The Eastern Sierra Mountains is California's backbone, and U.S. highway 395 which runs east of the Sierra Nevada range would have to be one of California's most spectacular drive's. The highlights of this driving itinerary include majestic mountain peaks, endless outdoor opportunities and unusual natural and man-made locations such as Mono Lake and the ghost town of Bodie. Try to spend at least a week exploring the area!
Where you should stop on Highway 395 in California
Los Angeles to Red Rock Canyon - 120 miles
First stop on this road trip is Red Rock Canyon State Park! Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs and dramatic rock formations in spectacularly vivid colors. Miles of trails meander through the dramatic landscape of the park, and hiking is an intimate way to experience the desert... make sure you bring lots of water though. We hiked the Hagen Canyon Nature Trail. The park is open from sunrise to sunset for day use, however the campground is open 24 hours. The campground is tucked up against the base of a cliff and offer primitive campsites with pit toilets, fire rings, and tables. There are no RV hook-ups or showers.
Red Rock Canyon to Lone Pine - 90 miles
Next stop as you make your way to Lone Pine is the Indian Wells Brewing Co. This little brewery which calls itself the 'biggest little brewery in the world' offers a variety of great beer including IPA's, stouts, porters and ales. They also make over 100 varieties of soda's with flavors like Bacon-Maple Root Beer and Sour Green Apple Soda. There is a nice outdoor seating area which is great for relaxing and taking in the high desert views.
Eventually you will reach Highway 395 and the small town of Lone Pine. Lone Pine was named after a solitary pine tree that once stood at the mouth of Lone Pine Canyon. The town's roots stretch back into the mid-1800's to supply local miners with provisions. As the Wild West days were coming to an end, the Hollywood Westerns were just beginning and since the 1920's the area has been the backdrop to countless western films.
THINGS TO DO IN LONE PINE:
The Museum of Western Film History has an extensive collection of movie memorabilia including props, movie cars, costumes, posters and camera equipment. The museum even has modern memorabilia from the movies Django Unchained, Iron Man, Star Trek and Tremors. The museum is open year round and entry is by donation.
The Alabama Hills was a favorite filming location for classic western films including the more recent Django Unchained, which starred Leo DiCaprio. The rounded rocks found here contrast sharply with the adjacent jagged peaks to the west. Take a driving tour through the area or get out and explore. The area is known for dozens of natural arches found throughout the park.
At the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center, you can learn about the natural history of the area, find out about road closure's and weather updates, grab a map or pick up permits for hiking Mt Whitney. They have restroom facilities and you can fill up water bottles here.
If you have the time... and you are in GREAT physical shape, this is where you would begin your journey hiking Mt Whitney. At 14,508ft, Mt Whitney is the lower 48's highest peak and is a prime destination for hikers, climbers and mountaineers around the world. The trail is 21 miles with 6000ft elevation gain and from our personal experience, it is definitely not to be taken lightly. You can read more about our Hike up Mt Whitney. Even if you are not a keen hiker, the drive up to Whitney Portal (8,374ft) is beautiful and worth the drive. There are a number of short hiking trails up there, a campground, a store and restaurant.
Look for accommodation in Lone Pine below:
Lone Pine to Bristlecone Pine Forest - 42 miles
About 10 miles north of Lone Pine is the Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar preserves and interprets the legacy of over 110,000 Japanese- American's who were incarcerated here during World War II. There is no entrance fee and the Visitor Center is open daily. Allow about and hour here and if you have time, be sure to watch the 22 minute film 'Remebering Manzanar"
Fossil Falls is an easy 0.2 mile hike, but don't get your hopes up... despite its name there is no waterfall. Instead you will find some really cool shiny black lava that has been worn smooth over thousands of years.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is home to the world's oldest living tree's. Some of the tree's here are over 4,700 years old making them the OLDEST LIVING THINGS on the planet! Getting here is a bit of a mission but we promise its worth it. Take Highway 168 at Big Pine and from here it is about 26 miles to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest National Scenic Byway and then another 45 minute drive up a long, steep and windy road. To learn more read a guide to Visiting the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
Big Pine Lakes Trail is a 11.3 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Big Pine, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. Be prepared to walk quite a bit before the lakes however you will see a lot of great scenery on the way.
Big Pine to Bishop - 15 miles
We love Bishop. Bishop is a mellow small town with spectacular views of the Sierra's to the west and the White Mountains to the east. Even though there is not a lot to do in town, there are a lot of outdoor activities at your fingertips such as hiking, bouldering and fishing. Bishop is also where you would take Buttermilk road out to the Buttermilk Boulders. The Buttermilks is a spectacular place with big rounded boulders at the foothills of the Sierra's. Even if you aren't into rock climbing or bouldering it is worth a visit because the Buttermilks offer some of the most majestic views of the eastern Sierras. From here, you get the best views of Mount Tom, Basin Mountain, Mount Humphreys and Mount Emerson.
Bishop to Mammoth Lakes - 42 miles
As you head towards Mammoth Lakes, you will pass Benton Crossing road which has a tiny green church on the corner. You want to take a right turn here if you want to visit the hot springs or Hot Creek Geologic Park. The most popular of the hot springs in the area is called Wild Willy's and you need to go over two cattle grids before you come to a dirt road on your right. Take that all the way to the end.
To get to Hot Creek Geologic Park, continue down the road until you reach Whitmore Tubs road and take a left and keep going. At Hot Creek you can see geology in action; boiling water bubbling up from the creek bed, fumaroles and periodic geyser eruptions.
After your relaxing soak, head on up to the town of Mammoth Lakes to grab lunch or dinner. There are too many good options for places to eat and a lot of the bars offer really good happy hour deals. We like Slocum's and John's Pizza Works. Depending on the time of year you visit, you can spend your time on the slopes in the winter or go hiking in the summer.
Be sure to check out the Devils Postpile Monument if you at here in the summer which is an unusual rock formation of columnar basalt. Two miles downstream from Devils Postpile is Rainbow Falls, where the San Joaquin River tumbles over a 101 foot drop, sending rainbows of color into the mist.
Mammoth Lakes to June Lake - 20 miles
June Lake and the June Lake loop drive is a stunning drive through alpine scenery where the road winds past a series of sparkling glacial lakes that are surrounded by majestic jagged peaks. The area is particularly beautiful in the fall. Activities in the area include fishing, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding and canoeing.
June Lake to Lee Vining - 14 miles
Mono Lake is a beautiful ancient lake that reflects the snow capped peaks in its perfectly still waters. The most unusual feature of Mono Lake are its dramatic tufa towers which form when underwater springs rich in calcium mix with the waters of the lake that are rich in carbonates. Over time the buildup of limestone formed towers and when the water level of the lake dropped the towers became exposed. The greatest concentration of these towers is located at the South Tufa area of Highway 395. The lake is also home to millions of brine shrimp which provide habitat for birds that feed and rest here in the summer months.
Lee Vining to Bridgeport - 25 miles
One of our favorite places that we have visited in the USA would have to be Bodie State Historical Park. Bodie is a gold-mining ghost town where visitors can walk down the deserted streets of a town that once had a population of nearly 10,000 people. Bodie had a bad reputation and it is reported that at one point there were 65 saloons in town. Among the saloons were numerous brothels, gambling halls and opium dens. Today, the California State Parks System maintains the 100 or so structures that remain ins a state of arrested decay. To get here take Highway 395 to highway 270 and drive 10 miles east until the paved road ends, then continue for 3 miles of an unpaved dirt road.
End your trip in the quiet but cute town of Bridgeport. From here you can decide whether you would like to continue with your road trip to Lake Tahoe or head back south and over Tioga Pass to Visit Yosemite National Park or Visit San Francisco.
Start Planning Your Trip!
Have you booked accommodation yet? If not then take a look at Bookings.com who have a huge selection of hotels, bed & breakfasts, lodges, hostels and even campgrounds. They have daily deals and discounts so its a good idea to keep an eye on rates. The best thing about this website is there is no booking fee and no charge for cancellations! Search for deals below.
No road trip is going to happen without wheels so unless you have your own vehicle we recommend car hire through Avis. We have always been happy with how hassle free renting is through them and even better are their super cheap rates when you book online. Believe me you will be blown away by how cheap! Even though we have our own van we have chosen to rent for short getaways because it saves us gas money instead of driving our beast.
To get the best out of your road trip, I recommend taking a travel guide book with you to make sure you don't miss out on some of the amazing places along this stunning highway. We have both of the Lonely Planet guide books below that we highly recommend and if you're interested in hiking you might want to get a trail guide to the best hike's in the area.