Area: Stanislaus
Distance: 4 miles
Type: Out & Back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation gain: 2,000ft (from 9,450 - 11,495ft)

In stark contrast to neighboring Yosemite Park, the Stanislaus National Forest rewards its visitors with open roads, dramatic scenery and a welcome lack of tour buses. Ironically it's likely that qualities like these is exactly what attracted Ansel Adams to Yosemite, who's photography helped make that park such a incredibly busy and popular attraction.

Sonora Peak lies within Stanislaus National Forest at the highest point of CA-108, near Sonora peak, which at 9,500 feet is the second highest mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The trail begins at the pass and leads through pine forest and into high mountain plains, passing creeks swollen with early meltwater and blankets of midsummer wildflowers. Snow is not uncommon at these lofty heights well into the summer, but so long as you're not hiking early in the season you'll find the going relatively easy.

Gradients are relatively gentle for most of the hike, up to St. Mary's Pass, then across gently inclined plains to the final ascent which switchbacks up the steepest sections. At the 11,495ft peak you'll be relieved to find a bunker to shelter from the winds, so you can enjoy flipping through the summit log at your leisure.

For a four mile out-and-back trail, this one is notable for its high elevation, so be sure to take things easy and pack accordingly - plenty of water, clothing and supplies. Painkillers can also come in handy because you never know when altitude sickness might hit you.

- Trailspotting Images: Sonora Peak on Flickr
- US Forest Service: Stanislaus National Forest
- Wikipedia: Sonora Pass

Find this hike in 'Hiking Northern California' book by Ron Adkison