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Driving Highway 395 is one of the truly great road trips – a unique landscape packed with history and geologic sites. It’s not a forgiving landscape, with temperatures frequently above 100F in summer and frigid and snow covered in winter. 

In the summer, when the passes are open, 395 is a good pairing with the Gold Country and/or Yosemite.

Highway 395 (Organized North to South)

Bridgeport

  • **Jolly Kone. Old-school drive-up burger and shakes place. Food what you’d expect, great atmosphere.
  • [haven’t done]: Travertine Hot Springs: Debatable, mixed reviews. Probably walk the last mile, not a well maintained dirt road.

Bodie

[we didn’t make it – Note 3 mile dirt road access] The story of the West’s ghost towns is framed by the antipodal themes of boom and bust. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Bodie, which was the West’s rowdiest city in 1877 when gold mining fever gripped the Eastern Sierra. Today Bodie State Historic Park houses the country’s largest unrestored ghost town.

From 1877 to 1888, Bodie was a bustling town with more than 10,000 residents and produced more than $35 million in gold and silver. Today, with the gold mining days of California a distinct memory, there are 170 wooden buildings to photograph and explore. Peek in the windows of the church, schoolhouse, barbershop and saloon,  to see tables and chairs, wallpaper and calendars, all abandoned when the mining boom went bust.

Bodie is open 9am-6pm in summer (May 15th – Oct 31st) and 9am-3pm in the winter (Nov 1st – May 14th), and is best explored in warm weather in spring, summer and fall; peak season is Memorial Day through Labor Day. Bodie is located at a high elevation – 8,375 feet! It is snowbound in winter (approximately Nov. 1-May 14), accessible only by snowmobiles, cross country skis, or snowshoes. 

Lee Vining

We’ve driven through – it looks like a cute town to stay in. Very small, but several hotels, a local museum, views of Mono Lake.

  • **Mono Lake: Mark Twain called Mono Lake “one of the strangest freaks of nature to be found in any land.” In September, phalaropes and eared grebes show up for the lake’s all-you-can-eat buffet of brine shrimp and alkali flies, joining more than 300 other avian species. It’s not particularly pretty – a very toxic environment – and I wouldn’t make it a destination, but as a roadside stop it’s interesting.
  • **Whoa Nellie Deli, in the Tioga Gas Mart is renowned for its food. $$; 22 Vista Point Rd. Really good!
  • **June Lake Loop: Just south of lee vining is the turn off on the right side for the June Lake Loop. This is a lovely beautiful drive through a string of lakes and craggy mountains. This road is regularly featured in car commercials. There are a bunch of campgrounds along the loop as well.

Mammoth Lakes Area

Nice in a Tahoe-like way, not my top choice, but looks good for skiing, if not worth driving to instead of Tahoe. In summer I wouldn’t make a big effort to visit.

  • **Hot Creek Geological Site is located in a remote area, a few miles outside of the town of Mammoth Lakes. From US 395, go east on Hot Creek Hatchery Rd/Airport. After less than a mile, you will see a sign to “Hot Creek Geothermal Area”. The last two miles, before the parking lot, is unpaved. The park provides changing rooms and primitive toilets only. While this is pretty cool to see, it has been closed to swimming for 10 years. I’d go in the water with someone who knows what they’re doing, but it seems a little dangerous to do on your own.
  • **Mammoth Consolidated Mine: Follow Lake Mary Road south toward Red Mountain, where the town was founded after an 1877 gold and silver strike. Head to Coldwater Campground for a self-guided tour of the Mammoth Consolidated Mine’s buildings and equipment. The trail is at the very end of the campground, and fairly interesting – not worth a trip by itself, but a pleasant easy walk if you’re in the area.
  • **Mammoth Mountain Panorama Gondola runs year round to the 11,053-foot summit for an effortless 360° that takes in the Minarets, Mono Lake, and 400 miles of the Sierra’s highest peaks. This is fine – the view isn’t quite as epic as described, but pleasant enough.  
  • [ we skipped this because of crowds] Devil’s Postpone National Monument: Geology meets geometry at this massive basalt oddity alongside the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. From the ranger station in the valley, walk 15 minutes to the base of the 60-foot-high columns. 
  • **Tamarack Lodge was cute and old-fashioned in the National Parks style. Ask for room 101.
  • *The Restaurant at Convict Lake: skip! Billed as high end (with prices to match) this is a hokey place with views of a parking lot. Food is old fashioned and not worth it.

Bishop

Lots of restaurant options of the casual variety. I’d stay at Keough rather than in town.

  • **Bishop Country Club: nice looking course, open to the public. Restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, a nice alternative to the BBQ-centric places in Bishop itself.
  • **Keough Hot Springs: a great place to camp (including nicer tent cabins) or just spend a few hours at the pool (a classic 1950s-style one). 10 miles south of Bishop.
  • **Holy Smoke BBQ: pretty good, clearly popular with the hiking crowd. Outdoor seating and quick service.

Big Pine

  • ***Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest: so good! The ride in is amazing (in a car that likes curves) and the trees themselves are showstoppers. Take the time to go for a hike.
  • **Country Kitchen: just about everything you’d expect on the menu, including hash browns. Good breakfast option, friendly.

Manzanar

The sprawling desert site was the first of 10 camps used by the U.S. military to confine Japanese Americans and their families during World War II. The visitor center has 8,000 square feet given over to exhibits and a moving 22-minute film. It’s a very sad, extremely moving experience – a must stop. Watch the movie, it’s worth it.

Lone Pine

Another option for a place to stay, several hotels, places to eat. Lone pine was the home to hundreds of western movies shot in the teens through the 40s (and in a more limited way, still today).

  • **Alabama Hills A whimsical maze of rounded boulders, golden-hued arches, and badland gullies, the Alabama Hills have been the ideal backdrop for dozens of westerns. Take a walk on the Arch Loop Trail to snap photos of 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney. We enjoyed this, but note it requires a fair amount of dirt road driving. Decent views of the area from Whitney Portal road itself.
  • **Bonanza Mexican Restaurant: quite good, everything you’d expect from a local Mexican joint, except a full bar.
  • **Museum of Western Film History: Pick up the Movie Road Self-Guided Tour booklet and marvel at movie artifacts. $5; 701 S. Main St. This is very entertaining, fairly minor, but worth a short stop.
  • **Whitney Portal Road: drive this! Make a camping reservation in advance if you can and head to Whitney Lake. It’s worth it regardless for the view. There’s food at the end of the road at the Whitney Portal Store (which doesn’t look great, but it’s a good setting for a break).

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