Every year, about 4 million people visit Yosemite National Park alone, more than a million ski Mammoth, almost 3 million visit Lake Tahoe. Even the trails of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, can seem like a thoroughfare on a summer weekend—more than 20,000 attempt to reach the summit each year.
Yet, equally true: It’s impossible to know the Sierra. Look at any map of California, and the mountains occupy a huge swath of the state—400 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west. We see the Sierra Nevada only in bits. We nibble at them. For every Yosemite, the Sierra holds hundreds of equally lovely but barely known alpine valleys; for every Tahoe, dozens of high mountain lakes. Here are some of the Sierra's top hits and best-kept secrets, wonders waiting to be explored (such as McGee Creek and the Sierra Crest, pictured).