The national parks of California's Sierra lure travelers from around the globe. The big attraction is Yosemite, of course, but the region abounds with other natural wonders as well. John Muir found in Yosemite "the most songful streams in the world . . . the noblest forests, the loftiest granite domes, the deepest ice-sculpted canyons." Few visitors would disagree with Muir's early impressions as they explore this land of towering cliffs, alpine lakes, river beaches, and dazzling fields of snow in winter.

Yosemite Valley, lush with waterfalls and regal peaks, is the most central and accessible part of the park, stretching for some 7 miles from Wawona Tunnel in the west to Curry Village in the east. If you visit during spring or early fall, you'll encounter fewer problems with crowds and have a more intimate experience of Yosemite's splendors.

Across the heart of the Sierra Nevada, in east-central California, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks comprise a vast, mountainous region that stretches some 1,300 square miles, taking in the giant sequoias for which they're fabled. This is a land of alpine lakes, deep canyons, and granite peaks, including Mount Whitney -- at 14,495 feet, the highest point in the Lower 48.

Another big attraction is Mammoth Lakes, a popular playground for California residents. Glaciers carved out much of this panoramic region, where you can partake of all sorts of recreational activities against a backdrop of lakes, streams, waterfalls, and meadows.

Because of the vast popularity of the parks, facilities can be strained at peak visiting times. Always make your reservations in advance, if possible (for camping as well as for hotel stays).