My top 20 best and 5 worst Sierra scrambles & hikes (individual peaks only)

Well here it is! The following is a list of my top 20 favorite and top 5 least favorite Sierra Nevada hikes and scrambles as of August 2015, plus a brief description of each route. All routes were rated based on rock quality, views, and overall enjoyability of the route. Because I am always looking for new mountains to climb, this list will change over time.

This is NOT a comprehensive list of the absolute best and worst routes in the Sierra because:

1. The words "best" and "worst" are relative to the climber. Some climbers may prefer snow to scree, and others may prefer rock to snow, etc.
2. There are over 7,000 mountains in the Sierra Nevada. I have only climbed a mere few hundred, so there are many more good and bad peaks I have yet to discover.

Also note: The routes displayed below are only hikes and scrambles with a class 4 rating and below. Technical routes (class 5 and up) are not included in the list. I will be working on a separate list for those routes soon.

Top 20 best (lower numbers indicate higher good ratings)

1. Deerhorn Mountain (northeast ridge) class 4

The northeast ridge contains everything a Sierra climber could ask for on a scramble: solid rock, great views, and airy ridges! This route requires a bit of a longer approach, but its well worth it. 

2. Mt. Carl Heller (east arete) class 3-4

The east arete is a true Sierra gem. Nestled above the difficult-to-approach George Creek Drainage, it offers a solid scramble up several high quality cracks and knife edges. Because of the difficult approach, very few people have climbed this route.

3. Gregory's Monument (north ridge direct) class 3-4

Located just south of Deerhorn Mountain, the short but amazing north ridge of Gregory's Monument offers wild exposure and solid blocky/crack climbing. My recommended approach would be to first climb Mt. Stanford to access this route.

4. Mt. Darwin (west ridge) class 3

A Sierra classic! This route gives you a taste of everything: light glaciers, couloirs, and knife edge ridges.

5. Mt. Agassiz (west slope) class 2

For those who are new to off trail hiking or scrambling, I would strongly recommend this route. Class 2 routes usually don't get much more solid than this one, and the view from the summit is stunning.

6. Mt. Ruskin (east ridge) class 3

This is a classic "sidewalk in the sky" climb. The best part comes at the last few hundred feet.

7. The Cleaver (northwest face/ridge) class 3

Because of the neighboring peaks of Whitney and Russell, The Cleaver usually gets overlooked, but it actually contains some very solid class 3 cracks and a killer view of Lake Tulainyo (the highest unfrozen lake in the United States).

8. Middle Palisade (northeast face) class 3

Another Sierra classic! This is one of the most popular Sierra scrambles by general opinion. The rock is somewhat loose in spots, but it provides great scrambling nonetheless. The summit views are also phenomenal. 

9. Mt. Bago (east slope) class 1-2

Mt. Bago is usually overlooked because of its low stature among the towering 12,000 ft and 13,000 ft peaks around it, but in my opinion it contains one of the best views in the Sierra.

10. Mt. Langley (northeast couloir) class 3

Often done as a spring climb (which I recommend), the northeast couloir contains several thousand feet of unrelenting snow at 25-30 degrees. Glissading or skiing down the couloir (under good snow conditions) can also be a highlight.

11. Mt. Sill (north couloir) class 3+

This is one of the most popular routes in The Palisades, which is one of the Sierra's prime climbing destinations. The north couloir gives you some classic Sierra alpine mixed terrain while keeping it below the technical level. 

12. Rubicon Peak (northwest ridge) class 2-3

Rising directly above Lake Tahoe, Rubicon Peak provides one of the best views of the lake. Only the summit block is low class 3. This is a good winter/spring ascent.

13. Banner Peak (west slope) class 2

All routes leading to the west slope involve an easy but scenic snow climb up to the Banner Ritter Saddle. From there, class 2 scrambling leads to the summit of Banner where you will find some of the best scenery in the Sierra.

14. Dragon Peak (south ridge) class 3

Located a few miles north of the popular Kearsarge Pass Trail, Dragon Peak is usually climbed by first ascending Mt. Gould and then following the ridge north to Dragon. The last 30 ft of Dragon contains an airy class 3 crack climb.

15. Mt. Henry (north ridge) class 3-4

A very remote and secluded route. The north ridge is somewhat loose in spots, but provides amazing scrambling thrill.

16. Pilot Knob (east ridge) class 2

Pilot Knob is one of the more popular peaks in the Humphreys Basin area due to its views. The rock is also mostly solid.

17. Estel Tower III (north arete) class 4

Located along the Sierra Crest just north of Mt. Maclure, Estel Tower III provides an airy and exciting perch which can be accessed by a long approach and a short but enjoyable climb to the summit.

18. Simmons Peak (northeast ridge) class 3-4

Located not far north of Estel Tower III, this route is somewhat loose in spots, but provides excellent alpine scrambling and views. 

19. Crown Point (northeast ridge) class 3

Crown Point is often seen by backpackers heading in from Twin Lakes, but it is rarely climbed. The northeast ridge is blocky class 3. The summit contains superior views.

20. Black Crown (west ridge) class 3

Black Crown is a very remote peak on the White Divide. The west ridge is loose (very loose in certain spots), but the overall feel on the summit is a remote and incredibly scenic vista in the middle of nowhere. Only a few people have ever stood on this peak.

Top 5 worst (lower numbers indicate worse routes)

While its difficult to find any bad routes in the beautiful Sierra Nevada, there are definitely a few that exist.

1. Peak 11783 (east side) class 2

Climbers will sometimes traverse over Peak 11783 to get to Florence Peak from Farewell Gap. I recommend just going around it. The east side of this peak is probably the loosest crud pile I have ever slogged.

2. Mt. Whitney (Whitney Trail) class 1

This is probably the easiest (and definitely most overrated) route in the Sierra. If you want OK views, trash, crowds, and downtown Los Angeles dumped into the High Sierra, look no further. If you are looking for routes which are all on trails, there are countless better ones to choose from.

3. Mt. Irvine (northwest chutes without snow) class 2-3

Located just off the Whitney Trail, the northwest chutes of Irvine are a series of scree filled crud chutes without snow. With snow, they could actually be quite fun.

4. Split Mountain (north slope) class 1-2

This is a long slog up a talus-covered plateau. Though I haven't climbed it yet, the nearby St Jean's Couloir up to Split looks like an awesome snow climb.

5. East Vidette (east ridge) class 2-3

The mountain may look pretty, but the east ridge is not. Though the east ridge may look solid from afar, it is in fact very loose. 


  1. Where would rate Mount Williamson and/or Mount Tyndall on this list?

    1. I actually haven't done those yet, but based on route descriptions I've read, I don't think the standard routes for either of those peaks will fall on the best or worst lists.

    2. I do not recommend Williamson via George Creek - long bush-whack and a lot of elevation gain, do it from Tyndall side instead.

  2. Where would rate Mount Williamson and/or Mount Tyndall on this list?

  3. If only we had trip reports for all those peaks :)

  4. Great list - you should consider sharing at the Mountain Project High Sierra page.

  5. Love your comments about the whitney trail. Get that gridlocked LA freeway feel on a trail in the sierra!!
    In the summer its just one big conga line from the trailhead to to summit.

  6. take the southern route through Chicken springs and the Siberian outpost and climb up Whitney from the west mo betta

  7. Some of Sierra peaks are covered with clouds almost whole year.
    compare airport parking

    1. Wrong. And this is not a place for airport parking ads.

  8. What are some alternatives to hiking Whitney that you would recommend?