Winding through California’s High Sierra: 11 Experiences between Yosemite and Tahoe

Deciding on experiences in some of California’s most sought after country was a real challenge! Amber and I set parameters though, and stuck with them. We needed a mix of scenery, adventure, adrenaline, and relaxation for our California road trip--and we found it, all of it! From sunup to sundown, we explored California’s High Sierra, stretching from Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe. Here’s what we were able to experience and loved!
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This article was created in partnership with California’s High Sierra Visitor’s Council. All photos by Emily Sierra Photography.

1. Moro Rock

The smells of pines and damp soil drifted in our car windows in Sequoia National Park leading to the parking area for the Moro Rock. The trek to the top of the rock was steep, but fortunately pretty short. From the summit we enjoyed 360-degree views of the surrounding granite peaks and valleys.

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2. Bass Lake

We pulled up to Bass Lake and were immediately entranced by the golden light filtered through the surrounding pines. We rented a couple of stand up paddle boards (SUP) and glided onto the lake under the setting sun. The water was such a welcoming temperature, and the perfect respite at the end of a hot day.

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3. Glacier Point

I’m sure that everyone has their own opinion on the best view in Yosemite National Park. Not surprisingly, there isn’t a bad one! Taking in the valley views from Glacier Point was high on our list, and we decided for a sunrise session to avoid the crowds. Boy, we made the right move! We found a lovely spot to watch the sun come up, and imagined what it would be like to cross country ski out to this spot in the wintertime.

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4. Mammoth Mountain

The gondola up Mammoth Mountain escorted us to insane views of the eastern Sierra. We looked out over the valleys below, back toward jagged peaks, and down on multiple sparkling lakes. From the gondola station at the top, we walked on a hiking trail to explore the summit. I will admit, I was envious watching mountain bikers rip down the mountain park trails!

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5. Lake Sabrina to Blue Lake

Scenic Sabrina (pronounced sah-bry-nuh) is nestled majestically against jagged, 13,000-foot peaks. Alongside the lake, the marina serves up a variety of homemade pies, so naturally we had a slice before the hike. Doesn’t everyone do that? Strutting up the trail, we kept our heads on swivels, looking down at the lake and valley, watching the trees change as we gained elevation. A few miles later, we arrived at Blue Lake where the entire landscape was reflected in the high alpine lake. Next time, I will remember my fly rod!

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6. Mono Lake

From above, Mono Lake is completely unassuming. The real attractions on the lake are the tufa structures “growing” on the lakeshore. From the south tufa area, there is a small trail system leading to the lake’s edge and around these unique salt structures. Once again, we rolled up to the area at sunrise, and no surprise: we were basically alone! The water shimmered shades of pink and orange, reflecting the mountains soaking up the sunlight. Mono Lake was easily one of the most unique places we explored in the area!

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7. Wapama Falls & Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

The northern side of Yosemite National Park is uncrowded and highly underrated. The water held in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir supplies San Francisco (167 miles away) with glacial drinking water. We crossed the dam and immediately entered a historic train tunnel. By the time we emerged, we were walking along the northwest shore of the reservoir, looking across the way at massive granite domes. Furthermore, the hike to Wapama Falls was easy and rewarding, and I was impressed with how much water was still cascading given our September visit.

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8. Utica & Union Reservoir

Obviously a local’s spot, this pair of scenic reservoirs is a great spot for camping, picnicking, and unmotorized watercraft. We opted for a relaxing afternoon and packed an array of snacks from Big Trees Market & Deli. We explored the rocky outcroppings around the lake and enjoyed the quiet and serene scene, sans crowds.

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9. Zephyr Cove

We were welcomed aboard the MS Dixie II with a glass of champagne and encouraged to explore the upper deck. The boat motored up and we cruised along Lake Tahoe into the sunset. After a multi-course meal downstairs, we enjoyed the live band playing everyone’s favorite songs on the second deck. We had a great introduction to Emerald Bay and gazed at Vikingsholm Castle from a short distance.

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10. Kings Beach

Tahoe’s blue waters are undoubtedly enchanting, and the best way to explore is with a clear kayak. I actually felt like I was sitting right on the water inside my kayak! We paddled down the coastline and drifted over massive boulders that glowed under the clear water. Mediterranean Sea or alpine lake? Lake Tahoe is one of the most impressive and gorgeous bodies of water that I’ve ever seen!

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11. Donner Pass

We decided to end our California road trip with one final adrenaline rush. With the help of the Truckee Chamber of Commerce, we met our climbing guide near Donner Pass. He showed us the ropes of rock climbing (pun intended!). We surprised ourselves with this new sport, and actually ended up climbing multiple pitches. The views down the valley over Donner Lake and Truckee made all of the efforts worthwhile.

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For more information on taking a California road trip thorugh the High Sierra, check out our travel guide to the region.

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