Most visitors to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks come to see the largest trees in the world – then take off. They're missing what lies just beyond the canopies of these 3,000-year-old plants: hundreds of miles of spectacular Sierra Nevada wilderness threaded by 800 miles of trails. It's impossible to find an unremarkable route, but the most spectacular is the Lakes Trail, which starts at the Wolverton trailhead and leads 6.1 miles to Pear Lake, a tiny mirror reflecting spiky firs and a grand theater of exposed peaks and valleys. But don't rush to get there. The walk itself is a parade of head-swimming vistas. Pass through serene moss-draped groves of sequoias, fern-rimmed cascades, and along the edges of high cliffs. If you stop nowhere else, the Watchtower, a giant outcropping about four miles from the trailhead, offers dizzying views over a valley that plunges hundreds of feet to the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River.
More information: The trail is open from June to October and is rated as a difficult hike.