How to Take a Road Trip on Scenic Highway 395

Driving on Scenic Highway 395 in Eastern California

Betsy Malloy Photography

This tour will take you southward on Highway 395, but it starts north of Lee Vining, ​California with a stop at the historic Bodie ghost town.

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Bodie Ghost Town

Old car and buildings in Bodie Ghost Town
Betsy Malloy Photography

Perhaps the best preserved of all western ghost towns, Bodie is chockful of half tumbled-down buildings and remnants of the past. It's 13 miles east of US 395 between Lee Vining and Bridgeport. Even the most casually interested visitors can end up spending a lot of time in Bodie. Allow at least half a day and more if you're a big fan of the Old West.

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Mono Lake

Tufa Towers at Mono Lake
Betsy Malloy Photography

Mono Lake is one of the strangest bodies of water you'll find anywhere. It's so alkaline that the only creatures that can live it are tiny brine shrimp — and the alkali flies that hang out on its shores. When the lake level began to fall in the twentieth century, some odd geological features were exposed.

The best-known feature of Mono Lake is its dramatic tufa (TWO-fuh) towers, created when mineral-laden underwater springs met the lake's water. Mono Lake is at Lee Vining.

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Devil's Postpile

Rock formations at Devil's Postpile
Betsy Malloy Photography

Geologists say the Devil's Postpile rock formation is one of the world's finest examples of columnar basalt.

In this unusual spot, hexagonal rock columns tower over 60 feet high, stacked as close together as next winter's firewood. Two miles downstream, you'll find Rainbow Falls. Both of these natural wonders are near the town of Mammoth.

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June Lake

June Lake in the fall
Betsy Malloy Photography

A favorite of fishermen, June Lake is one of the area's more developed tourist communities, with several places to stay and eat.

Along the June Lake Loop, you'll find several small lakes, and this is also one of the prettiest when the aspen leaves turn golden in the fall.

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Hot Creek Gulch

Steam coming off the hot springs at Hot Creek Gulch
Betsy Malloy Photography

This geothermal feature might remind you of Yellowstone National Park. It's called hot springs for a reason, and sometimes the water is literally scalding. Look for the signs that lead you to it on the east side of Highway 395.

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Convict Lake

Fishermen at Convict Lake in the morning
Betsy Malloy Photography

The escaped convicts who gave the lake its name are long gone, but Convict Lake is still just as beautiful as it was when they passed through.

This small lake is popular with fishermen, but it's also a great place for a hike, with a trail that goes all the way around its shores.

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Bristlecone Pines

Bristlecone pine tree in California's White Mountains
Chao Yen/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The bristlecone pine forest just off Highway 395 is the home of the Methuselah tree, which may be the world's oldest living thing at almost 5,000 years.

Surviving in the harshest of conditions, the tree and its companions grow slowly, in gnarled forms. All of this happens at 10,000 to 11,000 feet elevation in the White Mountains on the east side of 395. To get there, take Highway 168 east from Big Pine.

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Lone Pine

Rock formation in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine
Betsy Malloy Photography

This picture was taken in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine. Besides this humorous rock painting and its fabulous scenery, Lone Pine is famous as a movie filming location. Thousands of cowboy films, sci-fi flicks, and other productions have been filmed in the country around town.

Film buffs should consider a stop at the movie-making museum, and if you're a die-hard fan of Westerns, try their annual film festival held every October.

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Manzanar National Historic Site

Monument at Manzanar Internment Camp
Betsy Malloy Photography

One of ten internment camps set up after Japan entered World War II to isolate those who might "threaten the war effort," Manzanar is a lonely reminder of an event that occurred during World War II.

The Manzanar National Historic Site tells the stories of the 10,000 Japanese Americans who were relocated here.

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Mount Whitney

View of Mount Whitney from Lone Pine
Peter Prehn/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,494 feet high. It's a challenging, technical climb to reach the top, but a relatively easy drive to get up to Whitney Portal where the climbers begin their ascents.

All you have to do to get there is turn onto Whitney Portal Road in Lone Pine and drive 13 miles. Whitney Portal is about halfway up, at 8,000 feet and the views coming and going are well worth the side trip.

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Fall Foliage

Bright yellow leaves
Betsy Malloy Photography

The Highway 395 corridor is the prettiest place in all California when the aspen trees turn yellow in the fall.

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