Alaska's Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, is the highest point in North America. It rises 20,320 feet, nearly four vertical miles above sea level.
After Denali, 22 summits in Alaska, Canada, and Mexico are next on the list before you get to California's Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the United States outside of Alaska.
Mt. Whitney is about 14,500 feet above sea level. Its height has been recalculated several times and you can find t-shirts with a confusing variety of heights for sale in Lone Pine, the closest town to the trailhead.
Summiting Whitney requires a 22-mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet. Despite the well-maintained trail, it's an extremely challenging day hike or a strenuous backpacking trip. It's so popular that access permits are required and a strict limit is placed on the number of people who can make the trek each day. Permits are granted through an annual lottery that is open annually from Feb. 1 (http://fs.usda.gov/inyo / 760-873-2400).
California has 14 other peaks that rise above the 14,000 foot mark. All require long hikes to summit and several require advanced climbing skills. Mt. Shasta (14,162 feet) and White Mountain (14,246) are the only two outside the Sierra Nevada. White Mountain is comparatively the easiest, though it does require a 14.4-mile round trip hike with a 2,600 foot elevation gain through thin air and a barren, exposed landscape.
So what is the highest point you can reach in California without being in top physical shape and without a major hike?
Yosemite's Tioga Pass is the highest point on a state highway. At 9,946 feet, this spectacular drive offers access to the highest reaches of Yosemite National Park. It opened last weekend and will remain open until the first major snowfall.
The next highest summits on state highways are: Highway 108's 9,624-foot Sonora Pass, Highway 203's 9,174-foot Minaret Summit, and 9,128-foot Lake Sabrina at the end of Highway 168. A short paved road branches off of Highway 168 to South Lake ends at 9,768 feet.
The highest paved road in the state isn't a highway. It starts at Tom's Place on U.S. 395 and climbs westward into the Sierra Nevada for 9 miles to Rock Creek Lake and the Mosquito Flat Picnic Area. The elevation at the end is 10,255 feet.
Another way to easily access the high country is the gondola at Mammoth Mountain. In the winter it offers skiers access to the 11,053-foot summit. In the summer you can buy a ticket to ride it to the top for a view or to mountain bike the slopes. For more information go to: www.mammothmountain.com or call 1-800-626-6684.
Although California has the United States' highest peak outside of Alaska and 14 other summits that top 14,000 feet, Colorado and Washington also have peaks taller than 14,000 feet. Colorado has the two highest roads in the United States: Mt Evans (14,240), and Pike's Peak (14,112).
For some adventure closer to home, this weekend the eighth annual "Rendezvous 1825" is recreating life on the American frontier.
This was the age in which explorers and fur trappers were pathfinding their way through the Rocky Mountains and beyond. It's a fun event for all ages with demonstrations of frontier technology such as blacksmithing and loom weaving, and opportunities to try out frontier skills such as archery, muzzleloader shooting, and flint and steel fire-making.
Admission is free and lunch is available for sale. For more more information and directions, go to www.safetyfirstshooting.org or call 209-723-3733.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at email@example.com