A Guide to Hiking the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Sierra Mountains Hiking: Accommodations and Camping

Sleeping under the stars is special. Waking in the wilderness far from all traces of civilization can restore the soul. If that's your philosophy, backpacking and camping are certainly the best ways to experience the Sierra Nevadas in all their glory. To keep the wilderness wild, the National Park Service limits the number of hikers who can camp there. You'll need to obtain a permit in advance and follow the rules designed to minimize your impact. Then you're on your own, free to explore nature.

If camping in the untamed wild isn't your thing, you'll still have your choice of accommodations in the Sierras. You might want to stay in a campground so you can be close to nature without having to lug your tent and other gear into the woods. The Sierra National Forest has 100 campgrounds, where you'll be assigned a spot to pitch your tent. There are 13 in Yosemite and 14 in Sequoia and Kings Canyon [sources: NPS/Yosemite; NPS/Sequoia]. Most have picnic tables, water and restrooms.

Trailer camping allows you to bring even more of the comforts of home. Throughout the Sierra Nevadas, there are sites with electrical and water hookups, showers and toilet facilities. Yosemite alone has 10 campgrounds that accommodate RVs and trailers, but no hookups. Reservations are necessary and they go fast. However, if you can't get space inside the parks, you might find an RV park nearby.

The Sierras offer a wide range of lodges and motels, too. For example, the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite was built in 1927. It offers luxury accommodations, including a solarium and fine dining [source: Ahwahnee]. The 102-room Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park is another comfortable spot with a full-service restaurant near the Giant Forest area [source: Wuksachi].

If you're looking for a compromise between camping and fancy lodge living, the Housekeeping Camp at Yosemite might be the place for you. It has 266 units, each with three concrete walls, a concrete floor and a canvas roof. Equipped with bunk beds and cots, each unit sleeps six. You can cook over a camp fire or plug appliances into the outlets provided [source: Housekeeping].

A perfect way to explore the upper reaches of Yosemite is to take advantage of the High Sierra Camps. These are tent lodgings run by the Park Service spaced from 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 kilometers) apart, a good day's hike. Since meals are also provided, the camps let you hike without being weighed down by food and tent. Reservations for the camps are sought after by hikers and the Park Service gives them out by lottery [source: High Sierra Camps].

Whether you're a novice or experienced hiker, you'll need to take a few basic safety precautions before you hit the trail. You'll read about these in the next section.