Kick Back in Sonora
Forty-five miles west of Yosemite, Sonora is the last nugget left from the Gold Rusha mining town that's kept its old-fashioned vibe. The Gunn House Hotel ($69$109; 209-532-3421, www.gunnhousehotel.com), a three-story Victorian, is the perfect base camp. Hit the Miner's Shack for breakfast if you can handle the stress of choosing from 35 different omelets. At dinnertime, Banny's Café serves risotto with prawns and anything else you might crave. Then try one of the various pubs lining Washington Street: The Office, 124, Servente's Saloon, or the Iron Horse Lounge.
One Fine Day: Pack a breakfast to the top of Sentinel Dome, an easy 2.2-mile hike with views equal to those off the top of El Cap and Hal...
Acres: 761,266 Contact: 209-372-0200
YOSEMITE IS FAMOUSLY crowdedit draws 3.5 million visitors a year, more than the population of Mississippibut it's easy to shake the mob if you walk in the right direction. This five-day, 45-mile loop offers premium Sierra scenery (meadows, waterfalls, lakes, and peaks) but few people. Best of all, you can get permits the same day you start your trip, even in the height of summer.
Your trek begins at the Mono Meadow Trailhead, near the end of Glacier Point Road. Hike down to Illilouette Creek, wade the stream, and continue up the Illilouette drainage through an old burn area. After about nine miles, you'll reach smooth granite slabs that make for excellent waterslides, and there's good camping and classic views of Yosemite's rock domes nearby. The next day, continue up the drainage toward the Clark Range and Red Peak Pass. Climb the pass and then drop down to a natural array of tarns and rock benches that create a rustically furnished campsite.
On day three, follow the switchbacking trail down the Triple Peak Fork drainage and make a steep two-mile climb to an alpine meadow just below Post Peak and Isberg Peak. Press on to the granite slabs tucked under the wall at the top of the canyon. From this campsite, you'll have a front-row seat for some of the best panoramic views in Yosemite. The wow factor continues the next day as you trek four miles across the high country, gazing at the Minarets and other famous Sierra peaks. Tag a walk-up before descending through the forested valley of Post Creek and climbing Fernandez Pass.
Your last full day of hiking is an easy six-mile jaunt through forests and meadows and a gentle climb over Merced Pass. In short order you'll rejoin the Illilouette drainage. Spend the night a few miles from the trailhead, where the path crosses the stream. You'll be out the next morning in time for coffee and doughnuts in Yosemite Village.
GETTING THERE: A wilderness permit is required. You can reserve in advance, for $5 a day, through Yosemite's Wilderness Center (209-372-0740, www.nps.gov/yose/wilderness).
WHEN TO GO: July through September.