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Located between two of California's scenic crown jewels, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks, Sierra National Forest is a gem in its own right. This 1,300,000-acre wilderness area embraces almost all the land between these national parks—from the gently rolling foothills bordering the San Joaquin Valley to the jagged Sierra crest. Within the forest's boundaries lies much of what naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir described as the “Range of Light.” More commonly called the High Sierra, it's a spectacular landscape dominated by craggy peaks, giant glacial stairways and mountainside natural amphitheaters filled with lakes and open meadows.
How this rugged landscape came to be was debated by many 19th-century scientists. Yet it was Muir's remark that “tender snow-flowers noiselessly falling through unnumbered centuries” came closest to the truth. Glacial ice gave these peaks their distinctive shape, further refined by the many swift streams and rivers fed by melting of the yearly snowpack. Such major rivers as the San Joaquin, the Merced, the Kings and their tributaries all carved deep canyons and gorges within the forest.
Hidden deep within these watersheds are clusters of sequoias. One stand of these majestic trees is the Nelder Grove, south of Yosemite National Park near Bass Lake; the McKinley Grove is farther south near Dinkey Creek.
Two highways offering access to the forest are SRs 41 and 168; the most accessible recreation areas are along or just off these routes. Shaver Lake and Bass Lake are two popular destinations, offering camping, fishing and boating. Other recreation areas, such as Florence Lake, Edison Lake, Redinger Lake and Pine Flat Reservoir, are accessible from forest roads branching off SR 168. During the winter months the focus switches to downhill skiing.
The John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness areas straddle the forest's eastern border and the Sierra crest. The former, with its snowcapped peaks, dense forests and numerous lakes, is one of California's largest wilderness areas. Highlights of this untamed area include the John Muir Trail—a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail—and Humphreys Basin, with its countless lakes and views of Mount Humphreys, a favorite challenge for experienced climbers.
Within the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area are the jagged peaks of Ritter Range. Smaller in size are the Monarch, Dinkey Lakes and Kaiser wilderness areas. The John Muir and Kaiser wilderness areas, as well as portions of the Ansel Adams, are so popular that there is a quota system for visitors; making reservations at least 3 weeks in advance is recommended. More than a thousand miles of hiking trails and over 400 lakes are waiting to be explored in these areas.
Indigenous wildlife includes deer, bears, quail, bobcats, foxes, beavers and coyotes. Lakes and streams teem with rainbow, golden, brown and eastern brook trout, along with large- and small-mouth bass, crappie and bluegill.
There is no central visitor center, but information about campgrounds and recreational opportunities is available at district ranger stations and the forest headquarters in Clovis. Campground reservations, usually required for the months of June through August at Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake, Dinkey Creek and Bass Lake, can be made through the National Recreation Reservation System; phone (877) 444-6777 or TTY (877) 833-6777.
For more information contact the Forest Headquarters, Sierra National Forest, 1600 Tollhouse Rd., Clovis, CA 93611-0532; phone (559) 297-0706.
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Current Location: Sierra National Forest, California