In honor of My 50th Birthday I give You My 50 Favorite Sierra Locations I have been Blessed to Visit
Sierra Rec Magazine Exclusive – Charlie Pankey – November 9, 2019 – Ok so I am no spring chicken any longer, but I have had a blessed couple years of exploring the natural wonders of the Sierra and I have no plans of stopping anytime soon. My 50th Birthday is a time to celebrate the many blessings that God has granted me including a great family and good friends to share my experiences with along the way. As I was building this list I could not believe the amount of places I had to leave off the list in order to get it down to 50. Thank you to my Wife for supporting me as I laced up my boots weekly to discover a new place to explore or just needed a little time in nature to balance my soul.
This list is obviously just my adventures, so there are many…many places not listed that would be on the all time great list for the Sierra. Some places I have only visited once, some are easy to get to and others took commitment. this list represents my favorite location easily found on a map and most readers could add to their adventures and enjoy. I am assuming Everyone loves Lake Tahoe so I did not include the jewel of the Sierra. but trust me, it’s home base. As far as the Eastern sierra South of Yosemite, most of it is yet to be explored by me. I guess I get to do a Top 60 in ten years and ill bet there are plenty of new entries.. I see you Whitney, Bishop etc…
So with out further sappy dialog here are my top 50 favorite Sierra locations. (So Far) I hope you enjoy.
Matthes Lake – Took my breath away. Not only is it absolutely stunning, but the ridge he had to climb to get there, literally took my breathe.
Young Lakes – My First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite was a stunning Destination. Three Crystal clear lakes with rugged Peaks all around. Particularly loved the Upper Lake and the Meadow next to the Northern Shores.
Ropi Lake Desolation Wilderness
Ropi Lake – My Favorite Desolation Wilderness Lake. Relatively close to the highway if you willing and able to climb up the side of Horsetail Falls. Granite Bowl under Pyramid Peak provides a great place to find solitude.
Emigrant Lake – Located near Caples Lake of HWY 88, Caples is a gem of location int eh Sierra. The Water color is captivating and the hike up to the lake is one of my favorites.
20 Lakes Basin
20 Lakes Basin (Greenback Lake, Shamrock Lake etc…) – Maybe the most surprising day hike I have ever completed. The abundance of beautiful lakes at 10,000′ elevation and a relatively modest hike radius is truly Sierra.
Lundy Canyon – One of the first places I have traveled where I could sit back and enjoy the beautiful work of beavers. This canyon was captivating even though i missed the fall color. I have been back snowshoeing as well which is a treat.
Rainbow falls and Devils Postpile
Rainbow Falls / Devils Postpile – This unfortunately is the furthest south on the Eastern Sierra i have been able to adventure. Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls and easy access to the Wilderness however left an impression. cant wait to go back and explore deeper in this region.
Vernal and Nevada Falls
Vernal Falls/Nevada Falls (The Mist Trail) – There maybe no more stunning location to experience waterfalls in Yosemite or the Sierra then Vernal and Nevada Falls. Crowded Yes! Mesmerizing each visit I make, absolutely!
Azure Lake – I’m often asked about my favorite Day hikes in Desolation Wilderness. Azure would rank right there with Ropi as a favorite. Off trail this lake has stunning color, great granite exposure and is a good swim.
Cathedral Lakes – This lake is the one that started it all for me in the Sierra. This was my first trip review with Sierra Rec Magazine. And when people ask for recommendations in Yosemite it is almost always the first on my list. A busy place, so not the best seclusion, but epic in nature and it should not be missed in Yosemite.
Not a bad Lot in the Bunch! The following destinations would round out my 50 favorite locations to visit in the Sierra.
Northdome – I have not done the Half Dome Hike yet, but this face to face encounter with the giant slab is well worth the trec. It is like looking at Half Dome in a Magnifying glass. Spectacular Day Hike
Kinney Lakes located just off the PCT on HWY 4 is a great location for day hike or beginner backpack trip.
Virginia Lakes Basin
Virginia Lakes Basin– Is located Just south of Bridgeport Ca. Popular Fishing a hiking Canyon. Blue Lake is stunning and the Barron cliffs around the canyon add a great rustic minor quality to this hike.
Roosevelt and Lane Lake
Roosevelt/Lane Lakes in the Hoover Wilderness. Another great short day hike and beginner backpack trip off Sonora pass Hwy 108. Popular for back country fishing and a great horseback tour from Leavitts Meadow Pack station
Desolation Lake– Hidden Gem in Desolation Wilderness. Located above Ropi Lake and near Lake of the Woods this Wilderness is just what the doctor ordered when seclusion was desired.
Lake of the Woods
Lake Aloha gets all the love, but in my opinion Lake of the Woods offers just as much beauty and a whole lot fewer visitors
When I saw Ralston Lake finally this year i wondered how many people like me had walked right by this beautiful clear water lake with out even knowing it was there. Trust me, hidden paradise in desolation.
Another Lake in desolation just off the trail but often missed because it sits between a couple popular destinations and requires you to hike down steep stretch to the lake.. which means back up as well.
Popular Backpacking lake out of the Meeks Bay Trail System for Desolation
Popular Desolation Backpack and day hike trip in Lake Tahoe. Trails a bit rough but the lake does not disappoint
Huge Backpackers destination. Big Round Bowl of a lake below Mt Tallac.
Our favorite of the Velmas. This popular set of backpacking lakes in Desolation is a great hike. Lower Velma provides more seclusion and in our opinion more scenic.
I need to get back when its not covered in snow, but this short hike in Yosemite provides some excellent views and Mt Hoffmann is a challenge that needs to be conquered.
Nelson Lake was wild and beautiful. the Sunset on Choo-Choo Rock is stunning and bald eagles fishing in the lake was a great moment for my son and I
Ranks up these on my surprise hikes in the Sierra to date. Hiking North to Granite Lakes and being their in November with the water frozen were highlights
Ranks as one of the most missed, cant miss experiences in Yosemite. the Hike to Wapama Falls is spectacular.
Carson Iceberg Wilderness
One of the Wildest places in the Sierra. Seldom see anyone else while visiting the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Love the Wolf Creek region. Hike here when I want solitude and beauty.
Lake Winnemucca might be my favorite place in the Sierra. Crowded yes at times, But easy to get to from home and it is just such a great place to chill.
Climbing Horsetails Falls is one of the greatest thrills I have done multiple times in the Sierra. One of the largest Waterfalls in the Sierra, provides a challenging scramble up to a set of stunning lakes. Waterfall runs year round and is just a fun route to visit.
So much still to explore here, but every visit has captured the imagination. Love to snowshoe here.
Ok so no hiking needed here, although there are several trails to explore the area more. I just simply love this lake in summer.
Great PCT Hike near Lake Tahoe. Alternative Backpackers lake if you cant get permits to Desolation.
East Lake Tahoe Hike is great hike. Multiple Routes, great fall colors, wildlife etc..
Truckee Train Tunnels
The Tunnels above Truckee are a spectacle not to be missed. great views of Donner region from the Tracks
Pick your adventure, scenic drives, Lakes Hikes etc.. great area to play and explore
Calaveras Big Trees
North Grove is stunning and less crowded. Loved this hike.
Meiss Lake and Meadow
Showers lake is more popular, but i could argue that this is the most beautiful place in the Meiss Meadow area.
Popular day hike and backpacking location in south lake Tahoe. Two routes, Big meadow or Christmas Valley. We love the Christmas Valley Route. Lake and rock around lake spectacular.
Bridal Veil Falls
Personally i love this waterfall in Yosemite Valley. I love the entire walk up tot he falls and the Spring Soak you get from the spray just makes me smile.
The Carson Valley
Home base. So much you can do in the valley. Trail system keeps growing and the sunsets are spectacualr
I need to explore more,b ut the couple times i have left 395 upto the lake have left a great memory.
Avalanche and Pitt Lake
Two simple lakes located at top of Horsetail Falls off hwy 50. Favorite part besides the clear water is to walk through the forest and multiple waterways crossing island to islands. Seclusion and Wilderness great recipe for joy!
Another favorite in desolation wilderness. Large popular Backpacking Lake.
Gorgeous scenery, epic Desolation Lake. Love the Trail walk from here to Middle Velma.
Go off trail and discover a hidden Gem close to Lake Tahoe.
Rubicon Trail Lake Tahoe
This trail walk along side West Shore Lake Tahoe towards Emerald Bay. Provides some of the bluest water in the Lake Tahoe region.
Ok not technically the Sierra, but if you are close enough to drive there is a day, you cant miss this special place. Paridise
Maggies Peak is not easy hike, but the views are outstanding and the hike is beautiful. Not as tall as Tallac, but just as spectacular.
Manzanitta Lake – Lassen Volcanic National Park