Hiking/Backpacking National Parks


Sunset on Young Lakes white mountain and Mt Conness in Yosemite
Written by sierrarecmagazine

Sierra Rec Magazine Publisher Charlie Pankey lists his Fifty Favorite locations he has explored in the Sierra


Sierra Rec Magazine Exclusive – Charlie Pankey  – 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.

TOP 10

Mathes-Lake Yosemite
Mathis Lake Yosemite

Matthes Lake

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.

Sunset on Young Lakes white mountain and Mt Conness in Yosemite
Sunset on Young Lakes white mountain and Mt Conness in Yosemite

Young Lakes

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

Emigrant Lake

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.

Towser Lake- 20 lakes basin

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 2016
Lundy Canyon2016

Lundy Canyon

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 Devils Postpile
Rainbow Falls Devils Postpile

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 Falls Yosemite National Park hikes
Vernal Falls

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!

Desolation Azure Lake
Desolation Azure Lake

Azure Lake

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 Peak Yosemite National Park

Upper Cathedral

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.


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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 Lake
kinney Lake

Kinney Lakes

Kinney Lakes located just off the PCT on HWY 4 is a great location for day hike or beginner backpack trip.

Frog Lake Virginia Lakes Basin California
Frog Lake Virginia Lakes Basin California

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.

Lane Lake Hoover Wilderness

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
Desolation Lake

Desolation Lake

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 Desolation
Lake of the woods Desolation

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

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Ralston lake 2019
Ralston lake 2019

Ralston Lake

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.

Hidden Lake

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.

crag lake
crag lake

Crag Lake

Popular Backpacking lake out of the Meeks Bay Trail System for Desolation

susie lake desolation
susie lake desolation

Susie Lake

Popular Desolation Backpack and day hike trip in Lake Tahoe. Trails a bit rough but the lake does not disappoint

Gilmore Lake

Huge Backpackers destination. Big Round Bowl of a lake below Mt Tallac.

Lower Velma

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.

May Lake

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

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

Gaylor Lakes

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

Hetch Hetchy

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.

Winnemucca Lake

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.

Horsetail Falls

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.

Lassen Volcanic

So much still to explore here, but every visit has captured the imagination. Love to snowshoe here.

Silver Lake

Ok so no hiking needed here, although there are several trails to explore the area more. I just simply love this lake in summer.

Showers Lake

Great PCT Hike near Lake Tahoe. Alternative Backpackers lake if you cant get permits to Desolation.

Marlette Lake from south Edge

Marlette Lake

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

Sierra Buttes

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.

Gold Lake

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.

Dardanelles lake 2018

Dardanelles Lake

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.

Carson Valley Jobs Peak

The Carson Valley

Home base. So much you can do in the valley. Trail system keeps growing and the sunsets are spectacualr

Convict Lake

I need to explore more,b ut the couple times i have left 395 upto the lake have left a great memory.

Avalanche Lake ~ Desolation wilderness

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!

Dicks Lake

Another favorite in desolation wilderness. Large popular Backpacking Lake.

Fontenillis Lake

Gorgeous scenery, epic Desolation Lake. Love the Trail walk from here to Middle Velma.

Snow Lake

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.

Burney Falls

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

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

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