Sequoia's Alta Peak gets right to the top

Of all the peaks in Sequoia National Park, only two have established trails that lead to the top: Mount Whitney and Alta Peak.

While Alta Peak (elev. 11,204 feet) doesn't eclipse 14,000 feet like Whitney, the expansive views from the summit are well worth the effort required to get there.

Start at the Lakes Trail trailhead, located in the upper Wolverton parking lot, and begin a gradual climb through a dense forest. At 2.7 miles, the trail reaches Panther Gap, revealing bird's-eye views of the Great Western Divide and Middle Fork Kaweah River. The trail follows the ridgeline until reaching Mehrten Meadow, a popular camping spot.

So far, the hike has been relatively easy. But that's about to change. The final 2 miles require 2,000 feet of lung-busting climbing. When the trail ends, a short rock scramble is required to reach the actual summit.

From the top, the prominent peaks of the Southern Sierra are displayed as if on a topographic map. Even Whitney itself is visible through the haze.

Most hiking parties will require 8-10 hours to complete the journey. At least from here it's all downhill.