Six Stunning Hikes in the Eastern Sierras

©istockphoto/GomezDavidCalifornia’s East­ern Sier­ras offer up enough rugged splen­dor to sat­is­fy wilder­ness junkies for a life­time. When you’re ready to trade the low roar of free­way traf­fic for the rush of wind through trees and the bus­tle of cityscapes for the reflec­tive face of cerulean lakes, grab your pack and com­pass and explore one of these beau­ti­ful moun­tain hikes.

Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail
The North Fork trail­head in Inyo Nation­al For­est is locat­ed at First Falls, a tor­ren­tial rush of snowmelt tum­bling over boul­ders. The trail leads you through ver­dant for­est refreshed by roar­ing water­falls and through sage and man­zani­ta flats, all peri­od­i­cal­ly giv­ing way on ver­tig­i­nous panora­mas as you climb toward Big Pine’s chain of alpine lakes. The main trail, which leads to Third Lake, is a 9.4‑mile loop, com­fort­ably tack­led in a day. You’ll see plen­ty of evi­dence of glacial activ­i­ty etched by time into the steep rock faces. Before ascend­ing to the lakes, be sure to stop and re-lace your boots and fil­ter some fresh creek water at Lon Cheney’s Cabin.

Big Pine Creek South Fork Trail
The South Fork pro­vides a more rugged and weath­er-exposed trek, encom­pass­ing steep switch­backs and rocky scram­bles. Climb­ing beneath Pal­isades Glac­i­er, you’ll even­tu­al­ly reach Wil­low, Brainard, and Fin­ger Lakes. On a hot day, this trail attracts lit­tle traf­fic and so is a great place to be alone with your thoughts and the sounds of nature. To com­plete the 8.4‑mile loop with plen­ty of time for mid­day rests and scenic view­ings, get an ear­ly start.

Mount Whit­ney Trail
Once you’re well-accli­mat­ed and ready for a gru­el­ing adven­ture, take on this 22-mile super-stren­u­ous hike. You’re head­ing up the tallest moun­tain in the Low­er 48; steep gain in alti­tude (6,130 feet), intense switch­backs, and the sen­so­ry feast of gor­geous alpine scenery are all part of the game. While a real­ly com­mit­ted, expe­ri­enced hik­er can knock this off in a day, back­pack­ing this over two to three days is rec­om­mend­ed. At Out­post Camp, the first main camp, you’ll drift off to the sound of bab­bling brooks and water­fall, then wake refreshed in the cool moun­tain morn­ing. So why rush? Slow down and savor the whole experience.

Con­vict Lake Loop
If you’re seek­ing some­thing a lit­tle less stren­u­ous, check out this pop­u­lar two-mile trail that fol­lows the out­line of Con­vict Lake—so named for a famous shootout back in the days of the wild west. With the loom­ing back­drop of Lau­rel Moun­tain and the splash of trout on fishermen’s lines, this fam­i­ly-friend­ly amble gives you a great taste of the geog­ra­phy with­out requir­ing a full day to complete.

Park­er Lake Trail
With views of Mono Lake to the east and the far-off sum­mits of Mount Wood, Mount Lewis, and Park­er Peak to the west, you’ll find inspi­ra­tion at every turn on this beau­ti­ful stretch of trail. Take time to snap some pho­tos of the impres­sive aspen groves along the way. While the trail gains 646 feet of ele­va­tion, the 3.8‑mile stretch offers plen­ty of lev­el places to catch your breath.

Mono Lake Tufa Trail
Mono Lake’s tufa for­ma­tions are lime­stone tow­ers resem­bling piles of dripped wet sand: abstract and intri­cate. One of Mono Lake’s hall­mark attrac­tions, these oth­er­world­ly rocks are a must-see. Thank­ful­ly, the one-mile Tufa trail gives you plen­ty of great views. With an ele­va­tion change of just 40 feet, you can focus on the beau­ty of the strange scenery, not on huff­ing and puff­ing your way up to a steep climb.