The Pacific Crest Trail's High Sierra

Some things are so inevitable there's no sense disputing them: death, taxes, and the unrivaled beauty of the Sierra.

State: CA

Every hiker's life list should include the 270 miles between Mt. Whitney and Sonora Pass. Yes, it may take a month, but that's a trivial sacrifice to make for the most unrelenting wilderness eye-candy you'll ever feast on. Following the John Muir Trail much of the way, the PCT rambles through dozens of scenes suitable for framing--13,000- and 14,000-foot granite skyscrapers, canyons a mile deep, and thousands of lakes in beds of polished rock. You'll walk the longest strip of roadless trail in the nation and bump into civilization just twice. The best campsite is...virtually anywhere, though an enduringly classic spot to pitch nylon is Vidette Meadow, below the soaring Kearsarge Pinnacles. If you absolutely can't spare more than a week, knock off the 76 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to Sonora Pass; here, the PCT ventures beyond the popular JMT into remote northern Yosemite and the Emigrant Wilderness. And leave your umbrella at home: The Sierra in summer is reliably sunny and mild.

Local Wisdom: Flatlanders should hike this stretch north to south to acclimatize before reaching the higher elevations of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

The Way: Sonora Pass is 35 miles east of Pinecrest on CA 108. The Whitney Portal trailhead is at the end of Whitney Portal Rd., 13 miles west of US 395.