Almost unknown compared to its Sierra neighbors, this hike descends through a forest of Jeffrey and sugar pine, white fir, and incense cedar, and a glacier-scoured granite landscape along the San Joaquin River to Balloon Dome, ice-cut rock that rises 3,000 feet above the water. It's 9.5 miles round-trip from the Cassidy trailhead off CA 41 near Oakhurst.
drive time: Sacramento: 2 1/2 hours
guides:101 Hikes in Northern California, by Matt Heid ($17). USGS map Balloon Dome (888-ASK-USGS; www.backpacker.com/mapstore; $10).
contact: Sierra National Forest, (559) 297-0706; www.r5.fs.fed.us/sierr