Head to Lone Pine to see a different side of California, one that is less connected to the Pacific Coast and more connected culturally and geographically to the interior American West.
This eastern side of California is where the Great Basin Desert begins, and Lone Pine is a small town in some very big country. With a population of barely 2,000 residents, Lone Pine stretches along US Highway 395 in the heart of the vast Owens Valley. To the east, the Inyo Mountains tower over the valley floor, while the Sierra Nevada rises in the west behind the jumbled boulder formations of the Alabama Hills.
As you roll into the town, Highway 395 narrows, slows down and becomes Lone Pine’s Main Street. There are Western-style buildings with awnings shading the pavement, while sporting goods stores, with leaping trout on their neon signs, hint at the sacred role that fishing plays in these parts. Known for its early trout season, Lone Pine is a base for fishing both in the Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra, including the Golden Trout Wilderness.
The easiest access to the Sierra from Lone Pine is at the 2,552-metre Whitney Portal, about 13 miles west of the town. Before heading into the high country, stop for breakfast at the Alabama Hills Café & Bakery on W. Post St, a down-to-earth local eatery that serves up a variety of filling grub, including biscuits-and-gravy (soft scone-type cakes covered in a dripping-based sauce) and breakfast burritos.
The restaurant is aptly named after the nearby Alabama Hills, a surreal scattering of massive boulders and arches that has been a popular filming location since the silent film era (classics such as Gunga Din and How the West Was Won were shot here). Download or pick up the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce’s self-guided tour brochure and take a detour from Whitney Portal Road along Movie Road. (For more about Lone Pine’s film-making tradition, don't miss The Museum of Western Film History in the town.)
The road climbs nearly 1,500 metres from Lone Pine as it zigzags its way up the face of the Eastern Sierra before reaching Whitney Portal, the gateway for walkers bound for the summit of 4,421-metre Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Even if you’re not planning to climb Whitney, you can walk stretches of the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail through a wooded canyon along Lone Pine Creek. Before returning to town, grab lunch or breakfast at the Whitney Portal Store and catch a glimpse of Lone Pine Creek Falls.
Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and glistening lakes in summer, vibrant colours in fall—this is a land of dramatic and wild beauty. World-class mountain resorts circling turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, and at Mammoth Lakes cater to all, with scenic ski trails in winter and trails and vistas in summer.
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