The Sierra Nevadas are one of the massive mountain range systems in the Contiguous United States (others include the Appalachians, the Rockies, and the Cascades). They are home to some of the United States' most well-known natural attractions including the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias (and the General Sherman), Lake Tahoe, Mount Whitney, three national parks, and a national monument.

The Sierra Nevadas run between California's Central Valley and the Great Basin of Nevada. Most of the range lies in California, although parts also spill over into Nevada. After visiting one can decide what is the most stunning range in the American West - the Rockies, Sierras, or the Cascades.


Why The Sierra Nevadas Are Stunning And A Must See

Like the Cascade mountains, the Sierras are geologically speaking quite young. Whereas the Appalachians are truly ancient (rising around 450 million years ago), the Sierras are around only around 5 million years old. By comparison, the Rockies are around 80-55 million years old while the Cascades are around 7 million years old with most of the volcanoes not being older than 2 million years.

The Sierra Nevadas run for around 400 miles or 640 kilometers in a north-south direction and have a width of 50 miles (80 km) to 80 miles (130 km).

  • Length: 400 miles or 640 kilometers
  • Width: Between 50 miles (80 km) and 80 miles (130 km)

Today the Sierras boast five life zones and rich diversity of wildlife. The range proved difficult to access and wasn't fully explored until 1912. The California Gold Rush took place at the range's western foothills between 1848 and 1855.

Parts of the Sierra Nevadas have been sculptured by the forces of glaciation - and perhaps none more dramatically than the vaunted Yosemite Valley with its iconic half-domes like El Capitan.

Some of the Sierra's main and most iconic attractions include:

  • General Sherman: The Largest Tree In The World by Volume
  • Mount Whitney: At 14,505 feet (4,421 meters) Is The Tallest Mountain In The USA Outside of Alaska
  • Lake Tahoe: The Largest Alpine Lake In North America

National Parks And National Monuments:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Kings Canyon National Park
  • Devils Postpile National Monument

Related: What To Know about Yosemite Falls & The Historic Yosemite Falls Trail

Yosemite National Park is one of the most famous national parks in all of the United States and the whole world with Half Dome and El Capitan being recognized all around the world. It is home to Yosemite Falls - one of the tallest and most eye-watering falls in North America. It boasts both the Yosemite Valley and the famous Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia trees located just out of the Yosemite Valley right by the entrance to the park.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias:

Giant sequoias are the most massive trees on Earth and are listed as an endangered species but the IUCN. There are believed to be fewer than 80,000 trees left.

  • Listed: As Endangered
  • Scientific Name: Sequoiadendron Giganteum
  • Tunneled Trees: Wawona Tree, California Tunnel Tree, and The Pioneer Cabin Tree

One of the most famous specimens in the park is the Grizzly Giant. It is probably between 1900 and 2400 years old and is believed to be the oldest tree in the grove.

Grizzly Giant:

  • Age: Between 1900 and 2400 Years Old
  • Height: 210 Feet or 64 Meters Tall
  • Volume: 34,010 Cubic Feet or 963 Cubic Meters

Yosemite Falls:

Yosemite Falls is strictly speaking not one fall, but three separate falls. They are the Upper Yosemite Fall (falling 1,430 feet), the middle cascades (falling 675 feet), and the Lower Yosemite Fall (falling 320 feet). The falls are easily visible and can be seen from various places around Yosemite Valley. Superb views are offered from Yosemite Valley Lodge and Yosemite Village.

  • Height: Over 2,425 Feet
  • Season: Flows Approx. November to July (Peak Flow In May)
  • Other Notable Falls In The Park: Sentinel Falls, Ribbon Fall, Horsetail Fall, Bridalveil Fall, Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, Illilouette Fall, Wapama Falls, Chilnualna Falls

Additionally, Yosemite has a number of fantastic accommodation options. The park has lodges, inns, hotels, private cabins (or holiday homes), backcountry camping, RV camping, and more.

Related: Guide to Sequoia National Park And General Sherman (The Largest Living Tree On Earth)

Lake Tahoe - America's Premier Alpine Lake

Lake Tahoe straddles the border with California and Nevada (and of course, there are casinos on the Nevada side. The lake boasts many outdoor activities to enjoy including fishing, water sports, casinos, hiking, skiing, and more, there are many reasons why Lake Tahoe is a destination for party makers and families alike.

It is the largest alpine lake in North America sitting over 6,000 feet above sea level. Lake Tahoe reaches depths of up to 1645 feet or 501 meters making it the second deepest lake in the United States (after the stunning Crater Lake in Oregon). Lake Tahoe is around 2 million years old and has been shaped by the ice ages.

  • Clarity: The Lake Is Famous For its Water Clarity
  • Elevation: 6,225 feet (1,897 meters)
  • Max Depth: 1645 feet (501 meters) - 16th Deepest In The World

Next: Where To Stay In Lake Tahoe, Depending On What Kind Of Vacation You're Looking For