Sierra National Forest

Sierra National Forest lies just outside of Fresno, below Yosemite National Park and above King’s Canyon. The Forest’s headquarters resides in Clovis, CA. although the forest service also maintains individual administrative districts in North Fork and Prather to help manage this vast land of granite spires, emerald lakes, and evergreen timber. If you could use some road-trip tips and background information, read on and enjoy the dazzling vistas and calm waters of Sierra Nevada!

Tents in the snow in Sierra National Forest
Campers cozied up in Sierra National Forest – Photo by Cameron Vaughan on Unsplash

About Sierra National Forest

 Most travelers make Yosemite their priority destination due to its immense popularity, however we can give you a few good reasons why Sierra is every bit as much worth your while. For one example, a good chunk of Yosemite’s land was actually carved out of the Sierra Forest before it was downsized! Both lands, however you choose to name them, exhibit ecosystems typical of western Sierra Nevada.

That’s right, while thousands of people flock to Yosemite just for its namesake, you can roam through wildlands every bit as breathtaking, unique, and varied, but without the crowds! Rafting, backpacking, and horseback riding are particularly popular in Sierra. Backpackers tend to be most fond of the John Muir trail and The Pacific Crest trail.

History of the Forest

When the forest was first born in 1893 by president Harrison’s hand, it was the largest national forest in California. At about 6 million acres, it spanned the length of 8 California counties. In 1908, the vast Sierra property was downsized when parts of the southern portion were sectioned off as the newly formed Sequoia National Forest, parts of the east were sectioned off as Inyo and Toiyabe National Forests, and finally, northern portions of land were absorbed into Yosemite and Stanislaus National Forests.

For an immersive experience in history, you can visit any of the numerous historical sites in Sierra National Forest. We recommend Dinkey Creek Ranger Station, built during the great depression and used today as a forest fire station. View the architecture of a century ago, styled after the popular ranch houses of the time, and visit the nearby visitor’s center for more information.

Of course, don’t forget to visit Dinkey Creek itself, too! (Dinkey was the name of a brave little dog long ago who fought against a grizzly bear. He did not win, but that is why we memorialize him to this day. Rest in peace, Dinkey.)

Another area of great interest is Shorty’s Cabin, a structure that used to serve as an outpost for Shorty Lovelace, who built it in 1940. You can visit the cabin at Sand Meadow, by Courtright Reservoir. While hiking any trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you are likely to come across an abandoned mine or two. The USDA asks that you please not enter these old mines, as they have not been maintained since the California Goldrush and are unsafe to explore.

Sunset and mountains - Sierra National Forest has many views like this.
The beauty of Sierra National Forest is hard to beat – Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Recreation in Sierra National Forest

You can get out in Sierra again and again throughout the year and find something new to do every time. Summer is great for watersports like boating, swimming, and fishing. Autumn begins the hunting season, where you can expect to bag deer, bear, rabbit, turkey, quail, and squirrel. Winter is when sledding and tubing kick in, and spring is the best time for wildlife viewing in the glorious flower-covered meadows and banks.

The China Peak Resort is open to support both summer and winter trends! In winter, China Peak is a ski resort, complete with rentals, lessons, and races. In the summer they host chair lift rides to the top of the mountain, boating, and lodging. The area of the resort known as China Peak Landing offers boat slip, pontoon, paddleboat, and kayak rentals. There are also on and offshore fueling stations, a general store, beach parking, and food and bar services. Sounds like a perfect vacation destination!

Wilderness Areas

Sierra encompasses five distinct wilderness areas protected under federal law: John Muir, Ansel Adams, Kaiser,  Monarch, and Dinkey Lakes. Altogether, these territories make up 528,000 acres of designated wilderness. These are areas that are purposefully never built upon or altered from their natural state of existence. In these areas, the trails and overlooks show visitors the real wild California. Expect to see black bears and hear songbirds, along with the fluorescently vivid petals of the many native wildflower species that embellish the meadows and stream banks with their bright, delicate petals.

Keep an eye on the waters for, arguably. the most stunning bird in the forest, the great white egret. These bridal-beautiful birds glide across the lakes with 5-foot wingspans in plumage of pure white, with their long necks tucked over their backs and their black legs trailing straight behind them. You may also notice them standing tall on stilt-like legs along the shore, preening their bright, silky feathers and staring through the water for signs of prey.

During the mating season, the birds sprout long, gossamer show-feathers from their backs and raise them up in beautiful runway model displays. Many people commonly refer to this bird as the great white heron. That name, however, actually belongs to a yellow-legged bird species in Florida, a completely different bird than an egret.

Great white egret in flight - a somewhat common resident of Sierra National Forest
If you visit Sierra National Forest, keep your eyes peeled for great white egrets – Image by Yinan Chen from Pixabay

Visit Sierra National Forest

If you need to see some photos and hear some reviews of the forest’s amenities while planning your trip, visit this page on Trip Advisor. The general consensus is that the forest is scenic, shady, and the perfect excuse to visit Old Town Clovis.  

Stay in the know with the latest Alerts and Notices from the USDA’s page on Sierra, and save  to your reading list so you’ll always have a quick and easy connection to America’s national forests.

Have fun, be safe, and enjoy your California forests!

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