The Southern Sierra's granite peaks and giant sequoias bedazzle heart and soul so completely that for many visitors the experience surpasses that at more famous urban attractions. Most of the Sierra's wonders lie within national parks accessed most easily via the gateway towns surrounding them—Oakhurst, Fish Camp, and Lee Vining for Yosemite, and Three Rivers for Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
Lee Vining also provides entrée to deep-blue Mono Lake, a much-photographed attraction. The megaresort Mammoth Lakes, meanwhile, lures skiers and snowboarders in winter and hikers and mountain bikers in summer.
Outside the national parks, the Southern Sierra’s pristine lakes and rolling hills—not to mention the region’s laid-back small towns—offer year-round opportunities for rest and relaxation. Or not. In winter, the thrill of the slopes (and their relative isolation, especially compared to busy Lake Tahoe) draws a hearty breed of outdoor enthusiast. In summer, a hike through groves and meadows or alongside streams and waterfalls allows you to see, smell, and feel nature up close. Whether you’re taking it easy, though, or braving the elements, you’re in for a treat.