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Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada Itineraries

Classic Week in the Sierra Nevada

Go to California'€™s mountainous high country for wild and astonishing beauty

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The Sierra Nevada is California’s rugged staircase into an evergreen world of pine forests, wildflower meadows, rushing waterfalls, serene lakes, and countless valleys and peaks carved by ancient glaciers. Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the U.S. outside of Alaska, stands sentinel by the range’s southern end, while placid Lake Tahoe, aka “The Big Blue,” sits near the northern edge of the mountain chain. In between, you’ll encounter the four-seasons outdoor playground of Mammoth Lakes and three superstar parks: Yosemite National Park and neighboring Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

This mountainous region is also prime road-tripping territory, especially if you drive through the Eastern Sierra on gorgeous U.S. Highway 395, which is sandwiched between the jagged peaks of the High Sierra to the west and the Great Basin Desert to the east. There hot springs hide along earthquake fault zones, while high above 10,000 feet in elevation grow ancient bristlecone pines, the oldest trees on the planet. Over on the west side of the Sierra Nevada, the world’s biggest trees – giant sequoias – await in sun-dappled forest groves.

All of this is only the beginning of the amazing diversity of wildlife that inhabits the Sierra Nevada. You can watch black bears grazing on wildflowers and ambling beside rivers all across the range, but especially in the national parks and other protected wilderness areas. Hikers and backpackers who travel on foot among the craggy granite of the High Sierra will hear the whistles of yellow-bellied mountain marmots, who poke their head up out of piles of rocks. Birders can spot myriad species on their life list here, especially around volcanic Mono Lake, famous for its alien-looking tufa formations, outside the small town of Lee Vining.

Besides the major national parks, the biggest outdoor adventure hubs in the Sierra Nevada are Lake Tahoe and, in the Eastern Sierra, the resort town of Mammoth Lakes, set beneath Mammoth Mountain; the down-to-earth city of Bishop, at the edge of the Owens Valley; and Lone Pine, the gateway to Mount Whitney and the Alabama Hills, where Hollywood Westerns have been filmed. In summer, you can go rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, mountain climbing, horseback riding, kayaking, swimming, and more. Winter sports are also huge, thanks to terrific skiing and snowboarding at a dozen resorts around Lake Tahoe and at Mammoth Mountain, as well as at smaller, family-friendly ski areas like June Mountain and the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, snow tubing, and sledding are more all-ages winter pursuits.

Most of the Sierra Nevada region gets very crowded during summer, when most lodgings and campsites fill up every weekend between the Memorial Day holiday in late May and the Labor Day holiday in early September. It’s smart to start planning your vacation up to a year in advance if you want to stay in national park lodges or get a wilderness permit to climb Mount Whitney or Yosemite’s Half Dome or to backpack the John Muir Trail, part of the much longer Pacific Crest Trail. Of course, that doesn’t mean that a last-minute Sierra Nevada road trip isn’t a possibility, as long as you stay flexible with your itinerary and aren’t too picky about where you sleep.

Keep in mind that not all mountain roads and passes open until late spring or early summer, and many of them close again after the first major snowfall in late fall. Between November and May, you won’t be able to drive from the western side of the Sierra Nevada (say, from Yosemite Valley) over to the Eastern Sierra or Lake Tahoe without making a very long detour via Sacramento to the north or Bakersfield to the south.


Explore These Sierra Nevada Itineraries

Ready to go? Check out our itinerary for a Classic Week in the Sierra Nevada.


When To Go

What’s the best time to visit California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains? And how much time should you spend once you get there? The answer is ultimately up to you, but we have a lot of advice and insider tips to help you figure it out.

Summer is the busiest season in the Sierra Nevada, and for good reason. All of the mountain roads and hiking trails are open and snow-free. Sunny days and refreshingly cool nights are the norm, except in late summer when a little rain may fall. The downsides to a summer vacation are the crowds, more expensive lodging rates and fully booked accommodations, and the potential for wildfires that might interrupt your trip.

Spring and fall are the quieter shoulder seasons in the Sierra Nevada. Not all mountain passes and roads are open until late spring or early summer, and some close again in autumn, usually after the first snowfall. But you’ll still be able to access many of the most popular tourist destinations, including Lake Tahoe, the Eastern Sierra, and the national parks. Keep in mind that overnight low temperatures get chilly at higher elevations during spring and fall, so dress in warm layers. Bring a sleeping bag and a three-season tent with a rainfly if you’ll be camping.

Winter is a fun time to visit several spots in the Sierra Nevada, but expect some more logistical challenges for travel then. Winter snowstorms bring all the powder you need for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and other winter sports, but they also close mountain passes and highways, making driving around more difficult. Always carry tire chains in your car and build some extra time into your travel plans, just in case you get stuck somewhere unexpectedly for a night or two.

Most people visit the Sierra Nevada for a week, though we’d encourage you to take two. It’s possible to see a little of what the region offers in just a few days, but you’ll have to limit yourself to exploring just one or two destinations, say Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe. A full week gives you time to visit one (or maybe two) national parks and to dip into the Eastern Sierra and Lake Tahoe. With two weeks at your disposal, you can really make the most of your Sierra Nevada road trip and spend your trip relaxing instead of rushing around.

How Much Time To Spend

How much time have you got?

You might find yourself just driving through the Sierra Nevada on your way to or from somewhere else, and that’s A-OK. But you’re not going to be able to see much more than a brief glimpse of Lake Tahoe or a tiny slice of Yosemite National Park while road tripping across the mountains in a day or two.

Three days is the bare minimum for zigzagging from Lake Tahoe through Yosemite National Park to Yosemite Valley. But keep in mind that it’s only possible to cross the Sierra Nevada via Tioga Road (Highway 120) in summer and early fall, when Tioga Pass isn’t closed by snow. Otherwise, you may have to stick to major highways like the I-80 Freeway, which passes by Lake Tahoe, or Highway 395 down through the Eastern Sierra, home to the mountain town of Mammoth Lakes.

Five days lets you dally a little longer in Yosemite, see a bit of the Eastern Sierra, and spend some time relaxing on the shores of Lake Tahoe. But you still might feel a bit rushed as you zoom between the region’s biggest highlights. Give yourself a week and you can travel at a saner pace, taking time out for a couple of day hikes or other cool outdoor activities like rock climbing or kayaking.

Two weeks is probably the perfect amount of time for vacationing in the Sierra Nevada. You’ll be able to explore all three national parks – Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon – and then take a few days to road trip along Highway 395 through the Eastern Sierra, all the way down to towering Mount Whitney outside Lone Pine. Then wrap up your Sierra Nevada sojourn by heading north up to gorgeous Lake Tahoe, a four-seasons outdoor playground.

High and Low Season

High season in the Sierra Nevada is summer. The mountains are most crowded between mid-June and early September. Although summer officially kicks off over the Memorial Day long weekend in late May, not all mountain roads and passes, such as Tioga Pass between Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra, are open by then. The biggest crowds arrive around the July 4th holiday and during the Labor Day holiday weekend in early September.

During high season in the Sierra Nevada, lodgings can be twice as expensive and fully booked throughout the entire summer. You can reserve accommodations up to a year in advance at many places, including in and around Yosemite National Park. Ski season during the winter months of December through March is also a busy and expensive time to visit the Sierra Nevada, especially around Lake Tahoe, where most of the famous ski resorts are.

The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are less expensive and crowded in the Sierra Nevada. Spring is prime time for waterfall watching in Yosemite National Park, but all around the Sierra Nevada region, some roads and most hiking trails will still be closed by snow until at least April or even May or June. Early autumn is a gorgeous time to visit, after the summer crowds have departed and days are still sunny while nights are cool, but not freezing cold. For fall foliage, head to the Eastern Sierra, especially around June Lake and Mammoth Lakes, where the aspen trees look like shimmering gold.

Weather and Climate

Unlike coastal California, the Sierra Nevada Mountains experience all four seasons.

Summers are sunny and hot, but pleasantly so at higher elevations. That said, temperatures in Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills can spike over 90°F (32°C). Temperatures at higher elevations like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows are usually 10°F to 20°F cooler. In late summer, the Sierra Nevada’s “monsoon” rains bring a few days of precipitation and cooler weather. Late summer is also when the most wildfires, both natural and accidentally human-caused, occur.

Winters are cold and snowy, with daytime highs in the 30s and 40s and overnight lows dipping below 0°F (-18°C). In recent years, severe drought has meant that the Sierra Nevada has not seen much winter snow, but forecasters predict that the winter of 2015/16 will see higher than average precipitation due to the El Niño effect of warmer ocean currents. During winter, many mountain passes and roads are closed from the first snowfall until the snow melts in late spring. Some highways also shut down temporarily during snowstorms, or else require that drivers have cars with snow tires and chains.

Spring and fall bring more moderate weather in the Sierra Nevada. Snow usually doesn’t start melting until mid-April, possibly even May or early June at higher elevations. In autumn, the first snow usually falls sometime between late October and mid-November.

For current weather conditions and detailed area forecasts, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration online.

Wildfires

One other factor that greatly affects the weather in California – and it may impact your travel plans unexpectedly – is wildfire. Wildfires are most common during the hottest months of July, August, and September, but can blaze anytime from spring through fall. For the latest information on wildfires burning in California right now, click here.

Why is California’s wildfire season worse than ever before? Ongoing drought is partly to blame for more frequent and larger fires. But the main culprit is previous decades of forest mismanagement plans, which called for putting out all wildfires instead of allowing some to burn naturally. Since some forests  have not burned in over a century, their flammable fuel load is high, which is what creates ever bigger and more dangerous conflagrations. Some wildfires begin naturally with lightning strikes, while others are the result of human carelessness (such as a campfire that is not completely put out).

Tip: Please do your part to help prevent wildfires by making sure that campfires are kept small and closely monitored (or better yet, don’t build them at all). If you smoke, never dispose of your cigarette butts outdoors. Instead, put them in a designated ashtray or douse them with water before throwing them in a trash can.

Events and Holidays

National & State Holidays

January 1: New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday): Presidents Day
March 31: César Chávez Day
March/April: Good Friday (two days before Easter Sunday)
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July 4: Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
September 9: California Admission Day
September (fourth Friday): Native American Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day
November 11: Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December 25: Christmas

Time Zone

California is located in the Pacific time zone (GMT-7).

To check the local time in California now, click here.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) begins in spring on the second Sunday in March, when clocks are advanced one hour. In the fall on the first Sunday of November, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. With few exceptions, the entire country (including California) participates in this ritual of “springing forward” and “falling back.”

What it Costs

California’s Sierra Nevada can be a reasonably cheap or an extremely expensive place to visit, depending on your travel style and where you go. In general, the major mountain resort areas of Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes cost more than small towns in the Eastern Sierra. The Sierra Nevada’s national parks – Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon – can cost very little to visit (if you camp, cook your own meals, and take advantage of free activities) or they can break your budget (if you stay in park lodges, eat at restaurants, and sign up for guided activities like horseback riding or rock climbing).

Budget If you’re staying in hostels or camping, eating cheap take-out meals, and getting around on public transportation, you can get by on about $75 a day.

Moderate If you’re traveling with someone else and renting a car to get around, staying at cheaper motels, and going out for at least some of your meals, plan on spending $150 a day.

Luxury If you’re a luxury traveler, $500 a day will cover staying at the best lodges and hotels; dining out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; enjoying daytime tours and guided outdoor activities; and renting an SUV with 4WD (four-wheel drive) or AWD (all-wheel drive).

When you travel makes a difference. For example, shoulder season prices for lodgings may be 50% less than high season rates. Weekdays tend to be cheaper than weekends year-round. When room occupancy is low, polite bargaining may be possible for walk-in visitors at roadside motels.

National Park Entrance Fees & Passes

If you’re only going to be visiting one national park during your trip, go ahead and pay the one-time entry fee, which costs up to $30 per vehicle for a seven-day pass at Yosemite National Park, or $20 for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

If you’ll be visiting multiple parks and also plan to see more National Park Service (NPS) sites within the next 12 months, an annual “America the Beautiful” interagency pass ($80) will save you money in the long run. You can buy the pass at any park entrance station or online in advance.

U.S. citizens aged 62 and over are eligible for a lifetime senior pass, which costs $10 in person or $20 by mail. U.S. citizens with qualifying permanent disabilities are entitled to a free lifetime pass (apply in person, or pay $10 by mail). Active duty U.S. military personnel are also eligible for free passes.

All of these passes cover free entrance to all 397 NPS locations across the country. The senior pass also entitles users to 50% off fees for certain activities, such as camping.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in U.S. dollars ($).

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double room
$$ => Rooms $100 to $300 for a double room
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double room

Eat
$ => Up to $15 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16-22 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Airfares

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need them to be low, they’re high. And when prices dip, what happens? You have no free time to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from online booking websites like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type in your destination and the dates you are watching, and boom! When there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your email inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline websites.

That said, it’s advantageous to also visit an airline’s own website before booking. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator sites. Most airlines share time-limited, super-discounted specials via their social media pages or in email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mail lists.

Car Rentals

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Online booking websites like Hotwire and Kayak offer comparison price shopping. So does the Costco Travel website (for members only).

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell them what you want to pay and maybe they can hook you up with a car rental company who fits the bill. They have some great deals, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental or which company you rent from.

If you’ll be traveling to the Sierra Nevada in winter when there’s a possibility of snow, consider paying more to rent a car with 4WD or AWD (all-wheel drive) and high clearance. Ask your rental car company if your vehicle has snow tires and chains, which are often required on mountain roads and highways during winter when there’s snow on the ground, especially during storms. Tire chains can often be bought or rented, although not cheaply, in gateway towns as you drive up and into the Sierra Nevada.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to and around California goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other countries. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000. U.S. travelers should check if their medical insurance at home will cover them while traveling in California.

Trip Interruption For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to cut your trip short, the insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage (up to a certain amount only).

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a storm-prone area during winter, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case.”

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include free concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz, and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkely, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International, and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like InsureMyTrip.com and Squaremouth.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight; it’s often contracted with the above major players.

If you have pre-existing health conditions Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But they also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain timeframe after paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance If you buy your airfare or make other travel bookings with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), Homeaway, and Airbnb become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, contact the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Exchange Rates

The U.S. dollar fluctuates against other world currencies, but its value has steadily risen since early 2015. For current exchange rates, click here.

Currency

U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans may have a tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.

Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (10 cents), and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.

Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

Most Californians do not carry a large amount of cash with them on an everyday basis, and neither should you.

ATMs

If you withdraw cash from an ATM machine, most banks apply a surcharge of around $3 per transaction. Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, banks in California will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Some grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets such as pharmacies will allow you to get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods with your debit card – this is an easy way to get some cash while on the go without paying a surcharge.

Keep in mind that ATMs are rare outside of major towns in the Sierra Nevada. National parks may have a couple of ATMs, usually located at busy shops or visitor lodgings, but don’t rely on them because they are not always in service and they sometimes run out of cash.

Credit & Debit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card issuer before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state, and even Californians traveling far from home. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card declined when you try to use it at your destination in California.

You should also call your bank or credit card issuer immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card – which doesn’t help if it is lost or stolen. Make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access, for example, by taking a photo of the back of the card with your smartphone.

Recently cards with embedded chips to deter counterfeit fraud have been issued. Banks and merchants that don’t offer chip readers may be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details about your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

TIPPING

Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any California trip. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but a few other special situations also apply.

Restaurants

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% of the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10% to 15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In most places, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But at least it will be itemized on the bill – if you look closely for it, that is.

Hotels

Bellhops normally receive $1 to $2 per bag that they assist with, but if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, tip them $5 to $10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day, left under the card on in the envelope provided. Tip $5 per day at higher-end properties.

Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) deserve a 20% tip for their services when performed well, whether at the spa or in your hotel room.

Other Services

At bars, tip bartenders and cocktail servers at least $1 or $2 per drink, up to 15% to 20% per round.

Airport porters are normally tipped $2 or $3 per bag.

Taxi drivers are tipped 15% to 20% of the total fare, rounded up to the next whole dollar amount. Limo drivers expect a minimum $20 tip.

Tip parking valet staff a minimum of $2 when they hand back the keys to your car.

SALES TAXES, LODGING TAXES & RESORT FEES

In California, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 7.5% to 10%, depending on where you are. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.

Lodging tax also varies by location in California, ranging from 6% to 14% This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.

NATIONAL PARK ENTRANCE FEES & PASSES

If you’re only going to be visiting one national park during your trip, go ahead and pay the one-time entry fee, which costs up to $30 per vehicle for a seven-day pass at Yosemite National Park, or $20 for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

If you’ll be visiting multiple parks and also plan to see more National Park Service (NPS) sites within the next 12 months, an annual “America the Beautiful” interagency pass ($80) will save you money in the long run. You can buy the pass at any park entrance station or online in advance.

U.S. citizens aged 62 and over are eligible for a lifetime senior pass, which costs $10 in person or $20 by mail. U.S. citizens with qualifying permanent disabilities are entitled to a free lifetime pass (apply in person, or pay $10 by mail). Active duty U.S. military personnel are also eligible for free passes.

All of these passes cover free entrance to all 397 NPS locations across the country. The senior pass also entitles users to 50% off fees for certain activities, such as camping – that’s a bargain!

Transportation

The most popular way to get to California is to fly, though many people do drive here. Long-distance Amtrak trains are a scenic option for getting to major cities and some towns in California, with connecting buses to Yosemite National Park and, in summer, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Long-distance Greyhound buses are a reliable, though less comfortable option for getting to major cities that will save you money. Even if you are on a tight budget, however, airfares to California are often cheap enough that it only makes sense to fly, given how much time you’ll save by doing so.

Most people fly into the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles metropolitan area or Reno, Nevada, then rent a car and take a road trip to the Sierra Nevada. Although you can reach a few of the region’s most popular destinations on public transportation, getting around the region without a car is logistically difficult, and sometimes it’s impossible. Regional bus services are most frequent only during summer, but even then they might only run once or twice daily. During winter, many bus routes don’t operate at all. Bicycle touring isn’t very realistic, given the elevation changes, narrow mountain roads, and long distances involved. That said, cycling can be a fun way to get around smaller places in the Sierra Nevada, such as Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, or the Yosemite Valley.

The three biggest national parks – Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon – offer free visitor shuttle buses that you should take advantage of, not only to be eco-conscious but also to avoid parking headaches and traffic jams. The resort town of Mammoth Lakes also runs free public shuttle buses around town, as well as a seasonal fee-based shuttle during summer to Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile National Monument. Many of Lake Tahoe’s shoreline towns are connected by inexpensive local bus routes. During winter, free shuttle buses run to and from Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts as well.

Background

Recommended Reading

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir (1911)
The Yosemite by John Muir (1912)
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada by Clarence King (1902)
Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws (2007)
Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracey I. Storer, Robert L. Usinger & David Lukas (2004)
History of the Sierra Nevada by Francis P. Farquhar (1965)
Geology of the Sierra Nevada by Mary Hill (2006)
Assembling California by John McPhee (1994)
Califlora: A Literary Field Guide (2012)
California Indians and Their Environment by Kent G. Lightfoot & Otis Parrish (2009)
The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream by H. W. Brands (2008)
The Shirley Letters: From the California Mines, 1851-1852 (1998)

Websites and Maps

California Highway Information
Enter the highway number you’ll be traveling on to get up-to-date information about road closures and construction. It’s invaluable in winter, especially in the mountains and along remote stretches of the coast. The toll-free phone number is (800) 427-7623.

DeLorme’s California Atlas & Gazetteer
When your GPS fails or you lose your cellphone data signal and Wi-Fi, you’ll be glad to have this along on any road trip, especially in wilderness areas such as the mountains and the deserts.

Visit California
The state’s official tourism website by the California Travel & Tourism Commission.

Tahoe South and Go Tahoe North
The lake’s official tourism websites have travel information for all four seasons.

California’s Eastern Sierra
The official tourism website for Mono County in the Eastern Sierra.

Visit Mammoth
The official tourism website for Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra.

Yosemite National Park
The park’s official website is jam-packed with useful information. Download the free seasonal park newspaper, The Guide, before your trip for current information and events.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
The parks’ official website is jam-packed with useful information. Download the free seasonal visitor guide newspaper before your trip for current information and events.

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