Yosemite’s white granite is a world-class attraction that helps make it one of the busiest national parks in the United States. While there is little comparison to the experience of Yosemite Valley, both the hysteria and the legitimate hype, California is a big state, and the Sierra cut a broad swath of its eastern skies. For retreats that offer alpine beauty with other perks that adventurers might enjoy—smaller crowds and dog-friendly trails—there’s much that the High Sierra has to offer outside of park boundaries.
The giant sequoias of Yosemite are second only to those found in Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra. Not far from Yosemite, however, Calveras Big Trees State Park showcases the same arboreal awe in a more digestible package. Fewer crowds roam the trails here, which include the North Grove Trail, South Grove Trail, Lava Bluffs Trail and River Canyon Trail. Dogs must stay in developed areas, unfortunately.
Barely outside of Yosemite’s eastern entrance, the Mono Basin sits in the rain shadow of the Sierra and showcases a very different landscape from the white granite and pine of the national park. Its barren, volcanic landscape not unlike the high desert in central Oregon, if perhaps lower and drier. Mono Basin National Scenic Area is a hotspot for photographers and birders, where dogs are welcome on trails that highlight the area’s volcanic past. Mono Lake is the basin’s central feature, a 65-square-mile saline lake that is open to non-motorized boat access. Also in this area, the Jeffrey Pine Forest features the world’s largest collection of this hardy tree.
South of Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes feature terrain more similar to Yosemite. Devils Postpile National Monument offers an otherworldly look at the geometry of volcanic basalt. When basalt cools, it forms beautifully symmetrical octagonal columns, and Devils Postpile is a striking demonstration of this. Basalt also tends to fracture with greater ease, leaving behind landscapes like those found at Rainbow Falls. The Mammoth Crest Trail offers a short loop with wonderful views of the Eastern Sierra and the Mammoth Lakes Basin.
A hotspot for bouldering, the area around Bishop also offers fantastic alpine hikes. Lake Sabrina is an all-inclusive adventure showcasing a scenic lake basin that is also beautiful for fall color. Boat rentals are available at the lake, as is fishing and the opportunity to see a rare western juniper, found only along the Middle Fork of Bishop Creek. Little Lakes Valley, its neighbor to the north, offers similar alpine beauty in a more rustic setting. The 7-mile hike here is free, pet-friendly, and gains only 850 feet in elevation over its course.