The Sierra Nevada is packed with day hikes. Some lead to majestic mountaintops. Others lead to lakes and waterfalls. Whatever your viewing pleasure, no matter how much energy you wish to exert, there's a hike for you.
From Yosemite National Park to the north to Sequoia National Park to the south, here are my personal favorites. Just put one boot in front of the other and go.
Each of these peaks have well-defined trails that lead to panoramic vistas.
Mount Dana: To climb Yosemite's second-tallest peak (13,061 feet), leave the Tioga Pass entrance station and follow a series of use trails up its northwestern slopes. Only birds get this view of Mono Lake.
Mount Hoffman: Unmarked trail from the south shore of May Lake is steep but easy to follow. Take it from John Muir, who wrote, "From the summit, nearly all the Yosemite Park is displayed like a map."
Kaiser Peak: Impressive panorama perched above Huntington Lake includes just about every major summit from Merced Peak to Mount Goddard and beyond. But you'll have to sweat to get there.
Mitchell Peak: Jennie Lakes Wilderness gem gets scant visitors, despite easy access from Marvin Pass trailhead (past Big Meadows) and unobstructed views of Sequoia and Kings Canyon backcountry.
Sawtooth Peak: Of all the Mineral King summits, this one stands out -- literally. The stunning view of the Kaweahs is well worth the mile-long Class 2 scramble from Sawtooth Pass.
The Sierra is dotted with thousands of alpine lakes, but a few really stand out.
Lower Cathedral Lake: For sheer dazzling scenery, it's hard to top this Tuolumne Meadows-area stunner. Surrounded by acres of smooth granite, you'll feel like you're at the bottom of a giant stone saucer.
Doris Lake: This small, spring-fed lake, about a mile from Mono Hot Springs, doesn't look like anything special. Now touch the water -- it's surprisingly warm. Bring a towel, and an inflatable mattress.
Nellie Lake: This delightful lake -- a sentimental favorite -- is usually accessed from the west end of Huntington Lake. It's a great place to relax and contemplate the universe. The views from nearby Nellie's Nipple are outstanding.
Cliff Lake: Of the 16 sub-alpine lakes contained within the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, this is one of the most scenic. And because you have to get there from Courtright Reservoir, it's also one of the least visited.
Eagle Lake: This glacier-carved tarn might be "enhanced" by man (yes, there's a dam), but there's nothing unnatural about the surroundings. The 3.4-mile hike up from Mineral King Valley is almost as pretty as the lake itself.
So you've been sweating on the stair climber. Now test your leg power on these brutes.
Half Dome: No Sierra hiker's résumé is complete without conquering this monster, so expect to have plenty of company. Get a sunrise start, take plenty of water and carry a pair of work gloves for the infamous cables section.
Copper Creek: The word "strenuous" doesn't even begin to describe this ascent of Kings Canyon's northern wall. The views along the way are incredible, but by the time you reach Granite Basin your legs will have turned to Jell-O.
Lookout Peak: This 8,531-foot peak may be Kings Canyon's answer to Glacier Point. The historic Don Cecil Trail, used by sheepherders, climbs 3,800 feet in in 6 miles from Cedar Grove. (Shhh, but you can also drive to the base through Big Meadows.)
Alta Peak: From this 11,204-foot summit, you can see all the way from Mount Whitney to the Kings-Kern Divide to the Coast Range (on a clear day). The 4,000-foot elevation gain over 7 miles from Wolverton also will have you seeing stars.
Mount Whitney: For many, standing atop the highest summit in the contiguous U.S. (14,497 feet) is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But with 6,100 feet of climbing, every step is well earned. Friendly advice: Hit the infamous 97 switchbacks before the sun bakes them.
Few natural wonders dazzle the eyes like moving water plunging over a precipice.
Vernal/Nevada Falls: Hiking Yosemite's Mist Trail ought to be a requirement for all humans with sturdy knees. The earlier in spring you go, the wetter you'll get.
Chilnualna Falls: This underappreciated classic in southern Yosemite provides both the rush of moving water and great views of Wawona. After a wet winter, the lower cascade really packs a punch.
Devil's Slide Falls: Most Bass Lake visitors hike the Willow Creek Trail no further than Angel Falls and skip this lovely cascade, less than 2 miles from the lake. Don't be one of them.
Mist Falls: On hot days, there's no better place to cool off than this rambunctious cascade along the South Fork of the Kings River. In early season, its spray can be felt from a quarter-mile down the canyon.
Marble Falls: Spring is the best time to visit this lower-elevation beauty, tucked in the Sequoia foothills. The sight of whitewater rushing over white marble is otherworldly.
Not all hikes have to be lung-busters. These are more like easy strolls.
Mirror Lake: You barely have to walk uphill (or touch dirt) to reach this Yosemite Valley treasure, situated below the sheer face of Half Dome. The best reflection comes from nearby Mount Watkins.
Way of the Mono: Walk and learn simultaneously on this half-mile interpretive trail across from the Bass Lake's Denver Church Picnic Area. The Native American archeological site also boasts great views.
Indian Pools: Finding the trailhead (tucked behind Sierra Summit Ski Area) is the hardest part of this mellow hike, which follows Big Creek to a popular swimming hole. Don't forget a towel.
Tokopah Falls: Lush meadows, scented forests and a splendid river leading to a 1,200-foot waterfall are all packed into this Sequoia saunter (31/2 miles round trip from Lodgepole).
Sunset Rock: Leave your car at the Giant Forest Museum, cross the road and walk 1 mile -- it's mostly flat -- to this humongous hunk of smooth granite, which overlooks the heavily forested Kaweah River canyon.