Access and Resources
ANNUAL VISITS: 3,475,315 (high: August, 611,500; low: February, 115,713)
CONTACT: 209-372-0200, www.nps.gov/yose
MILES FROM NEAREST MAJOR AIRPORT: 190 (San Francisco)
DON'T MISS: The charbroiled burgers and pool table at Dorrington's Lube Room Saloon, northeast of Murphys.
STANISLAUS NATIONAL FOREST
ANNUAL VISITS: 5,000,000
CONTACT: 209-532-3671, www.fs.fed.us/r5/stanislaus
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
QUICKTRY TO THINK OF A NATIONAL PARK whose icons are more familiar than Yosemite's masterpieces of rock and water: Half Dome, El Capitan, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Falls. No park comes close to this one's abundant glacier-polished granite, a veritable shrine of ROCK CLIMBING. For those with aid-climbing skills, the tip of Lost Arrow Spire is an electrifying place to rise above the fray, quite literally, with outrageous views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. The spire is a tapering finger of rock that parallels the main Yosemite Falls wall, with an adrenalinizing twist: Although you climb only 200 feet on the spire, there's some 2,500 feet between you and the valley floor below, more than enough to get you mumbling incoherently about your own mortality. By the numbers the climb is Grade III, 5.7, C.2; if any of that sounds like quantum physics, you're not ready for Lost Arrow. (Instead, scamper up classic but less serious climbs like two-pitch Bishops Terrace, a 5.8.) There are two ways to approach the spire; we suggest making it a weekend trip either way, camping off-trail the nights before and after the climb. If you have ample sweat to spill, hike the four steep miles from the Valley on Yosemite Falls Trail via Yosemite Point. (Payoff: At about 6,500 feet, upper Yosemite Falls makes spectacular trail company.) For details of Yosemite routes and great climbing history, check out climber Chris McNamara's Web site at www.supertopo.com. For lessons or guided climbs, contact Yosemite Mountaineering School (209-372-8435, www.yosemitemountaineering.com).
STANISLAUS NATIONAL FOREST
Hugging Yosemite's northwest shoulder is the strikingly similar terrain of the Stanislaus National Forest, with more than 800 miles of rivers and streams, 1,470 designated campsites, and plenty of wilderness access points for sublime RAFTING and MOUNTAIN BIKING. Allow two hours to drive from Yosemite to a choice stretch of unpopulated whitewater, the North Fork of the Stanislaus, a steep, narrow canyon best run in May and June. Here await six miles of relentless whitewater, California's longest continuous Class IV stretch. En route to this trove, spend a night at Murphys Historic Hotel in Murphys, a charismatic Gold Rush town off Highway 4 (doubles, $65$100; 800-532-7684). Then start the wild ride at Sourgrass Crossing, about 20 miles from Murphys, navigating massive drops, boulder slaloms, and stair-step waterfalls, into Calaveras Big Trees State Park. O.A.R.S. offers daylong rafting adventures ($117$143 per person; 800-346-6277, www.oars.com). Next up: Continue on Highway 4 to Bear Valley, trade your paddle for knobbies, and tackle the Bear Valley/Lake Alpine route, ten miles of rock-hopping singletrack. Bear Valley Adventure Company (209-753-2834) has maps, guides, and rentals. With a sunset-facing deck and knotty timbered cabins, Lake Alpine Lodge (one-bedroom cabins from $120; 209-753-6358, www.lakealpinelodge.com) is your serene base camp. Don't dawdle: Highway 4 could be the state's next scenic byway.