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7 of the Best Mountains to Climb in Sierra Nevada

A man hikes one of the mountains in Sierra Nevada.

The Sierra Nevadas offer some really gorgeous and exciting adventures. Whether you prefer the long hikes through the backcountry or enjoy the struggle up sheer rock faces, there is a mountain in this region ideal for you. The following is a look at just seven of the best mountains to climb in this region, each one unique and each one offering its own beauties, challenges, and payoffs. Continue reading to see which one best suits you.

Matterhorn Peak

A look at the snow-covered peaks of Matterhorn Peak.

Considered the centerpiece of the Sawtooth Ridge, Matterhorn Ridge is accessible via a trail that starts just off of the Mono Village Resort.

Height: 12,264 ft.

Length of climb: This is a 12.2-mile hike (in and out) that covers a 5,147-foot elevation gain.

Level of difficulty: While this is considered a very difficult hike, there is minimal technical climbing.

Equipment Needed: Most approach this as a long day-hike but do not come unprepared. Despite its seemingly short mileage, this is difficult terrain and one should pack accordingly. Bring water/water filter, protein snacks, trekking poles, and a headlamp as it is likely to the full day and then some.

When the best time to go is? Early summer to mid-fall for maximum daylight hours.

Snowpack info: Light dusting at the summit during summer, mid to heavy fall during winter.

Pros: This is a visually stunning hike that passes by several waterfalls, lake vistas, and continually gorgeous views of the Sierras.

Cons: Out of all the trips on this list, this is the one most people go to unprepared. While short enough in mileage to be a day-trip, its difficult terrain certainly makes it better suited as an overnight trip. Due to the lake, the mosquitoes here can get really bed.

Mount Ritter

A look at Mount Ritter with a pine forest at its foot.

Mount Ritter is located just outside of Yosemite’s southeast boundary and along a western volcanic ridge in Sierra Crest. It is the highest peak in the Ritter Range.

Height: 13,143 ft

Length of climb: Around 9 hours roundtrip when departing from Ediza Lake

Level of difficulty: While a long climb, hiking up Mt. Ritter is not necessarily a fairly difficult one. There is an elevation gain of about 4,000 feet when taking the route from Ediza Lake (which is coincidentally also the route famed naturalist and mountaineer John Muir took) and ascends through some loose rock gullies and class 3 cliffs.

Equipment Needed: Basic hiking and backpacking gear with only minimal technical climbing gear.

When the best time to go is? Late spring to early fall.

Pros: Many hikers and climbers who have experienced most of the Sierra Nevadas will tell you that the Mount Ritter and the Ritter Range in general offer unparalleled beauty. If you are looking for stunning landscapes and vistas, then this is your ridge.

Cons: There is a lot of red tapes to get to this mountain. Travel by car to the trailhead is restricted between 7 am and 7 pm and may be closed entirely during winter. On popular trails, camping is restricted to designated areas and campfires may be disallowed depending upon weather conditions. Furthermore, permits are necessary for all backpacking hikes and quotas are quick to be met during summer weekends.

Mount Morgan South

A look at the south side of Mount Morgan from the dirt road.

Located in the Rock Creek region, this mountain is part of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and is named the 31st highest peak in California.

Height: 13,748 ft

Length of climb: This is one of the easiest of high mountains to get to and can be done in as little as a day by a person in good shape and with good energy. Those who prefer to smell the roses can enjoy a more leisure overnight trip as they backpack from Tamarack Lakes Trailhead.

Level of difficulty: Fairly easy, anyone in moderately good shape can succeed at this beautiful climb.

Equipment Needed: General hiking gear is all that is required.

When the best time to go is? Spring and summer are considered the best

Snowpack info: During winter, the snowpack is ideal for skiing and minimal the rest of the year.

Pros: This is a great hike and climb for newcomers and yet still offers some of the best views of Bear Creek Spire, Mount Abbott, Mount Date, and other surrounding regions. If you enjoy skiing, then December through February offers excellent conditions.

Cons: Its ease of climb and the fact that no day hike permit is required has made this one of the most crowded

Charlotte Dome

A look up the rocky cliff of Charlotte Dome.

Situated deep in the Kings Canyon wilderness, Charlotte Dome is a breath-taking class 3 ridge that was included in the famed book “Fifty Classic Climbs of North America”.

Height: 10,198 ft

Length of climb: Plan for a 2-3 day adventure of which 90% will be along a hiking route and the last 10% scaling what is known as the South Face to reach Charlotte’s summit

Level of difficulty: Novice hikers can readily reach South Face but climbing up this wall is fun but challenging, rated at a 5.8.

Equipment Needed: If you plan on climbing the South Face, then be sure to bring all technical climbing gear. Pack hiking and backpacking gear as needed.

When the best time to go is? Late summer through November tends to be the least crowded and offers those who go the beautiful colors of autumn.

Snowpack info: Minimal but to be expected in late fall through early spring.

Pros: This is a classic climbing route that anyone serious about climbing should try at least once. It’s a great choice for backpackers or for climbers who have non-climbing friends as it offers a long trek through some of the area’s most picturesque wilderness.

Cons: The road into Kings Canyon is closed during the winter and permits are required for all overnight visitors regardless of the month.

Mount Sill

A look at the snow-covered Mount Sill.

There are three primary ways to approach climbing this mountain and they all start at Glacier Lodge near Big Pine.

Height:  14,153 feet

Length of climb: How long it will take will vary depending upon which route you take, but all will generally require at minimum an overnight approach to the summit and back.

Level of difficulty: Again, this will vary on the route taken from between a class two for newcomers and a class five for experienced climbers only.

Equipment Needed: Expect to encounter ice and bring all necessary hiking, camping, and technical climbing gear.

When the best time to go is? Spring and early summer offer easier approaches from the South Fork but many find peak summer more of a beautiful climb.

Snowpack info: During the winter, avalanches are a concern. Snow and ice may be encountered throughout the year.

Pros: This mountain can be climbed throughout the year and some climbers find that the solitude and beauty of a winter climb on Mt. Sill to be unparalleled.

Cons: All overnight climbers will need to apply for a permit and because conditions can vary so widely, this is a trip that needs considerable planning. There are no visible routes and to reach the summit you will either need a guide or possess experienced mountaineering or route-finding abilities.

Mt. Whitney

This is an aerial view of Mt. Whitney.

Rising from the western rim of the Great Basin Desert of California, Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in all of the lower 48 states.

Height: 14,495 feet

Length of climb: When taking the popular High Sierra Trail beginning in Giant Forest, this trail will take a minimum of 10 days (round trip). However, the summit can be most directly reached from Whitney Portal and its 10.7-mile trail.

Level of difficulty: Strenuous, experienced hikers only

Equipment Needed: Technical climbing equipment is not generally needed between July and early October but will be necessary for the rest of the year.

When the best time to go is? July through August

Snowpack info: Snow and ice are common throughout the year and ice axes and crampons are likely to be needed in all but July and August.

Pros: This is a beautiful hike that is a great choice for those looking for an extended adventure that ends at the country’s highest point (within the contiguous states).

Cons: All of the trails in this area are very popular and during those peak summer months, it’s not unlikely for 500 hikers to be on the trail. Due to its popularity, all hikers, day-use and overnight, are required to apply for a permit.

Lookout Peak

This is a scenic view of Lookout Peak from afar.

Located within the Kings Canyon National Park, Lookout Peak is accessible via the Don Cecil Trail.

Height: 4,600 to 10,800 feet

Length of climb: The trail is 6 miles long (one-way) and should take around 4 to 7 hours round trip.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Equipment needed: This one of the least arduous of Sierra Nevada climbs and can be done with relatively minimal day hiking equipment. Wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots, drinking water, protective sun gear, insect repellant, and consider wearing pants to further prevent against ticks and poison oak.
Explain where the mountain is.

Best time to go: April through November

Pros: This is a wonderful hike and climbs for those who want something they can do either by a challenging day hike or by an easy overnight backpacking trip. At the summit, you’ll enjoy gorgeous vistas and some of the best views of both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Cons: While the first mile of the trail is visible as it meanders up to a meadow where you’ll find waterfalls, the rest of the climb is not so well signposted.

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