The region has its plush side—just sample the Citron cocktail at sunset at Sardine Lake Resort—but its true heart is easygoing, low-key, and thrifty. There are more than 10 public campgrounds, including Sardine Campground, where every site has a view of the jagged Sierra Buttes. You can rent boats at Sardine Lake Resort. Or hit the area’s dozens of trails: Families can wander the easy 0.5-mile path to Frazier Falls; intrepid hikers can climb about 2.5 miles to the top of Mt. Elwell or conquer the mighty pinnacle topped by the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout, a 7-mile round-trip.
Stay: Spots at Sardine Campground can be reserved ($21; recreation.gov). Gold Lake Campground is first come, first served ($10), as are some sites at Lakes Basin Campground; others can be reserved (from $18; recreation.gov).