Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed,” wrote John Muir, “I like the Sierra Nevada the best.” His pet name for it was “The Range of Light.” It’s not just the ethereal luminosity of the glacially polished granite that drew the renowned naturalist—and continues to draw people—to the Sierra again and again. It’s the pristine lakes and rivers, the dramatic hiking and biking trails, the contrast between the green meadows and stony battlements.
The Sierra Nevada may be one of the highest and most majestic mountain ranges in North America, but it’s also one of the most accessible and user-friendly. Stretching 400 miles from north to south, and about 70 from east to west, it’s crossed by seven highways—four of them open all year—and encompasses everything from Lake Tahoe—where you might find yourself crowding shoulder-to-shoulder around a boisterous craps table—to remote canyons in Yosemite or Kings Canyon national parks where you can spend a silent and solitary afternoon watching Muir’s favorite bird, the water ouzel, plunge into waterfalls and cascades.
In a state with no shortage of superlatives, the region has more than its share: It can boast the world’s oldest tree, the world’s most massive tree, the Old West’s largest ghost town, the nation’s highest waterfall and—until Alaska came along and rewrote the record books—the nation’s highest peak.