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14 Best Hikes in the Sierra Nevadas That Aren’t Yosemite

The Sierra Nevadas refers to the mountain range starting from Sequoia National Park and workings its way up to Tahoe where it recedes into the hills of Plumas National Forest and shows itself again in the form of the Central Cascades.

While Yosemite National Park is world-famous, the eastern face of the Sierra Nevadas is filled with just as many amazing hikes and with way less crowds.

In this blog, we are sharing the best hikes to do in the Sierra Nevadas

Sierra Nevadas, also known as “Range of Light” due to the unusually bright-colored granite found on the mountains, is home to famous monoliths like Mammoth Mountain, North Palisades, and Whitney.

This area tends to get even more snow than the Rockies creating gorgeous high alpine basins filled with lakes and meadows. Did you know that the mountains of the Sierra Nevada range are mostly igneous rocks that eroded to form more rounded mountains while the Rockies are made of mostly sedimentary rocks that erode to form sharp, jagged peaks? No? Me neither.

The Sierra Nevadas are also home to some of the best long backpacking trips in the US. but for now, let’s explore some of the best day hikes in the Sierra Nevadas.

Photo credit of PeakVisor.

Is a road trip to the Sierras best for you? It depends on what type of traveler you are. Try our quiz to find out.

1. Mount Whitney Trail

best hikes north cascades, Cascade Pass

Mount Whitney with a bit of snow is one of the most stunning hikes in the world. Photo credit of AllTrails.

  • Distance – 21.2 miles
  • Elevation gain – 6,663…314 gain per mile
  • Difficulty – 7/10….long and consistent elevation index with one famous continuous 97 switchbacks.
  • Trailhead – Whitney Portal Trailhead
  • See On Alltrails

Let’s start with the obvious best hike in the Sierra Nevadas, Mount Whitney. We think the best time to do this hike is in May or October when it isn’t so hot and there is a little dusting of snow on the ground.

Doing this in summer is hot and hot is not fun especially when climbing 6,663 feet of elevation gain, plus without the snow caps, this hike isn’t quite as gorgeous.

2. Kearsarge Pass Trail To Kearsarge Lake

Photo Credit of AllTrails
  • Distance – 12.4 miles there and back.
  • Elevation gain – 3,490…281 gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 5/10…a nice gentle grade with plenty of options to turn back at any point.
  • Trailhead – Onion Valley Campground (near the town of Independence)
  • See On Alltrails

Just an hour away from some of the driest deserts in America is one of the best bang-for-your-buck hikes in the Sierra Nevadas, actually in all of California. It’s relatively short and there are plenty of options starting from the same trailhead…oh yeah and the fact that this is the view from the pass.

This trail is perfect as a day excursion with plenty of try-hard energy needed but not long enough that you have to worry about running out of daylight.

3. Extension to Vidette Meadows

Kearsarge Lakes Valley just before you drop into Vidette Meadows. Photo credit of AllTrails.

  • Distance – 21 miles total.
  • Elevation gain – 5,872…279 gain per mile
  • Difficulty – 7/10….far and exposed to the sun and if the weather was rolling in not much protection.
  • Trailhead – Onion Valley Campground.
  • See On Alltrails

If you want an epic add-on to your Kearsarge Pass excursion, I recommend doing the best hike in the area, Vidette Meadows.

Vidette Meadows is a parallel valley to Kearsarge Valley, but this hike is less of a destination and more of a long journey, with stunning views of Kearsarge Valley the whole time.

Just remember to time it right so there is still a bit of snow on the ground and the temperature isn’t too hot.

4. Baxter Pass

I know you thought it was Mars but it’s actually the view from Baxter Pass before reaching Baxter Lake. Photo Credit of AllTrails
  • Distance – 13.3 miles.
  • Elevation gain – 6,335…476 gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 6/10…A very stout hike with a gentle grade the whole time, but one of the coolest and most unique hikes in the Sierras.
  • Trailhead – Baxter Pass Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

Baxter Pass is one of the four Infamous West Facing Passes of the Sierra Nevadas (the others include Bishop Pass, Glen Pass, and Pinchot Pass) and in a group of famously hard and beautiful hikes, this one stands out as the hardest and most unique.

What mainly sets this hike apart is the insane environment change you hit when you reach Baxter Pass looking out across to Acrodectes Peak.

This hike is equally as hard as it is beautiful, and though it is only 13 miles, plan to make this hike an all-day excursion.

5. Bishop Pass

Photo Credit of AllTrails.
  • Distance – 11.1 miles there and back way.
  • Elevation gain – 2,332…210 feet gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 4/10…not too long and the elevation index stays consistent to one of the best views in America.
  • Trailhead – Bishop Pass Trailhead
  • See On Alltrails

On a list of 14 best hikes in the Sierra Nevadas, it’s a bit hard to say which is the best, but if I had to choose, this would be the one.

Let’s start by saying the difficulty to gorgeousness ratio (is that even a thing?) of this hike is off the charts. This hike is really fun due to how relatively short it is for the views at the end.

And if you time this hike right with a bit of snow or even better with fall colors, it will almost be a terrible idea because it will ruin you forever more for all other hikes.

6. Extension to North Palisade

best hikes north cascades, Mount Ruby
One of the many lakes you hit on this trail to North Palisade Basin. Photo Credit of Alltrails
  • Distance – 16.8 miles there and back.
  • Elevation gain -5,403…321 feet gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 7/10…This hike is awesome if just going to the North Palisade Basin and is a highly recommended option to add even more beauty to your Bishop Pass trail.
  • Note – To summit North Palisades is NOT A HIKE but rather an intense alpine scramble that requires the use and knowledge of mountain scrambling.
  • Trailhead – Bishop Pass Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

North Palisades is one of the best mountains in California for mountaineering and climbing, only Whitney or The Minarets can top this one.

There are numerous classic routes up North Palisades, like the U-Notch which might be the best couloir for skiing in California…And number two is The Palisades traverse which is one of the best traverses in California, however, the easiest route up North Palisades is the one that this hike goes to.

The best part of this hike is that it goes to the North Palisade Basin before taking the Southwest Chute up, meaning you can get what may be an even prettier view without having to do any of the 4th class scrambling that North Palisades requires.

And yes, this hike does require basic climbing capabilities if opting to climb the Southwest Chute which is a beautiful steep couloir winding straight to the top of North Palisade, with a chossy scramble section and a thin catwalk section where the use of ropes may be necessary.

See Mountain Project for the beta

7. Mono Pass

The view near the end presents what is, in my opinion, the prettier part of Yosemite. Photo credit of Alltrail.
  • Distance – 7.9 miles there and back.
  • Elevation gain – 1174…148 feet gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 3/10….a little long but with little to no elevation gain per mile as you walk through the high alpine of Tuolamne Meadows.
  • Trailhead – Mono Pass Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

Tuolumne Meadows is the Robin to Yosemite Valley’s Batman, at least that’s what I think. Personally, we love the Tuolumne Meadows area even more than the crowded Yosemite Valley area.

This hike is not only the best but also one of the easiest. At only 7 miles, pretty much anyone can do this hike, and everyone deserves to do this hike because it is one of the best in all of the Sierras.

8. Mount Conness East Ridge

The view right after ascending the ridge, you can see Half-Dome, and Mount Dana, and feel your heart vibrate like a diesel truck after the exposed ridgeline walk. Photo credit of Alltrails

  • Distance – 7.8 miles.
  • Elevation gain -3,031…388 gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 7/10…it’s not a HARD HIKE, but route finding plays a pivotal role, and the east ridge is a scramble so it can be dangerous.
  • Trailhead – Sawmill Campground.
  • See On Alltrails

This one is not usually on other people’s lists. Mainly so for the fact that it’s not really a hike. That being said it’s not a climb either, it’s the perfect merging of the two making what is in my opinion, one of the coolest adventures in California.

This hike takes you up the sharp photogenic east ridge of Mount Conness, which lies high above the Tuolumne Meadows.

The directions for this route are a bit confusing so listen up.

From the trailhead at Sawmill Campground follow Lee Vining Creek till it splits left. Continue until the trail banks left.

Follow alongside the creek until it banks left again to Green Treble Lake, once it does so stay straight or rather go to the obvious mountain that will come in sight at this point.

Go up the scree slope shortly till you hit an alpine lake, and from there continue up one more notch and you will see the East Ridge come in sight.

Scramble up it straight to the summit, with views all the while of too many alpine lakes to count and the pristine beauty of the greatest alpine meadow in America.

9. Mosquito Flats to Morgan Lake.

best hikes north cascades, Ptarmagin Ridge

Gem Lake is only 7 miles in with 1000 feet of elevation gain, a pretty ugly place to leave the tired ones while you summit Morgan Pass. Photo credit of Alltrails

  • Distance – 7.2 (to Little Lakes)…Morgan Lakes 9.4
  • Elevation gain – 1,033 (to Little Lakes)…1,591 (to Morgan Lakes ).
  • Difficulty – 4/10…These are easy hikes with some of the most amazing views, not a coupling that happens very often.
  • Trailhead – Mosquito Flats Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

If you want an easier option this hike has tons of those, and that’s the coolest part, or one of them.

This hike takes you past three different scenic points, where at any one of those you can turn back.

Starting at Mosquito Flats Trailhead, one of the best Backpacker campgrounds to stay at in the Sierras from there this hike goes past Little Lakes Valley which is in and out of itself worth the while, and then doing the main elevation index giving you amazing south facing views of the Sierras.

10. Blue Lake to Dingleberry Lake

best hikes north cascades, Chain Lakes

I have no idea why John Muir gave the title, Dingleberry Lake, to one of the most amazing lakes in California…Photo credit of Alltrails

  • Distance – 8.9 miles either way.
  • Elevation gain – 1814…203 feet gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 4/10….a bit long but with really no elevation gain and pretty views throughout..
  • Trailhead – Sabrina Lake Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

Yes, yes, make all the jokes you want, for whatever reason John Muir felt compelled to call this lake Dingleberry Lake. But no matter what it’s called there is one set fact. This hike is gorgeous and deserves a high ranking in the 14 best hikes in the Sierra Nevadas

Taking you past 8 alpine lakes with no more than 1,814 feet of elevation gain makes this a perfect hike for people who want to see one of the best lakes in the Sierras without hiking anything extreme.

11. Mono Pass to Mosquito Lakes.

best hikes north cascades, lake ann

Mono Pass number 2…definetly more pretty than Mono Pass 1…Photo credit of TheHikingProject

  • Distance – 8.9 there and back.
  • Elevation gain – 2,280…256 gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 5/10…a bit stout overall, starting with a mean push to Mono Pass before dropping into Mosquito Lakes.
  • Trailhead – Mosquito Flats Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

WAIT IS THIS A TYPO…DIDN’T WE ALREADY READ ABOUT A MONO PASS? The answer is yes. The explanation is that John Muir must have been really lazy at naming passes.

This hike is totally different from the one near Yosemite, but thus equally as pretty, if not more.

You’re probably sick of me saying it, but this is one of the most amazing passes in California and proves there can be room for two on the best hikes in The Sierra Nevadas

12. Extension to Pioneer Basin Lakes

I don’t know which number lake this is on the hike, you get into an Alpine-Lake-Daze…Photo Credit of Alltrails.

  • Distance – 17.6 miles there and back.
  • Elevation gain – 4,803…272 feet gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 7/10….very long but with not too much elevation gain taking you past three alpine basins.
  • Trailhead – Lake Ann Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

This is a must-do if you’re looking for a large adventure with breathtaking views.

This is the best LONG hike in the Sierra Nevadas, and if you’re looking for a mid-day hike to go on…choose something else cause this hike is a real quad burner.

A burner that is all worth the effort when you reach the Pioneer Basin, the best basin in the Sierras.

Pro tip – it is popular to backpack here and camp next to the lake.

13. Red Slate Mountain

The valley before you start the infamous climb to Red Slate Mountains crumbling summit. Photo Credit of AllTrails

  • Distance – 21.7 miles there and back.
  • Elevation gain – 5918…272 feet gain per mile.
  • Difficulty – 7/10…a long and grueling hike to an amazing lake, and from there a rough push to the summit that may require basic scrambling capabilities.
  • Trailhead – Mcgee Creek Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

My favorite mountain in the whole state of California, which also happens to be one of the hardest hikes in California.

Winding past amazing valley views and a 360-degree summit shot with Mammoth ski resort, The Minarets, and all of the Sierras in view.

The easiest way to summit this peak is to take the Big Mcgee Lake Trail until you reach the base of the mountain and from there take the obvious well-worn trail. If that trail isn’t visible early in the season, walk up the low-angle scree field along the southeast ridge of Red Slate Mountain.

14. Kit Carson Pass to Roundtop Mountain

best hikes north cascades, Maple Pass

This hike is such a fun little trek passing pristine Kit Carson Lake below Roundtop Mountain …Photo credit of Alltrails

  • distance – 8.2 miles around.
  • elevation gain – 2,103…256 feet gain per mile.
  • difficulty – 4/10….a nice chill hike that provides both a lake and a summit with 360* degree views, prominent amongst the fellow summits.
  • Trailhead – Carson Pass Trailhead.
  • See On Alltrails

The only hike on our list near Lake Tahoe, but nevertheless, it’s a great one with tremendous views of Lake Tahoe and Kirkwood Mountain from the top.

A great hike because it’s a peak that you don’t need any mountain skills to muster and summit, and if you time it right with a bit of snow, makes an awesome yin and yang of green grasses and pale white snow.

Since it’s close to Tahoe, it can get busy on the weekends.

Before You Go

I hope this helped you plan the perfect Sierra Nevada road trip. If trip planning overwhelms you, hire me to do it. Also, as you now know, the Sierras are filled with great hikes, but many HARD HIKES. If you are not in hiking shape or you’d like to be able to hike further and feel better, check out our free Fit To Hike Program. Last, grab our free Adventure Resource Bundle with pack lists, gear guides, and more.

If you want more info for The Best California Roadtrip click the links for these related blogs.

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