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12 Most Beautiful Small Towns In California's Sierra Nevada You Should Visit

Exploring the towns in California’s Sierra Nevada provides unique offerings, including June Lake, Lake Mary, and Crystal Lake, with mountain views to experience the wonders of natural beauty. What makes visiting these mountain towns special is their array of outdoor experiences, letting visitors choose their most preferred attractions. The magical city of Angels Camp features its most renowned Jumping Frog Jubilee and provides history at the Angels Camp Museum & Carriage House. There is something for everyone in Truckee, offering the Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail for history buffs and a scenic drive on Donner Pass for nature watchers. With a variety of attractions, one is sure to find someplace remarkable in these 12 beautiful towns in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Twain Harte

The main entrance into Twain Harte after a snowstorm
The main entrance into Twain Harte after a snowstorm.

Twain Harte is a small, quaint mountain town in Tuolumne County, California, named after two famous California authors: Mark Twain and Bret Harte. The city has various attractions and sites that exude fun, starting with Twain Harte Lake, a perfect spot for boating, fishing, and other water sports. The Twain Harte Miniature Golf Course, an 18-hole mini golf course, provides a mix of challenge and fun, primarily suitable for a group visit, especially with family. Eproson Park, located off downtown with surrounding greenery, makes hiking in the Streamside Trails enjoyable with all there is to see. You will also find other sites, such as Bocce Ball courts, a community garden, and a playground with concerts at the park. Karaoke fans have the option to make a final stop at Gold Country Karaoke and whirl with the music.


Walker River is a Winding waterway near Markleeville
Winding waterway near Markleeville, California.

Markleeville is a cute small town in Alpine County with an unbelievably great appeal owing to its landmarks, including the Grover Hot Springs State Park. The park is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, with natural hot springs feeding the park’s swimming pool complex, a campground, hiking trails, and a picnic area. The Hangman’s Bridge grants access to picturesque views and energetic hikes along the East Fork of the Carson River. The best shops and galleries to hunt for favorite antiques and art are at Markleeville Art & Soul Gallery and the Markleeville General Store, which are open for browsing as well.


Downtown streets of Groveland, California.
Downtown streets of Groveland, California. Image credit Sundry Photography via

Groveland is an off-the-beaten-path town with a farming community in California that is on the highway to Yosemite, known for its rich agriculture and history. The city has a heritage as one of the country’s Gold Rush towns for its gold mining opportunities and then grew into a sleepy farming community before becoming the headquarters of the Hetch Hetchy Water Project. This town has much to discover, so familiarizing with the area’s story at the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum is a plus. The thrills of the natural environment on Carlon Falls Trail, with 3.8 miles of hiking trail, allow for the view of a scenic drive on Big Oak Flat Road and adventure in Stanislaus National Forest. Enjoy golfing at Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course, paired with the Mary Laveroni Community Park for recreational activities, making great stops to enjoy the outdoors. 

Angels Camp

Downtown Angels Camp, California
Downtown Angels Camp, California.

This town has been called many things, including the City of Angels, Angels, Angel’s Camp, Angels City, Clearlake, and Carson’s Creek. One thing is sure: there is something angelic about this small town, known as the location of the Jumping Frog Contest, popularized by author Mark Twain in his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The magic embedded in the town, starting with the Angels Camp Museum & Carriage House, gives an extensive collection of carriages and wagons and is reflected in the Gold Rush history. Picture-perfect scenery at New Melones Lake has pet-friendly camping areas, hiking miles, and wildlife habitat. This town takes frog jumping seriously with its Frog Hop of Fame contest starring professional frog jumpers.

Tahoe City

Marina in Tahoe City, California.
Marina in Tahoe City, California.

Tahoe City is a scenic town, home to a collection of pretty spots making it hard to pick a favorite. The beautiful inspiration of the vista’s name is interpreted by the destination overlooking Lake Tahoe and the Scandinavian 1920s castle. The Eagles Falls Trail, about two miles, is walled by vibrant vegetation. The stunning D.L. Bliss State Park features pristine waters, old-growth forest, and hiking trails. There are historic tales in Gatekeeper’s Museum and Museum of Sierra Ski History and 1960 Winter Olympics.

Mammoth Lakes

View of Mammoth Lakes, a pedestrain friendly shopping area with restaurants.
A pedestrian-friendly shopping area with restaurants in downtown Mammoth Lakes. Image credit melissamn via

This is one of those towns in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains packed with abundant natural attractions that make it unreal. Waterfalls are in every direction in Mammoth Lakes. Twin Falls and Rainbow Falls are popular options. Wildflowers are visible while biking and walking through the paths of Mammoth Creek Park.  Agnew Meadows Wildlife Loop consists of various species of wildflowers, including white yarrow, purple larkspur, and lupine. Lakes that have incredible mountain views include Convict Lake Campground, Lake Mary, and Crystal Lake. While in the area, check out iconic geological formations, including Hot Creek, Devils Postpile National Monument, and Minaret Vista.


The Old Town of Truckee, on Donner Pass Road, is well known for great restaurants, art galleries and gift shops.
The Old Town of Truckee, on Donner Pass Road. Image credit David A Litman via

Truckee is a great town located in Nevada County in the High Sierras, with excellent travel picks for everyone. For history buffs, visiting the Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum is sufficient as it allows the exhibition of stories of the Emigrant experience through artifacts, campsites, and picnic areas. For adventures, there are several options at your disposal, including a scenic drive on Donner Pass, hiking along the trails in Donner Lake, skiing and snowboarding in the winter at Northstar California Resort, kayaking in the Truckee River, and fishing at Sawmill Lake. To do everything, travelers stay here for a few days to embrace the complete experience at Donner Lake Inn Bed and Breakfast and Truckee Donner Lodge.


Autumn landscape near Sabrina lake in Bishop, California.
Autumn landscape near Sabrina lake in Bishop, California. Image credit SNEHIT PHOTO via Shutterstock

The underrated town of Bishop is the largest populated city in Inyo County, near the Northern end of the Owens Valley, named after Bishop Creek. Discovering the city’s history museums is possible at Laws Railroad Museum & Historical Site, and Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center, with unique stories to tell. You will also discover fun spots with underlying tales, such as Bishop Creek Canyon, which hosts pristine lakes, wildflowers, and granite peaks. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has the oldest living non-clonal tree in the world, the Methuselah, which is almost 5,000 years old. Hiking on Little Lakes Valley Trail, Bishop Pass Trail, and North Lake Campground are also wonderful spaces for exercise. Scrumptious meals at Amigo’s Mexican Restaurant or pastries at Great Basin Bakery are ready for the hungry explorer.

Sierra City

Sierra City, California — looking east on Main Street
Sierra City, California, looking east on Main Street.

In 1850, Sierra City was established as a mining town and was visited by miners seeking gold from the Sierra Buttes. This quintessential town in Sierra County, California, is now loved for all things, especially its cultural scene featured by a mining museum in the Kentucky mine, showcasing its mining heritage and historical buildings such as the Wells Fargo Company and the Old Sierra City Hotel. Away from its rusty history, Sierra City exudes gorgeousness in its satisfying attractions from Gold Lake, tucked into the Sierras and flanked by tall peaks to the Tahoe National Forest, including the 8,587-foot peak of Sierra Buttes, near the city. For a closer look at the Sierra Buttes, visit the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout, accompanied by a fun hiking trail, but be prepared to climb up a couple of stairs to get there.

Mineral King

Mineral King area Sequoia National Park, California
Mineral King area Sequoia National Park, California.

Mineral King is in the Southern part of Sequoia National Park in Southern California. The Mineral King road leads through a historic corridor, highlighting the history of the Sierra Nevada and the valley’s first campers — the Yokuts tribe. The valley features a cirque of peaks over 11,000 feet above the valley floor and picturesque trails leading to pristine lakes and alpine meadows. The valley is surrounded by a vibrant community, representing generations that preserve decades of the area’s mining history. It is known to backpackers and hikers with several hiking trails, such as the Sawtooth Pass trail across the Monarch Lakes, Timber Gap, and White Chief Trails.

June Lake

Beautiful fall color at Gull Lake in June Lake Loop, California.
Gull Lake in June Lake Loop, California.

June Lake looks like something out of an art drawing with its pristine waters, perfect view, beautiful drives, and recreational activities, like driving through the June Lake Loop. One of the largest lakes in the region on the west side of the town is June, covering 320 acres with opportunities for fishing and boating. The June Lake sandy beach offers a swimming area with breathtaking views of daring peaks that chase the skies. One of the best activities in June Lake in winter is skiing and snowboarding at June Mountain. There is swimming, paddling, and boating at Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake. There is hiking on the Rush Creek Trailhead, leading through the Ansel Adams Wilderness and Yosemite National Park. Camps are numerous here, but some of the best ones include Gull Lake Campground, or rustic cabins like the Silver Lake Resort.


Morning view of the famous St. James Episcopal Church at Sonora, California
Morning view of the famous St. James Episcopal Church at Sonora, California.

Mexican miners founded the adorable town of Sonora during the California Gold Rush, which is why it is the namesake of the Mexican state. Education of Sonora’s historical origins awaits at the Sonora Fire Museum & Senior Lounge and Tuolumne County Museum through exhibits, artifacts, and vintage equipment. This town has many beautiful kid-friendly parks with pleasing views, playgrounds, and picnic areas, including Coffill Park, Woods Creek Rotary Park, and Grigsby Park. The town’s Dragoon Gulch Trail offers lush trees and refreshing air for hiking. Events (e.g., Spring Festival and the Annual Celtic Faire), shops in unique markets (Mother Lode fair and the Sonora Farmer’s Market), and the nightlife at the town’s bustling downtown is where the fun doesn’t cease.

Hosting pretty small towns with irresistible attractions and natural beauty, California’s Sierra Nevada is an excellent location for visitors who need a peaceful getaway packed with natural areas and historical sites. The idea of a unique mountain camping experience at Mineral King could keep you waking up each morning with a different feeling with accompanying activities, such as hiking along paths to the Monarch Lakes. Each town provides distinct and vivid stories peculiar to their experiences, all of which catch your fancy, including Groveland’s mining tales, as it is dubbed, the country’s Gold Rush town. There’s everything to discover in these towns but even more fun experiences on the trails at Mammoth Lake, Twain Harte, and fishing and water sports at Markleeville’s East Fork Carson River. 


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