PeaceJoyAustin

Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Eastern Sierras

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  • A span of mountains from Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney
  • The tallest and most beautiful peaks in California
  • Hundreds of lakes, rivers, and meadows

When To Visit: Year-round

Climate: Dry and warm in summer with some afternoon thunderstorms, more moderate temperatures and precipitation in spring & fall

Location: Eastern California

The ultimate nature destination for Californians, the Eastern Sierras have an unbelievable array of natural beauty and opportunities for outdoors adventures. You won’t be able to see it all in one trip (or ten), but wherever you choose to explore is guaranteed to be gorgeous.

Photo: Big Pothole Lake from Kearsage Pass Trail

What To See & Do in the Eastern Sierras

The Sierra Nevadas span from Northern to Southern California and their eastern edge is paralleled by Highway 395, which offers easy access to most of the area’s destinations. Here are a few of my top picks, starting from the south.

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May Lake in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows

Mount Whitney

The tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S., Mt. Whitney is accessible via a 22 mile round trip hike (permit required) or you can catch excellent views of it from the town of Lone Pine and the settlement of Whitney Portal, which has a fishing pond, store, and picnic area.

Alabama Hills

These rolling hills just west of Lone Pine have a rich cinematic history and look stunning with the Sierra Nevadas as a backdrop.

Lake Sabrina

This beautiful lake a half-hour west of Bishop is surrounded by scenic peaks and connects to many hiking opportunities.

Rock Creek Lake

Another alpine lake accessible via car and located between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, Rock Creek Lake offers close hiking access to dozens more shiny lakes.

Wild Willy’s Hot Springs

A series of rustic dirt roads that are (perhaps barely) accessible by any car take you to this gorgeous pair of natural hot springs in the middle of nowhere a half hour east of Highway 395 south of Mammoth Lakes.

Mammoth Lakes

This resort city hosts the most famous ski area in California and dozens of tranquil mountain lakes with excellent hiking, fishing, and boating.

Devil’s Postpile National Monument

This unique structure is located just outside Mammoth Lakes and the park contains beautiful rivers, waterfalls, and lakes. Click here for more details.

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The top of Devils Postpile

Yosemite National Park

The Eastern Sierras host Yosemite’s east entrance, offering the perfect chance to explore the less-visited Tuolumne Meadows section of the park with quiet alpine lakes, green meadows, rushing rivers, and tall peaks. Click here for more details.

Mono Lake

The streams that feed into this large lake are one of Los Angeles’ major water sources and this giant which includes three large islands is incredible to explore via boat.

Eastern Sierras Hikes

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Rainbow Falls in Devil’s Postpile National Monument

There are hundreds of trails in this large region – here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Kearsage Pass Trail
    • 12 miles round trip, out & back, 4-5 hours, strenuous
    • Absolutely stunning mountain and lake views
    • The hike finishes at 12,000ft Kearsage Pass on the east side of Kings Canyon National Park
    • Click here for directions to the trailhead
  2. Devils Postpile & Rainbow Falls
    • 6 miles, out & back, 2-3 hours, moderately strenuous
    • Begin with the 0.8 mile walk to the amazing Devils Postpile volcanic rock formation, then connect to the Rainbow Falls Trail
    • Takes you along a rushing creek and panoramic mountain views to this beautiful 101 foot waterfall with (you guessed it) frequent rainbows from the mist
    • Click here for directions to the trailhead
  3. Glen Aulin Trail (Yosemite National Park)

    • 11 miles round trip, out & back, 5-6 hours, moderately strenuous
    • This hike takes you along a beautiful portion of the Tuolumne River with waterfalls and rapids along the way
    • Epic mountain panoramas
    • The trail ends at the Glen Aulin backcountry camp which has a waterfall and swimming hole
    • Click here for directions to the trailhead
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Glen Aulin Trail

Nearby Side Trips from the Eastern Sierras

Death Valley National Park – Incredibly, the same corner of the state that hosts the tallest point in the contiguous U.S. (Mt. Whitney) also has the country’s lowest – Badwater Basin in Death Valley. This hot and dry region offers an incredible glance at an undeveloped and strangely beautiful desert.

Where To Stay & Eat in the Eastern Sierras

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Lembert Dome in Yosemite National Park’s Tuolumne Meadows

The centrally located cities of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes have the most lodging and food options. On the south end of the Eastern Sierras, Lone Pine has some accommodations and restaurants; to the north, Bridgeport and Lee Vining are your best options.

There are hundreds of campgrounds throughout the region – click here to find one.

 

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