Backpacking in the Sierras: 10 top mountains, treks, and trails

From easy day excursions to more robust tours, this go-to guide for backpacking in the Sierras explores the top mountains, treks, and trails to add to your bucket list.

Situated between the Central Valley of California and the Great Basin is the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The site straddles the states of California and Nevada and is located in the western United States.

Spanning 63,100 square km (24,370 square miles), it includes three national parks, twenty wilderness areas, and two national monuments. Top natural attractions include Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and Mount Whitney, to name but a few.

Planning on backpacking in the Sierras? These are ten mountains, treks, and trails to add to your bucket list.

10. North Grove Trail, Calaveras Big Trees State Park – the big trees trail

The North Grove Trail is great for all the family.
Credit: Flickr / Mike Linksvayer

Located in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the North Grove Trail is perfect for those who’d like a wholesome wander amongst some of the tallest trees on Earth.

At just 2.4 km (1.5 miles), this low-key looped trail is easygoing and enjoyable. The route begins at the historical Discovery Stump and travels through the ancient forest, crossing many majestic trees en route.

Difficulty: Easy

Start point and endpoint: 1170 East Highway 4, Arnold, CA 95223

9. Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park – Nevada Falls Loop from Curry Village

Vernal Falls is one of the best places for Backpacking in the Sierras.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Although this trail may be on the more challenging side, it’s worth getting fit for. You will get to enjoy some stunning scenery that will stop you in your tracks.

Along this route, expect towering waterfalls and dramatic landscapes. Just shy of 13 km (8 miles), this trail will take about five hours to complete.

Difficulty: Hard

Start point and endpoint: Half Dome Village Parking, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

8. Granite Lake, Lake Tahoe – Eagles Lake Loop from Bayview Trail

Granite Lake is a beautiful spot.
Credit: Instagram / @abbyfino.nhrealtor

Located in the epic area of Lake Tahoe is another one of our top trails for backpacking in the Sierras.

At 10.8 km (6.72 miles), this intermediate loop trail is ideal for those with a reasonable level of fitness who want to embrace the elements and be one with nature.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Start and endpoint: Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

7. Marble Falls, Sequoia National Park – the wildflower trail

Marble Falls is one of the best places for Backpacking in the Sierras.
Credit: Flickr / Eric Gorski

For those who revel in the majesty of the great outdoors and want to see nature in full bloom, the Marble Falls trail in Sequoia National Park may just be for you.

Most idyllic in spring when the flowers bloom, hikers can expect forest paths, impressive vistas, and inviting waterfalls.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Start point and endpoint: Potwisha Campground, California 93262

6. Mount Tallac Trail, South Lake Tahoe – for a view from the top

Mount Tallac Trail offers incredible views from the top.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

If you’re lucky enough to be in the Lake Tahoe region of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, we suggest you tackle the Mount Tallac Trail.

Mount Tallac is the tallest mountain in the area. Thus, this 16.9 km (10 miles) trail is bound to be an experience to remember.

Difficulty: Hard

Start and endpoint: Mt Tallac Road Parking lot, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

5. Big Baldy Ridge Trail, Kings Canyon National Park – an iconic trail

Big Baldy Ridge Trail is one of the best places for Backpacking in the Sierras.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Big Baldy Ridge Trail is perhaps one of the top trails for backpacking in the Sierras. With iconic backdrops and viewpoints over the landscape, this promises to be a trip to remember.

The trail is a 7 km (4.4 miles) out-and-back style route and is best suited for those with an average fitness level.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Start and endpoint: Big Baldy Ridge Trailhead, 63410 Generals Hwy, California 93633

4. Columbia Rock – Yosemite Falls

Columbia Rock offers incredible views.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

This looped trail beginning and ending at Yosemite Lodge is ideal for those who want to explore the boundless wonders of Yosemite National Park.

Bonus point goes to the trail as its start and endpoints are easily accessed by public transport. Best suited for those with an intermediate level of fitness, this trail promise magnificent backdrops of land and lake.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Start and endpoint: Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

3. Giant Forest Loop Trail – the easy peasy trail

Giant Forest Loop Trail is one of the best spots for Backpacking in the Sierras.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

You can find some of the best backpacking in the Sierras on the simplest of trails.

Take the Giant Forest Loop; although 11.3 km (7 miles), this easygoing trail takes hikers through forest paths and is suited for all fitness levels.

Difficulty: Easy

Start and endpoint: General Sherman Tree Car Park, Generals Hwy, Sequoia National Park, CA 93262

2. Paradise Valley Trail, Kings Canyon National Park – a challenging trail

The Paradise Valley trail is not for the fainthearted.
Credit: Flickr / – Adam Reeder –

At a whopping 27.5 km (17.1 miles), the Paradise Valley Trail is a challenging pursuit, no doubt.

Recommended for only experienced hikers, this trail comes with impressive canyons, vibrant surroundings, and – if you’re lucky – some wildlife!

Difficulty: Hard

Start and endpoint: Roads End Wilderness Permit Station, CA-180, Cedar Grove, CA 93633

1. Mount Whitney Trail, Sequoia National Park – the epic endeavour

Mount Whitney Trail is one of the best places for backpacking in the Sierras.
Credit: Flickr / Ken Lund

Arguably one of the most epic routes to take on when backpacking in the Sierras has got to be the Mount Whitney Trail.

At 14,505 ft (4,421 m), Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. Only for expert explorers, this 33.6 km (20 miles) trek is not for the faint of heart.

Difficulty: Hard

Start and endpoint: Mt. Whitney Trailhead, Whitney Portal Rd, Lone Pine, CA 93545

Safety information and facts:

  • Leave no trace: Leave the Sierras just as you found them and take all rubbish and waste with you.
  • Group size: There is usually a maximum group size of 15 people for trekking trails of the Sierras.
  • Animal safety: Keep distance from wildlife (six feet minimum). Never feed wildlife and keep all food and trash in a bear canister – particularly if you’re spending an overnight in the mountains.
  • Permits: Overnight hikers will need a permit; daytrippers will not.
  • Stay on track: Do not venture off the marked trails – they’re there for a reason.
  • Altitude sickness: This is common in the Sierras; bring lots of water and take regular breaks. If symptoms of altitude sickness get particularly bad, retreat to lower altitudes immediately.
  • Fire safety: Campfires are not allowed in the Sierras above 10,000 ft (3,048 m) – respect the rules.
Paris Donnatella Callan
Paris Donnatella Callan is an avid writer and traveller. From a young age, nomadic parents placed a strong emphasis on education in real experience and the outdoors - a trait which has carried through her life and into her career. She has travelled Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Australia and still claims that wanderlust tempts her daily. Saying that she believes Ireland - her homeland - is the most enchanting place she has ever been and is passionate about documenting the Emerald Isle. Chances are, you can find her drinking coffee in some hidden gem cafe in Dublin, planning her next big trip.

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