If you'd rather earn panoramic vistas than just drive right up to them, the Sierra Nevada range is full of peaks with heart-stopping vistas that you can hike up. Some mountains are best reserved for expert alpinists to tackle, but others don't require much more than determination, along with some basic hiking and backcountry skills, along with good preparation and supplies.
Peak Bagging in Yosemite National Park
In Yosemite, you can summit not just mountains, but also waterfalls and iconic granite rock formations that are dramatically suspended above the valley floor. Issuing an irresistible sirens' call, Half Dome beckons to climbers of all ages and abilities.
Conquering this granite rock formation is an all-day affair, requiring a challenging 14-mile round-trip hike and a surefooted final ascent of the dome using rope cables that are bolted into place between late May and early October. Make sure to hit the trail by sunrise, wear hiking boots with excellent traction and tote along a lot of water.
The Tuolumne Meadows area of the Sierra Nevada high country, easily accessed off Tioga Road, is another starting point for both rugged alpine peak climbing and short, family-friendly scrambles up granite domes. The three-mile round-trip hike up Lembert Dome grants some spectacular views over Tuolumne Meadows and the Sierra Nevada divide, and you can combine it with a hike around Dog Lake.
If you've got more stamina, Clouds Rest is elevated even higher than Half Dome, offering incredible views back into the Yosemite Valley. The 14-mile round trip to Clouds Rest starts near Tenaya Lake. Farther east near Tioga Pass, a six-mile round-trip trail summits Mt Dana (elevation 13,057 feet), the second-highest peak in Yosemite National Park. Amazingly, no technical mountain-climbing skills are needed, although it's still quite a workout!
Mountain Climbing Elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada
Outside Yosemite National Park, the rest of the Sierra Nevada range awaits. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have more than their fair share of scenic summits, including Mt. Whitney (elevation 14,505 feet). In fact, the Sierra Nevada range enfolds almost all of California's peaks rising above 14,000 feet (except for Mt. Shasta, which belongs to the Cascade Range in Northern California). Hundreds of lower-elevation peaks provide easily accessible and even relatively short climbs, although varying terrain may make put some summits out of reach of novice hikers. But don't let that stop you, because many local outdoor outfitters can arrange guided climbs.