- For other places with the same name, see Sierra Nevada (disambiguation).
The Sierra Nevada region of California is its alpine region, covering a large portion of the state's inland territory. Rugged mountains and awe-inspiring canyons in the area's national parks and forests are truly part of the United States' national wilderness treasures.
It's a region of grandiose sizes; Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S., is here, as well as the giant sequoias, the largest living things on earth. The human population, however, is relatively small. Most of the towns and cities in the Sierra Nevada region are ski resort towns, or gateways to the area's parks.
- Alpine County - Sparsely populated Alpine County advertises itself with the slogan "two people per square mile and you", making it a good option for a quiet mountain getaway. Attractions include the hot spring pools at Grover Hot Springs State Park, amazing views of the Sierras from the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, and the excellent winter skiing at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
- Calaveras County - Sparsely populated Calaveras County inspired author Mark Twain's first successful story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", and today visitors can both visit Twain's cabin and enjoy the annual Jumping Frog Jubilee in the tiny town of Angels Camp. The county is also home to several natural caves, a handful of wineries, Gold Rush history, and giant sequoia trees in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
- El Dorado County - "El Dorado" is Spanish for "the gilded/golden", an appropriate name for the county where the California Gold Rush was kicked off after a discovery at Sutter's Mill (near Coloma) in 1848. The county's attractions include mountain scenery, gold mining history, the impossibly blue waters of Lake Tahoe, backpacking opportunities in the Desolation Wilderness, and epic skiing in the South Lake Tahoe area.
- Fresno County - Sprawling Fresno County is home to Fresno, California's fifth-largest city, and vast agricultural areas. The eastern side of the county is mountainous, featuring the remote wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park, which attracts visitors to its giant sequoias and unspoiled meadows that lie at the crest of the Sierra Nevada range.
- Inyo County - Inyo County is a land of extremes, covering a massive 10,000 square mile expanse of the Eastern Sierra and California Desert. Inyo County is home to Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower-48 states, as well as Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the lower-48 states and host to earth's hottest temperatures and the continent's lowest elevation. In addition, ancient bristlecone pine trees can be found within the White Mountains, the oldest of which is estimated to be around 5,000 years old.
- Kern County - Kern County extends across a number of geographic regions: the western portion is in the San Joaquin Valley, the northeastern portion is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the southeastern part is in the Desert. Visitors to the county are most likely to be heading to Bakersfield, one of California's largest cities, or traveling along Interstate 5 past oil fields and agricultural areas.
- Madera County - Madera County's agricultural western half offers plenty of hotels and amenities for travelers, while the mountainous eastern half features unspoiled Sierra Nevada wilderness that is home to portions of Yosemite National Park, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and Devils Postpile National Monument with its impressive basalt columns and iconic Rainbow Falls. Be aware that there are no roads crossing the the county from west to east, so it may be a very circuitous route for those who want to see everything Madera has to offer!
- Mariposa County - Mariposa was the largest county in California at the time of statehood in 1850, but later ceded land that formed twelve other counties. Today it maintains a relatively small footprint in the Sierra Nevada foothills, but has kept one of the state's treasures: Yosemite National Park, home to impossibly tall granite cliffs, remote alpine wilderness, and an iconic valley.
- Mono County - Remote and expansive Mono County is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park, home to the Old West ghost town of Bodie, and Mammoth Lakes is a favorite winter skiing getaway. The gigantic Mono Lake is perhaps the county's premier attraction, a stopover for millions of migratory birds and thousands of tourists who explore its alkaline waters and bizarre tufa formations.
- Nevada County - Rising from the Sierra foothills to the Nevada border, this county retains many examples of its Gold Rush past, ranging from California's oldest operating theater in Nevada City to the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, an establishment that has hosted four Presidents since its opening in 1851. Even before the Gold Rush, the county gained fame for the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846, and today the lake named for that doomed expedition is a popular recreation spot.
- Placer County - Placer County stretches from the suburbs of Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border. Named after the Spanish word meaning "sand or gravel deposits containing gold", the county was a hotbed of activity during the Gold Rush. Today visitors can enjoy mountain activities such as hiking and skiing, and will also be impressed by the historic courthouse in Auburn.
- Tulare County - Tulare County is a region with two distinct personalities. The western half of the county lies within the agricultural Central Valley, offering rural landscapes as well as plenty of hotels and other amenities for travelers. The eastern portion of the county features the wilderness and high elevation of the Sierra Nevada range, including the largest trees on earth in Sequoia National Park, and the western slopes of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower-48 states.
- Tuolumne County - Tuolumne County was one of California's original counties at the time of statehood, and today offers a glimpse into the region's gold mining and logging history, as well as numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation. Portions of Yosemite National Park lie in the county, and with limited parking and lodging inside of the park, the YARTS shuttle system makes the county's towns an option to consider for park visitors.
- El Portal
- Grass Valley
- Lee Vining
- Mammoth Lakes
- South Lake Tahoe
- Tahoe City
- Yosemite National Park - a shrine to human foresight, strength of granite, power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks - Immense mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns ... and the world's largest trees!
- Devils Postpile National Monument - protects and preserves the Devils Postpile formation, the 101-foot high Rainbow Falls, and pristine mountain scenery
- Manzanar National Historic Site - one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II
- Sequoia National Forest
- Mono Lake
- Mount Whitney
- Rock Creek Lake
- White Mountains - Home to the bristlecone pines, trees that can live up to 5,000 years.
What is winter?
On maps of the Sierra, some roads will be marked "Closed in winter." Travelers are often advised to "carry chains in winter." You might think that such advice refers to that time of year the rest of the world calls "winter" which lasts from Winter Solstice through Spring Equinox. You would be wrong.
What Californians are referring to is the time of year when it snows in the Sierra. Snow can begin as early as October, and last as late as May. Roads may be closed as late as July. When snow falls in mid October, it usually kills a few unprepared backpackers in the Sierra who hadn't carefully checked the weather reports. If you don't have chains during an early October or late May snowstorm, continuing to drive may kill you too.
The Sierras are a high mountain environment containing some of the snowiest places in the US. During winter you should always carry tire chains in your car and know how to use them.
When hiking or backpacking where you will be far from help, check the weather first. The first snows of Winter may come earlier than you expect.
In summer during the North American Monsoon, thunderstorms often build up near the crest of the Sierra Nevada, particularly during late afternoon. It is unwise to be in a high, treeless place during a thunderstorm. If hiking far in summer, it's a good idea to carry a light rain jacket just in case a thunderstorm pops up out of nowhere.
- San Francisco is just a few hours west.
- The Gold Country where the California Gold Rush began is in the Western foothills of the Sierra. There are plenty of quaint historic towns to visit there when traveling to or from points west.
- If you're headed to Los Angeles or other places to the south, taking US 395 down the Eastern Sierra is a great scenic alternative to the monotony of traveling through California's Central Valley.