From hot springs to ghost towns to gorgeous alpine lakes, this 178 mile stretch of highway from Walker to Lone Pine, California has an adventure for everyone.
It’s no secret that I love this area, I eagerly recommend places along U.S. 395 to locals and visitors alike. Let’s get started!
I’m beginning this journey at Walker Burger, a cute burger stand right along the highway (about an hour south of Carson City, Nevada). Enjoy your burger, fries, and a milkshake in the garden seating out back, complete with big shade trees and bubbling fountains.
As you continue south towards Bridgeport, California on 395, you’ll see a turnoff for State Route 108 and Sonora Pass (elevation 9,624 ft.). If you can snag a campsite with a view at the Sonora Bridge Campground, you will not be disappointed. The West Walker River is a great spot for fishing and there are plenty of hiking trails too. If you drive 4.5 miles west on 108, you will be rewarded with a gorgeous view of Leavitt Meadows.
Another great spot to camp off of U.S.395 is Obsidian Campground. Some of sites are nestled into dense aspens, perfect for a little privacy. The Little Walker River flows right through here, so it’s also good for fishing and hiking.
When driving through the quaint town of Bridgeport, I always love to look at the reflection of the mountains in the ever present puddles of water along the ranch property. My favorite part about Bridgeport is that it’s sandwiched between two awesome hot springs, Buckeye and Travertine. Both hot springs are extremely popular, so expect a crowd, and assume that most of the crowd will be nude.
Just south of Bridgeport, you’ll see a turnoff for Hwy 270. Drive 13 miles along the paved (then dirt) road and you’ll arrive at the ghost town of Bodie. Bodie had a booming population of around 10,000 people around 1870-1880. After a couple of devastating fires (in 1892 and 1932), only 10% of the town remains. Bodie became Bodie State Historic Park in 1962, and is in a state of arrested decay – things have been left exactly as they were when the town was abandoned which is what makes Bodie so cool, and so creepy.
Visiting Bodie at different times of the year offers a stark contrast with endless photo opportunities. The spring can bring wildflowers and a lush green landscape, while in late summer and fall the dry, dusty browns seem to better fit the mood of the town.
Back on 395, less than 30 minutes from Bodie, you’ll be driving down into the town of Lee Vining. Here you’ll find Mono Lake. The lake has no outlet, so when salt and minerals from nearby streams flow in, the freshwater evaporates leaving behind a lake that is much saltier than the ocean. It’s also really old, like 1 million years old.
The scenery is gorgeous around Mono Lake, but the best part is walking among the tufas. Though South Tufa is the most popular spot around the lake, it’s for good reason, it’s the biggest concentration of tufas and you can take your time wandering around on the self guided tour.
On the South side of Lee Vining, you’ll see Highway 120 west which will take you to Yosemite National Park via Tioga Pass – I’m embarrassed to admit that I still have never been to Yosemite. But I have been to the Whoa Nellie Deli on the corner of 395 and 120. The deli has excellent food, so don’t be put off that it’s located in a Mobil gas station.
If you take Highway 120 east, it’s around 40 miles to Benton Hot Springs. Once a successful silver mining hub, the historic town of Benton is now a quiet spot to soak in a hot spring while enjoying gorgeous views of the eastern Sierra. The Inn at Benton Hot Springs offers a large variety of lodging experiences from camping (each campsite has its own private tub!) to cabin rentals.
Back on S. 395, you’ll see signs for the June Lake Loop, a 14 mile loop that takes you through the cute town of June Lake, you’ll also see lakes and panoramic mountain views. June Lake is open all year for outdoor recreation, but my favorite place to hang out is at June Lake Brewing. They brew excellent craft beer. For lunch, grab an order of Honolulu Fried Noodles from Ohanas 395, a food truck on site in the parking lot.
Mammoth Lakes is another small town that is great to visit all year. (Though it’s popularity is evident when you’re trying to find a parking spot.)
When in Mammoth Lakes, check out the amazing geology that makes up Devils Postpile National Monument. (You can read all about it right here.) There are several hikes within the National Monument from the ranger station, including the short .4 miles to the base of the Postpile, a 5 mile round trip hike to Rainbow Falls, and a 1.4 mile hike to Minaret Falls.
Hot Creek Geological Site is a very cool spot to hike along the water. It used to be a popular place to soak with hot geothermal water mixing with the cold river, but it is now illegal to swim here because the temperatures can be erratic and will change within seconds.
Convict Lake is a quick two mile drive off of 395 on a paved road just south of Mammoth Lakes. Take the three mile hike around the lake to enjoy the scenery. Or stay at the nearby campsite or rent a cabin at the Convict Lake Resort. I bet you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.
The town of Bishop is halfway down the state of California (on the eastern side of the state, of course). We always stop for a beer and a snack at Mountain Rambler Brewery.
Above Bishop, at about 9,800 ft. in the Inyo National Forest, you’ll find the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. How ancient are these bristlecones? Many are over 4,000 years old, one in particular is believed to be over 5,000 years old! Why don’t I have any photos of these amazing trees? Because I haven’t visited here yet. Nope, just drove right past the entrance once. (I did take some pics of Bristlecone Pines in Great Basin NP in eastern Nevada.)
Back on 395, less than 50 miles south is Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar was one of ten war relocation centers during World War II. 120,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their lives in 1942 and sent to these places. Manazar held over 10,000 Japanese Americans during it’s peak. Everyone was finally released in November 1945. I didn’t take any photos here, but this article shows an interesting portrayal of life at Manzanar with images taken by Ansel Adams in 1943. If you go, be sure to allow time to see the exhibits in the visitors center and check out the reconstructed buildings outside.
Nine miles south of Manzanar is the town of Lone Pine. From Lone Pine you can easily access Whitney Portal, where the most popular trailhead is located to hike Mt. Whitney (14,505′). It’s also the gateway to Death Valley. But just outside of town you’ll find the Alabama Hills and it’s amazing rock formations.
A couple miles south of Lone Pine, take CA 136 to CA 190, drive for about an hour and you’ll be in Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is an incredible place with an amazing terrain. The coolest part about this area is that you’ll find the lowest elevation in North America at Badwater Basin within Death Valley at -282 feet below sea level! Remember Mt. Whitney in Lone Pine? That is the tallest place in the lower 48 (at 14,505′ above sea level). And they are only 85 miles apart!
If you’re interested in visiting Death Valley, I wrote a whole blog post about it. You can read it right here.
And there you have it. My favorite places (so far) along U.S.395 from Walker to Lone Pine, California. I’d love to hear about your favorite places along that stretch too! Let me know in the comments.
Want to read more about these places? Check out these blog posts:
- Bodie State Historic Park, Buckeye Campground, and Travertine Hot Springs
- Visiting Bodie State Historic Park, Benton Hot Springs, and Mono Lake
- A Night at Benton Hot Springs
- Exploring the Alabama Hills
- Planning a Trip to Death Valley National Park
- Wildflowers of Death Valley
- Visiting the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley