Demographic declines and increased isolation of peripheral populations of the threatened California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) have led to the formation of internal range boundaries at opposite ends of the species’ distribution. While the population genetics of the southern internal boundary has been studied in some detail, similar information is lacking for the northern part of the range. In this study, we used microsatellite and mtDNA data to examine the genetic structuring and diversity of some of the last remaining R. draytonii populations in the northern Sierra Nevada, which collectively form the northern external range boundary. We compared these data to coastal populations in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the species is notably more abundant and still exists throughout much of its historic range. We show that ‘external’ Sierra Nevada populations have lower genetic diversity and are more differentiated from one another than their ‘internal’ Bay Area counterparts. This same pattern was mirrored across the distribution in California, where Sierra Nevada and Bay Area populations had lower allelic variability compared to those previously studied in coastal southern California. This genetic signature of northward range expansion was mirrored in the phylogeography of mtDNA haplotypes; northern Sierra Nevada haplotypes showed greater similarity to haplotypes from the south Coast Ranges than to the more geographically proximate populations in the Bay Area. These data cast new light on the geographic origins of Sierra Nevada R. draytonii populations and highlight the importance of distinguishing the genetic effects of contemporary demographic declines from underlying signatures of historic range expansion when addressing the most immediate threats to population persistence. Because there is no evidence of contemporary gene flow between any of the Sierra Nevada R. draytonii populations, we suggest that management activities should focus on maintaining and creating additional ponds to support breeding within typical dispersal distances of occupied habitat.