade North (1 mile round trip), Tahoe Meadows South (4 miles round trip), and Spooner Summit North to Snow Valley Peak (12.4 miles round trip).
In the afternoon drive to your accommodations in or around Yosemite National Park (make sure you reserve your Yosemite accommodations early as things can fill up well in advance)
Day 4 -8
We’ll dedicate 5 days of this “Two Week Itinerary in the High Sierra Mountains of California” to Yosemite National Park. Five days will give you enough time to see the best of Yosemite’s towering waterfalls, sequoias and high-country vistas.
Start your first day in Yosemite at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. The Visitors Center is your home for information on all things Yosemite, and features a bookstore selling maps, Yosemite guidebooks, and souvenirs. Next, take the hike to Yosemite Falls. At a height of more than 2,425 ft Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. It flows approximately November through July, with peak flow in May. This trail starts near Camp 4, along the Valley Loop Trail, and immediately begins its climb, switchback after switchback, through oak woodland. If you make the one-mile, 1,000 foot climb (via dozens of switchbacks) to Columbia Rock, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. From there, it is worth the time and energy to hike another 0.5 miles (0.8 km) (some of which is actually downhill!) to get a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Fall.
On day 2 start your morning experiencing the mind-altering views hiking the drenched Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Mist Trail is one of the most popular trails in all of California. If you continue beyond Mist Trail, the trail eventually leads to the iconic Half Dome. On the afternoon of day two, take it easy and rent a raft to float along the Merced River. Rafting along the Merced River is popular during summer, and will provide the best rafting views you’ll ever have (typically in June and July, but it varies from year to year depending on water level) . Most people put in along the Merced River at Stoneman Bridge (near Half Dome Village, formerly Curry Village) and take out at the Sentinel Beach Picnic Area. Other nonmotorized vessels, such as kayaks, are also permitted.
On day 3, hike the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point for vistas from the park’s most famous viewpoint. From Glacier Point you will have a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country.
On day 4, drive out to Hetch Hetchy for a day trip and hike to Tueeulala Falls and Wapama Falls along the edge of San Francisco’s infamous reservoir. The following day, stop to marvel at Olmsted Point from the Tioga Rd viewpoint, and take in the dazzling views from the sandy shores of Tenaya Lake. Wind up your trip with a wander around the Sierra Nevada’s biggest alpine meadow at Tuolumne Meadows. Late June to mid-August are the best times to try to catch the wildflowers in the meadows depending on the elevation.
Continue your drive east out of the park and find accommodations in the Saddlebag Lake area.
Day 9 -10
Start your day exploring the surreal countryside around Saddlebag Lake and then journey over to Mono Lake. Detour north to the ghost-town ruins of Bodie State Historic Parkand then south for the mountain vistas buffering the June Lake Loop. Find a place to stay in the Mammoth Lakes area at the end of the day.
Day 11 – 14
Kick off the trip with the drive to Kings Canyon National Park. Kings Canyon and its sister park, Sequoia, are famous for their giant sequoias, soaring mountains, deep canyons, and roaring rivers, this tandem set of parks have plenty to see.
When you arrive stop in at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center for maps and information. From Grant Grove Village, drive one mile northwest on Highway 180 to the left turnoff for the General Grant Tree. Walk the 0.6-mile loop around the world’s second-largest tree and pay homage to the General and its many neighboring behemoths.
Grab you dinner and spend the night at Cedar Grove Lodge or in one of the Cedar Grove campgrounds.
Return to Highway 180 and cruise east on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (road open May-Oct.), stopping at the roadside overlook at Junction View. Here you can peer down at the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River and admire what geology has created in this magnificent canyon. Shortly past the Cedar Grove turnoff, stop and take a brief walk to Roaring River Falls, a snowmelt-fed cataract that drops through a narrow gorge into the South Fork Kings River.
Continue to the trailhead for Zumwalt Meadow. Walk this scenic 1.8-mile loop alongside the Kings River, enjoying views of the Grand Sentinel and North Dome towering more than 3,500 feet above the valley floor. At Road’s End, take the short walk to Muir Rock, where you can sit by the river and watch the water roll by, or go for a quick dip.
From Grant Grove, drive 1.5 miles west on Highway 180 and turn left onto the Generals Highway, heading south for Sequoia National Park. It’s a winding and scenic 26 miles (plan 45 minutes) to Lodgepole, where you can pick up maps and information. Along the way, stop off at Wuksachi Lodge, just north of Lodgepole, for breakfast or lunch in the forest-view dining room.
Once at Lodgepole Visitor Center, stretch your legs with a 3.6-mile round-trip hike to Tokopah Falls. You’ll have plenty of marmots for company on this forested trail through a U-shaped glacial valley.
Back on Generals Highway, continue south and park your car across the road from the Giant Forest Museum.Take a peek at the fascinating exhibits inside, then ride the shuttle bus to the General Sherman Tree. Get your picture taken at the largest tree on earth, then leave the crowds behind on the two-mile Congress Loop, which travels among hundreds of cinnamon-colored giant sequoias. Or if the shuttle bus is running along Crescent Meadow Road, ride it to the Moro Rock parking lot and climb the 390 stairs to the top of this 6,725-foot granite precipice.
Back to San Francisco for your flight back home!
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