Tufa formations in Mono Lake looking like a castle in the water on a sunny day

Highway 395 Road Trip Itinerary: The Eastern Sierras in 17 Perfect Stops

If you think a Highway 395 road trip is no more than the byway to get you from Los Angeles to the ski slopes of Mammoth Mountain, think again! 

This historical corridor has a bounty of unique and fascinating Eastern Sierra road trip stops along Highway 395 (less commonly known as US 395).

From mountain trails to natural hot springs, there’s something for everyone along this route. An Eastern Sierras road trip on Hwy 395 begins near Hesperia in the south and extends north — all the way to the USA / Canada border. 

While we won’t cover all that a Hwy 395 road trip would entail in this post, we’ll focus on the part along the Eastern Sierras, which is simply stunning! 

The fertile Owens Valley and towering mountain peaks provide the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable California road trip, one truly worthy of your bucket list!

Where to Start Your Highway 395 Road Trip in the Eastern Sierras

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Divided highway, each with two lanes, going through the Eastern Sierra road tripping in California. Blue sky and trees surrounding.

Depending on where you start, you’ll likely connect to Hwy 395 in the area of Inyokern, roughly 4 hours from San Diego and just 2 hours and 30 minutes from Los Angeles. 

This post will assume you are starting in LA, and it’ll go from points south to north, ending in South Lake Tahoe (which is not technically on Highway 395, but is a common end point for a Hwy 395 itinerary).

However, you can adjust it for any departure point: Los Angeles is just the most common starting point, and a great place to rent a car if you are flying in and doing this trip from LAX.

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from Los Angeles here.

If coming from LA, you can tank up for your trip at Coso Junction, 30 miles north of Inyokern. 

There is a pleasant little rest area with clean bathrooms, a gas station, and a general store for anything you may have forgotten. 

Other Ways to Route This Hwy 395 Itinerary

view of the tioga road looking over tenaya lake from the viewpoint at olmsted point

Coming from LA or other points in Southern California is just one way to handle this Hwy 395 road trip!

You may also be coming from Las Vegas, driving through Death Valley National Park. 

If that’s the case for you, then you’ll start in Lone Pine and skip the first stop, but then continue forward in the same order.

If you’re coming from over Tioga Pass via Yosemite National Park, then you’ll start in Lee Vining and you’ll want to work this itinerary in reverse from there.

If you’re coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, start in South Lake Tahoe and then go south down Highway 395 from there, again following this itinerary in reverse order.

Reminders Before Taking a Highway 395 Road Trip

road to whitney portal off of highway 395

If you’re taking this road trip in the summer, it can be very hot! 

A road trip along Highway 395 has more than its fair share of steep grades, so be sure you’ve topped off on coolant for your vehicle.

Always keep an eye on your engine temperature. Switch off the A/C when going up steep passes if you notice your engine temperature ticking up there! 

Alternatively, if you take this road trip in the winter, make sure you bring chains for your tires — and most importantly, that you know how to use them!

Highway 395 Road Trip Itinerary: 17 Perfect Eastern Sierra Road Trip Stops Along the Way

Fossil Falls

A barren rocky landscape with a small canyon between the rock faces, with high mountains in the background.

Shortly after you pass through the small town of Pearsonville, you’ll see a sign on the right, pointing to Fossil Falls

When you turn onto the road to Fossil Falls, you will probably think that there is nothing out there; continue a short distance to the small parking lot. 

There are restrooms and some information about the site, but not much else as far as amenities go.

Fossil Falls is a highly unusual area of volcanic rock that once had a river running through it.  This deep canyon of smooth rock was created by erosion and glacial runoff thousands of years ago. 

As you explore this captivating landscape, look for petroglyphs and shards of obsidian left by the Native Americans who inhabited this region decades ago. 

The hike is only 0.2 miles and is an easy walk from the parking area. 

Lone Pine & Museum of Western Film History

A baby blue vintage car at the Western Museum, surrounded by Western movie posters.
Photo Credit jericl cat (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

As you continue your drive north on this Hwy 395 road trip, you’ll reach the quaint little town of Lone Pine

This charming community is essentially the gateway to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, as it is where many people start their 

As soon as you roll into town, make a left-hand turn onto Inyo Street, which takes you to the museum. 

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The intriguing Museum of Western Film History is not to be missed if you’re a fan of the Old West!

Showcasing a myriad of information about film locations and memorabilia from Western films old and new, this place is bound to spark your curiosity. 

They also have special events and ongoing exhibits featuring Hollywood actors like John Wayne and Gene Autry.  

There is a $5 donation for adults but free admission for children under 12 and those active in the military.  You can also bring your pets into this museum as long as they are leashed!

Alabama Hills & Mount Whitney

Rocky landscapes in beige and brown at the Alabama Hills, with a tree in the center, with the high peaks of the Eastern Sierras in the background.

Less than a mile from the museum on Hwy 395, you’ll turn left (west) onto Whitney Portal Road.  

Proceed 2.7 miles along this road then turn right onto Movie Road for a view you’ll never forget!

With striking views of Mt Whitney dominating the background, the foreground presents an enchanting array of rock formations, these are the Alabama Hills.

Mt Whitney dominates the landscape here, as the highest peak in the contiguous United States, and the Alabama Hills frame it beautifully.

These hills have been the setting of countless cowboy and western films like The Lone Ranger and How the West was Won

The main roads are designed for regular passenger vehicles, but there are also numerous OHV and hiking trails.  

Whether you decide on a scenic drive through the maze of rock formations admiring the scenery from your car, or taking a walk on one of the hiking trails such as to Mobius Arch, this area is accessible to anyone. 

Planning to spend more time here? We have a full guide to visiting the Alabama Hills here.

Insider Tip: Be sure to bring water since there is none available at this location.

Manzanar National Historic Site

watch tower from the internment camp at Manzanar with mountains behind it

One important stop that you should make on your Highway 395 road trip is to the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Manzanar was one of 10 internment camps in which Japanese Americans were unjustly and forcibly incarcerated during World War II. 

Former detainees have worked to preserve the history of Manzanar, to ensure that what happened to 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II is not forgotten and that the victims’ stories can be preserved for future generations.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

ancient bristlecone pine trees in the high elevation of the California mountains

While California may be more famous for its redwoods and giant sequoias, it’s home to all sorts of incredible trees. 

The oldest trees in the world are actually not the redwoods — some of which date back two millennia — but rather the ancient bristlecone pines, which can be found at high elevations in the Eastern Sierra region.

Make your way to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center to learn about these trees, the oldest of which is almost 5,000 years old — that’s about twice as old as the oldest coastal redwood.

There are a few trails you can take here, such as the 4-mile Methuselah Trail which makes a loop. Note that it’s above 10,000 feet elevation, so the 760 feet of elevation gain you make you will really feel! 

Bishop & Erick Schat’s Bakery

Grass and tree trunks next to a lake in the city park of Bishop, a must visit road trip stop along Highway 395

After progressing north on Hwy 395, passing through Fort Independence and Big Pine, you’ll arrive in the small city of Bishop.  

By this time you’re probably thinking of either filling your belly with food or stretching your legs from the drive.  

Even if you are not hungry, I encourage you to pay a visit to the famous Erick Schat’s Bakery.

As you cruise through Bishop, be on the lookout for the bakery on your left across the street from Bishop City Park, there is parking in the back.

Erick Schat’s Bakery is famous for its Sheepherder Bread dating back to the California Gold Rush! 

They have a variety of tasty bread and pastries that are baked on-premises. 

Most visitors either grab a loaf or two of the Sheepherders bread to take home or order one of their scrumptious sandwiches to go.

There is outside seating in front of the bakery, but I recommend crossing the street and walking over to the park. 

There is a lovely pond and plenty of shady picnic tables to sit and relax.  

Here you will find walking paths to stretch your legs, playgrounds for the kids to get their wiggles out, and a designated area for pets to run around and get some relief.  There are also restrooms.

Rock Creek & Little Lakes Valley Trail

The waters of Long Lake, part of the Little Lakes Valley trail, a popular destination when driving Highway 395

As you leave Bishop to continue your California road trip, Hwy 395 veers toward the left and continues north with panoramic views of the mountains and valley.  

After about 23 miles you’ll see signage for Rock Creek Road pointing left toward the mountains; turn here.  

Head up the mountain on Rock Creek Road until you reach its terminus at the Mosquito Flat parking area. This is where the Little Lakes Valley Trail begins. 

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Keep in mind that Rock Creek Road may be closed for winter travel depending on snowfall so you may need to skip this stop if doing Hwy 395 in winter.

There is a reason this trail is called the gem of the Sierras: the scenery! 

It’s a well-known fact that if you want to get to the alpine lakes and breathtaking vistas of the Sierra Nevadas, you’re going to have to work for it. Not this trail! 

Instead of having to hoof it up from the valley floor, you can drive up to this trailhead clocking in at an altitude of 10,367 ft. 

What’s more, you only have to hike 0.2 miles to reach Mac Lake, the first of many breathtaking lakes adorning this trail.

Bring water and sturdy hiking shoes for this trail. To avoid altitude sickness, hike slowly and stay hydrated. 

Do not leave food items (or anything scented at all for that matter — even chapstick, sunblock, or scented toilet paper or tampons!) in your car. 

Instead, store food in the designated bear-resistant lockers at the trailhead. Make sure you consult the map and information board before heading out and stay on the trails

Tom’s Place & Crowley Lake

Strange stone columns that look as if they are manmade next to a lake, at Lake Crowley

Ten miles back down the mountain you’ll intersect Crowley Lake Road right before you turn back onto Hwy 395; you’ll see Tom’s Place on your left. (It will be on your right if you’re coming from Hwy 395)

Originally constructed in 1917, Tom’s Place reeks of nostalgia and days of old!

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and the bar is bound to have your favorite beer or spirits. 

There’s a general store with camping and fishing supplies and a restroom for customers. There is spacious seating in the restaurant and at the bar; alternatively, there is a comfortable patio area out front. 

Sit back, relax, and enjoy a meal while eavesdropping on the adventure stories being shared by locals, anglers, and weary backpackers.

Afterward, be sure to check out Lake Crowley with its bizarre but beautiful stone columns. Its otherworldliness is spectacular and will remind you a bit of Icelandic landscapes.

Hilltop Hot Tub

Steam rising off the creek waters in a geothermal hot spring near Mammoth, a popular place for stopping when road tripping Highway 395

I can’t think of anything more enjoyable after a long drive than soaking in a natural hot spring; especially at sunset with panoramic views of the mountains and valley! 

Luckily, beautiful Mono County has so many natural hot springs all up and down the region, with many of them not at all far from Highway 395.

Just about 10 or so miles north of Tom’s Place on Hwy 395, you’ll see a little green church, make a right-hand turn here onto Benton Crossing Road. 

Travel 3.5 miles to a dirt road on your left leading to the parking lot. From the parking area, it’s a short walk to this impressive hot spring. 

A cement tub has been constructed for a cleaner and more enjoyable soaking experience, but there are also natural springs all around the area from which steam will be rising on a cool day.

The water temperature is usually around 100 degrees but it can fluctuate, so always put a toe in first to test it. It’s a perfect place to relax and unwind. 

Bring a swimsuit, towel, and water; pack out any trash.

Convict Lake

The beautiful turquoise waters of Convict Lake with many boulders in the water with mountains rising above the lake.

If hot springs are not your cup of tea, Convict Lake is assured to delight you. 

Set in the shadows of magnificent Mount Morrison, this turquoise-blue lake affords plenty of recreational opportunities without the crowds of nearby Lake Crowley. 

The turn onto Convict Lake Road is the very next left after Benton Crossing; Convict Lake is 3 miles up ahead.

This jewel of a lake is great for fishing, boating, hiking, and swimming, but it’s also great to just gaze at.

Nestled in amongst the grandiose peaks, you’ll find picnic areas, restrooms, a campground, and a resort with amenities like a restaurant and boat rentals. 

The water is crystal clear and perfect for swimming on a hot summer day. This is also an epic spot for fall foliage if the timing is right!

Mammoth Lakes

twin lakes viewpoint in mammoth lakes california on a highway 395 road trip in the eastern sierras

Next up on this Highway 395 road trip is the winter ski resort paradise of Mammoth Lakes! But don’t worry if you’re visiting in summer — Mammoth Lakes is beautiful any time of year.

In the summer, make your way up to the viewpoints above Twin Lakes in Mammoth — there are four gorgeous lakes right in town that you can drive up to, including Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, and Horseshoe Lake

There are also trailheads leading to further beautiful hikes near Mammoth Lakes out in the Eastern Sierras, too numerous to name although Crystal Lake Trail is a popular favorite.

Devil’s Postpile National Monument & Rainbow Falls

the black basalt columns of devil postpile being shown on a sunny day in california

While it’s a detour off of Highway 395, a stop to Devil’s Postpile and the nearby Rainbow Falls is a fantastic 30-minute detour. 

Devil’s Postpile is an incredible geological wonder, a bunch of basalt columns the likes of which you’d think you could only find in Iceland and Ireland but are actually right at home in California!

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Walking to Rainbow Falls is a 2.5-mile hike from the Devils Postpile Ranger Station but it’s well worth it to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California!

June Lake

a view of june lake and carson peak in california

The beautiful June Lake is, in my opinion, the most scenic lake in the Eastern Sierras!

It’s a true all-season destination — lakeside beaches in summer, fall foliage in autumn, and skiing in winter — but no matter what, June Lake will impress and delight.

If the June Lake Loop is open, don’t miss driving it to see even more beauty on this pretty detour from Highway 395.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Deep blue glassy water, very salty and buoyant at Mono Lake, with tufa formations forming what looks like a castle rising out of the water

Mono Lake is not to be missed! 

Continuing north on Hwy 395, you’ll pass the turnoffs for Mammoth Lakes and June Lake before arriving at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve.  

You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the curious-looking spires known as “tufa towers” emerging from the lake.

You can swim in this lake or enjoy it from the shores. Mono Lake is home to a variety of bird species and is perfect for birdwatching, photography, and hiking. 

The mysterious landscape and other-worldly features of this area are like nothing you’ve seen before.

Lee Vining (Optional Tioga Pass & Yosemite National Park)

view of the tioga road looking over tenaya lake from the viewpoint at olmsted point

Once you arrive in Lee Vining, it’s customary to make a stop at Whoa Nellie Deli.

This small little delicatessen is beloved by hikers and road trippers coming to and from Yosemite National Park.

From Lee Vining, you have the option to make a detour on Tioga Pass to enter Yosemite National Park and make a little scenic drive through a portion of the park.

Note that reservation requirements may be in place during some times of the year and that Tioga Road is completely closed during the winter due to dangerous road conditions.

If you choose to detour on Tioga Road through the northern edge of Yosemite, you can visit Tuolumne Meadows, Tioga Lake, Tenaya Lake, Olmsted Point, Lembert Dome, and a few other wonderful sites along the way.

Bridgeport

view from the road in bridgeport california

Next up on your Highway 395 road trip is the small town of Bridgeport. 

Bridgeport isn’t a particularly exciting destination but it is a place of bifurcation where you can make the choice to detour to Bodie if you wish or continue onwards and upwards towards South Lake Tahoe.

If you have time, I do recommend stopping in Bodie, but if you are in a rush, skip it and start making your way towards Tahoe.

Bodie State Historic Park & Ghost Town

A ghost town surrounded by dilapidated homes long forgotten and a rusted car, the nature reclaiming the ghost town.

From Hwy 395, you’ll need to turn right onto Route 270 heading east. After 10 miles you’ll arrive at Bodie Historic Park. 

As you approach this well-preserved ghost town you may feel as though you’ve gone back in time. There is a nominal entrance fee of $8 for adults and $5 for children to enter Bodie ghost town. 

This National Historic Landmark has areas to explore, everything seemingly untouched since the 1870s, but truthfully it has been expertly preserved.

Leftover from the California Gold Rush, you’ll find a schoolhouse, barbershop, church, and saloon amongst other structures in various stages of dilapidation.  

You can walk around the town looking at old-time relics through windows and sunlit gaps in the wooden structures. There are no services in this ghost town, but there are some restrooms.

South Lake Tahoe

area of sotuh lake tahoe in a scenic state park with blue water

Finally, continue north on Highway 395 until you cross the Nevada border. 

If you feel lucky or just want to gamble for the fun of it, you’ll find casinos basically everywhere you blink once you cross the border, because #Nevada.

Once you reach Route 756, you’ll head west towards South Lake Tahoe, ending your stint on Highway 395!

Route 756 will bring you to Route 206, 207, and finally Route 50, which will bring you right to South Lake Tahoe, finally at the end of this road trip!

***

Whether you plan on continuing north on Hwy 395 into Nevada toward Lake Tahoe, or do a tailspin back to Mammoth or Los Angeles, these epic road trip stops on Highway 395 are not to be bypassed.

Take your time as you drive and ingest the history, majesty, and natural phenomena of this area on your next Eastern Sierra road trip.

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