On the Sierra Nevada’s eastern side, U.S. Highway 395 skirts the intersection of arid desert and alpine mountains, their chiseled summits soaring 10,000 feet above the sagebrush plains. Every turnoff shelters a wild wonder, so toss your head back and take it all in. This road trip visits some of the Sierra’s most compelling sights—Mono Lake’s tufa towers, Bodie’s ghost town, Convict Lake’s colorful lake basin, and the Alabama Hills’ amazing arch—with some great food and drink stops along the way.
Explore Lone Pine
Start your trip in Lone Pine, where the Alabama Hills’ whimsical maze of rounded boulders, golden-hued arches, and badland gullies frame a jaw-dropping view of the Sierra crest. This boldly contrasting landscape has been featured in hundreds of Hollywood westerns. Visit the Museum of Western Film History, then drive the Movie Road past famous film locations. Take a walk on the Arch Loop Trail to snap photos of 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States, framed within the twisted span of Mobius Arch. Then hop back in the car and zoom up Lone Pine’s Whitney Portal Road to the pavement’s end. You don’t need to summit Whitney to be wowed by the vista—there’s plenty to see from your windshield. Stop in to the Whitney Portal Store and Hostel to pick up souvenirs, or hike a short stretch of the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail.
Fuel up in Big Pine
You’ll have worked up an appetite, so backtrack to US 395 and swoop in to the enclave of Big Pine. At Copper Top Barbecue, hungry diners share the outdoor seating area with a monster grill and smoker. Order tri-tip, ribs, chicken, or pulled pork at the window, then stake your claim on a picnic bench and admire the turrets and towers of the Palisades crest.
Feel the awe at Convict Lake
Roll north through Bishop and pull in to Convict Lake. A sagebrush-covered shoreline and colorful sedimentary cliffs enclose the lake’s deep, cobalt-blue waters, and 12,241-foot Mount Morrison towers above the scene. the trail circling the lake, fish for rainbow or brown trout, or rent a boat at the Convict Lake Resort marina.
Find your adventure in Mammoth Lakes
Push north to Mammoth Lakes, home to California’s largest ski resort and a whole lot more. Drive the Lake Mary Road into the scenic Lakes Basin. Rent a bike and ride the paved Lakes Basin Bike Path, or go for a hike. From George Lake, a steep trail leads to Crystal Lake, which fills a granite bowl below 10,377-foot Crystal Crag. For dinner, hit up Mammoth Brewing Company, makers of award-winning craft beer since 1995. Since you’re driving US 395, order the IPA 395, flavored with juniper and sage, and pair it with a burger or kale Caesar salad.
Recharge in June Lake
You’ve put on a lot of miles, so it’s time for a little pampering—a cozy cabin with a king bed and whirlpool tub, a hot stone massage, and dinner at Eagle’s Landing Restaurant overlooking Carson Peak. The Double Eagle Resort and Spa has all that, plus a 60-foot indoor pool, fitness classes, and a guest house that sleeps 12.
Wander Mono Lake’s shoreline
Rise early the next morning for a half-hour drive to Lee Vining and iconic Mono Lake, an ancient inland sea that’s more than twice as salty as the ocean. From a distance, its 65-square-mile size dazzles, but move in closer for a better view. At Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, walk a path that skirts past the lakeshore’s knobby clusters of tufa formations—off-white mineral formations created when calcium-laden springs mix with the lake’s carbonates. To learn more about Mono Lake, drop in at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center perched on a hill north of town.
Visit the ghost town of Bodie
For your trip’s last stop, roam 20 miles north from Lee Vining to the Bodie turnoff, then wind through desert hills to the West’s largest unrestored ghost town. Bodie State Historic Park’s deserted buildings were constructed in the 1850s when gold fever gripped the Sierra. Peer in their windows to see tables, chairs, bed frames, and calendars that were abruptly abandoned when the mining boom went bust. Take a tour of the 116-year-old Standard Mill, which crushed ore into gold, and walk through the town’s fascinating graveyard.