The Sierra Nevada mountain range is a geological wonder, home to three national parks - the glacier-carved canyons and "big tree" forests of Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks, as well as spectacular yosemite. Ski resorts (many open in summer for hiking and mountain biking) dot the steep slopes, especially around the jewel of the Sierra, turquoise blue Lake Tahoe. Near the eastern entrance to yosemite, adjacent to the friendly town of Lee Vining discover eerily beautiful Mono Lake, a remnant of an inland sea with remarkable rock formations called tufa towers rising out of the salty water. Millions of brine shrimp also attract a staggering variety of shorebirds and wildlife: spring to midsummer and autumn are especially spectacular. Head south to the regions around Mammoth, with outstanding skiing, fshing, mountain biking and climbing. At the southern end of the range, the mighty Kern River (popular for whitewater rafting) runs from the base of Mount Whitney (at 14,494ft/4,417m, the tallest peak in the continental U.S.) to the farmlands below in the Central Valley.
For an exceptional way to enjoy yosemite National Park's signature valley, rent a bike to explore some 12m/19km of paved trails. The fat terrain is ideal for leisurely cycling, making it a fun way to reach waterfalls and trail heads.
CALAVERAS BIG TREES STATE PARK ARNOLD
Big-leaf maples, California hazelnuts and other trees and shrubs paint this peaceful park in a rich display of autumn colours; leaves can start to turn as early as August. In spring (usually late April and early May) come to see the spectacular dogwood blooms.
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK THREE RIVERS
The giant sequoias get most of the attention here, but you can also explore the subterranean side of this national park. Pass waterfalls on the half-mile trail to Crystal Cave, then peek into large underground rooms and marvel at the stalactites and curtains of marble.
Winter means snow in this alpine wonderland - and snow means the region's resorts are flled with happy skiers and boarders. After the workout, relax, shop and dine at the region's excellent base villages at Squaw Valley, Northstar and Heavenly resorts.
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