I’m a sucker for a scenic road and Highway 395 is one of the good ones in my opinion.
On our way home from Mammoth Lakes headed south, we decided to take our time and explore this route a little more. This meant stopping at some of the underrated and quirky places along the way.
Because there was so much to see and many were historical, we split this up into three parts. We hope you will enjoy.
To get to the Eastern Sierras, Highway 395 is one of the easiest ways. It starts near the town of Victorville and takes you through the interior of California while passing by deserts, mountains, and plenty of lakes.
On our way north, we only drove as far as the town of Lee Vining which is about two hours south of Lake Tahoe, but we saw so much.
If you trace Highway 395 on a map, you will see that right around Lake Tahoe, it does a short diversion into Nevada and then back into California. What is interesting is that it continues north through Oregon, Washington, and finally stops at the Canadian border.
Our five hour drive was just a snippet of what this grand road provides and as mentioned, there was a lot to see!
What I found interesting is that there are exits from the 395 that take you to the lowest altitude in North America and the highest in the contiguous United States.
Just a couple hours from the highway is the highly traveled Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level.
In contrast, you can access the Mount Whitney portal around the town of Lone Pine. A thirteen mile drive takes you to an elevation of 8,373 feet and is the gateway to Mount Whitney. If you are so inclined you can climb this mountain which has an altitude of 14,505 feet. Only Alaska has higher peaks.
So altitude changes of 282 feet below sea level to 14,505 feet above, all accessible from Highway 395.
The Road Begins
As you leave the hustle and bustle of Southern California, the scenery starts changing as you’ll soon notice more and more tree lined hills. With summer just ending, they were not as vibrant as after a rainy period, but still beautiful.
The highway eventually starts its ascent into higher altitudes and the Eastern Sierras will soon appear in the distance. Spread out like a enormous majestic wall, this range of mountains separates the coast from this inland passage. The mountain peaks were only slighted dotted with snow although that will soon be changing when fall turns into winter.
However, winter seemed so far away as on this day, the temperatures were in the 80’s to mid 90’s .
Now let’s start the trip with Lee Vining, Lundy Lake, June Lake Loop, Lakes Crawley and Convict then finally The McGee Creek RV Park in Part One.
Our journey starts north going south and begins at the small town of Lee Vining. Most of the town is situated right there along the highway where there are restaurants, cute souvenir shops, and various other stores.
At 6,781 in elevation it sits close to the southwest shore of Mono Lake. Since nearby Mono Lake is a popular tourist destination, Lee Vining gets a boast from all of the visitors.
It has a charming feel to it although we only shopped briefly in one of its stores. We were anxious to be on a lake, so near-by Lundy was our next destination.
Actually just above Lee Vining and just about two miles from the highway was one of our longer stops at Lundy Lake. Lundy Lake is a popular fishing area and we wanted to do just that…fish.
There were very few boats on the water but it was mid week and a little bit windy so I can only assume weekends are much busier. We found a rocky shore and proceeded to throw out our line in anticipation of all of the trout bites that will be soon tugging on our poles. Sadly we got nothing, not a bite, not a fish. Evidently there are techniques to catching Trout.
We drove back to the 395 and a stopped at Mono Lake. I wrote a full story on Mono Lake that I hope you will read prior to this. It is one that you have to stop and see for yourself when up in this area. The lake has salt content almost three times that of the ocean and has pillars called Tufu which you don’t normally see. It is worth a stop.
June Lake Loop
Heading south of Mono, you hit the off -ramp for the June Lake loop. This ‘U’ shaped drive first takes you to the picturesque and charming June Lake and then you eventually pass by Gull, Silver, and Grant Lakes. They are all beautiful in their own way and all featured fishing with marinas to rent boats, kayaks, or SUP’s.
The final lake in the loop was Grant where we caught our first and only trout. I threw it back very quickly and didn’t take a picture because I thought it would be the first of many. Little did I know it would be the last one of the trip even though we visited over 16 different lakes.
It only takes a few minutes to exit Highway 395 to begin this extremely scenic route, so I highly recommend you take the time. Each lake is absolutely amazing and very much what you would expect for a body of water near the mountains.
Mammoth Lakes was our home for a several days and it was only a few minutes to get there from Highway 395. Mammoth Lakes is a popular ski resort in the winter and a great place to fish with at least seven lakes close to town. We visited them all. See my story on Mammoth Lakes in an earlier post.
Lakes Crawley and Convict
On a different day, we headed south this time and stopped at the man-made Lake Crawley. This is the only lake on our trip that we had to pay before entering.
This huge twelve mile long lake is in my opinion not as pretty as all of the others but it is known for great fishing. This time of year as we learned, they slow down the fishing by requiring you to only fish with lures, no live bait.
This was entertaining as every cast was an adventure where we hooked everything in sight, including our own clothes! Casting was not our forte that day. True to form, we didn’t catch a fish, not even a bite.
With time still in the day, we ventured a little further to Convict Lake. This was one of my favorite lakes during our whole trip as it was amazingly beautiful
Tall peaks and valleys with tree lined hills were the backdrop to the sparkling blue water on this warm sunny day. The trees were beginning to change color adding even more color and contrast.
We fished for a while and just sat back and enjoyed the beauty of what we don’t normally see in Southern California. The sizzling heat was starting to give way to the cooler afternoon breezes so it was time to leave but not before one quick stop.
The McGee Creek RV Park
Before calling it a day, we stopped at the nearby McGee Creek RV Park where there was a small pond and creek. Here you could fish for trout but for a small fee. It was tempting as we felt that we had to be able to catch a fish here! I mean, you a can actually see them swimming around in the shallow water.
They charged per pound but you had to keep the fish. We felt that wasn’t something we wanted to do as we normally and humanely as we can, catch and release. Also, don’t think we didn’t consider the possibility of not catching one, I mean how pathetic would we be!
It was a scenic little area and well worth the stop.
Stay tuned for “Part Two” where we visit, Bishop, Mount Whitney Fish Hatchery, and Manzanar National Historic Site.
Story and photos: Debbie Colwell