Many of the mountains’ best sights—unlikely as it seems—are waiting for you to discover them
Day 1: From Arnold, drive State 4 to Bear Valley. Just beyond, Lake Alpine Resort serves up a hearty trout-and-eggs breakfast, and rents kayaks. Heading east, 4 curlicues up and over Ebbetts Pass’s 8,732-foot summit. Two right turns take you first over State 89’s Monitor Pass, then south on U.S. 395 through the rugged Walker River canyon. For dinner and a motel room, Bridgeport is your best bet.
Day 2: From Bridgeport, State 108 runs west to climb steep switchbacks past thick stands of aspens and craggy volcanic outcroppings to the 9,624-foot Sonora Pass. West of the summit, Kennedy Meadows Resort has hamburgers and horseback rides. At Donnell Vista, walk the path that shows off the Yosemite-like gorge of Donnell Reservoir. Cap off the trip with a swim at Pinecrest Lake, and dream of doing it all again in reverse. Passes (call for opening date): (800) 427-7623. Lake Alpine Resort: from $150 (open May 24); lakealpineresort.com. Kennedy Meadows: from $68 (restaurant open mid-May); kennedymeadows.com. Pinecrest Lake: fs.usda.gov/stanislaus.