What are the interesting stops from Highway 395 Adelanto to Lake Tahoe?
Don't miss Manzanar National Historic Site.
An important, never to be forgotten, part of a shameful chapter in American History.
Over how many days?
From Adelanto north to Lone Pine is boring, non-scenic desert. Just get that part over with. Startng at Lone Pine, and continuing all the way to the California/Nevada border, it is highly scenic, with many possible stops and sights. Like driving through a huge national park with little towns along the way. Once you enter Nevada it becomes suburbs and then cities. I would focus on the section of 395 from Lone Pine up to the CA/NV border.
This photo travelogue illustrates most of the major sights and stops in this region, but not all of them: travelswithbillandnancy.com/eastern_sierras.…
I love Hwy 395! It has scads of interesting and beautiful natural and historic places to see, towns to explore, and views to enjoy. You’ll see desert, mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, and maybe snow, depending on when you go.
Some of these places are actually on 395, and others are a short distance off in one direction or another. And no, I didn’t just get them off a map; I have been to these places, explored them, eaten and slept there, and may eventually pick one of them to live in.
SOUTHERN SECTION – TO LONE PINE
If you are actually coming from Pomona, the first place of interest is Cajon Pass, south of Adelanto. This goes through San Bernardino National Forest and follows mountain curves and lets you see some fine scenery.
From Hesperia north, *yawn* for a little while.
CA Hwy 58, Kramer Junction – west to Boron and one of California’s biggest open pit mines (maybe the biggest), source of most of the borate minerals used in America. Visitor center open for tours and a look into the mine (small per-car fee goes to local charities) Also, Old Town Boron main street, and 20 Mule Team Museum of town and military history. Hwy 58 east to Barstow and Las Vegas.
Atolia and Johannesburg, late 19th-early 20th c. gold mining settlements, now essentially ghost towns. West of 395 is Randsburg which has more to see, including main drag that could have popped right out of a Western movie; there are (at my last count) two historic hotels you can stay in, an eatery or two, and several antique shops and other little local businesses. You can still see mining structures and artifacts around town and in the nearby hills.
CA Hwy 178 east, turnoff to Ridgecrest, one of the biggest towns in the area. Maturango Museum, lodging, food, and all other visitor services. Main employer in town is China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, a research facility (museum of naval technology and weaponry open to public, but act like you’re going to the airport and plan for security clearance to get aboard the base).
Inyokern, small town with several antique shops and a couple of motels and restaurants. Try Bernardino’s for Mexican food. Hwy 178 west here goes to Walker Pass, Lake Isabella, and along Kern River to Bakersfield.
Various places along 395 – Los Angeles Water & Power Dept. infrastructure, including power lines, sections of aqueduct, and Haiwee Reservoirs can be seen.
Olancha, wide spot in the road with a few old, bare-bones motels, cafés, a beef jerky seller, and a bottling plant for Crystal Geyser drinking water. CA Hwy 190 east from Olancha goes along south shore of Owens Dry Lakebed, once a natural, navigable lake with real water until the Los Angeles Aqueduct project diverted its source, the Owens River, and left a dusty alkaline desert marsh. Hwy 190 east from Olancha is one route to Death Valley.
Hwy 395 between Olancha and Lone Pine – see “Users’ Guide to Lone Pine” for detailed info.
The dry whitish surface of Owens Lake is visible to the east with occasional other colors from algae and light effects.
Cartago and road to Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns, once used to make charcoal for ore smelters at Cerro Gordo and other mines in the Inyo Mountains, north of Owens Lake. Wood for the charcoal came from the Sierra Nevada to the west. A small steamboat made runs west across the former Owens Lake to bring refined ore to roads where it went by land to farther destinations, and returned to the other side of Owens Lake with supplies including finished charcoal for the smelters. These are terracotta, unlike the stone Wildrose Kilns in Death Valley.
Lone Pine (see “Users’ Guide” mentioned above for Diaz Lake, movie museum, Alabama Hills, Mt. Whitney, other sights in town, and Manzanar 15 minutes north). Along 395 north of Lone Pine, you can see the Owens River. It generally has some water in it from snowmelt, but most of its flow goes right into the LADWP system and to the millions of thirsty throats and thousands of gardens, golf courses, swimming pools, and other artificially watered places in the Los Angeles metro area. From Lone Pine, Hwy 136 goes east to Death Valley.
CENTRAL SECTION – INDEPENDENCE TO MONO LAKE
Independence, Inyo County seat. Eastern California Museum, historic Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery (open to visitors), and home of renowned Western author Mary Austin (private home, not open to public).
Big Pine, one gateway town to Death Valley; requires 75-mile-long backcountry road through Eureka Valley that can require 4wd and high clearance, and has no services or settlements of any kind. To do that, take CA Hwy 168 east and then Big Pine-Death Valley Road. Staying on Hwy 168 takes you to Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Deep Springs College, Gold Point ghost town, and U.S. 95 in Nevada. Big Pine has basic services, including one of Yelp’s recent “America’s Best Restaurant” choices!
Bishop, the metropolis of the Eastern Sierra, with all visitor services and a main drag with lots of local businesses. Try Schat’s for baked goods and Mahogany Smokehouse for jerky and deli items; there is also a Paiute tribal casino and restaurant; and Eastside Sports is one of the major stores in the Eastern Sierra for hiking and ski stuff. West of town (Hwy 168 west) are Aspendell, Lake Sabrina, and several horse and mule pack trip outfits; east on Hwy 6 is Laws Railroad [and regional history] Museum, housed in a village made of historic railroad station buildings and houses brought from around the Owens Valley.
Tom’s Place, a pit stop if needed for comfort food (breakfast, burgers, salads, and such) in a rustic café. Also has simple rooms and cabins that cater mainly to outdoor recreation visitors.
To the east, Crowley Lake, an artificial reservoir created as part of the LADWP aqueduct system. Boating and fishing. Like Father Crowley Vista Point in Death Valley, it was named for Father John J. Crowley, an Irish-born Catholic priest who served in Fresno and the Eastern Sierra for decades. For years, he was like a circuit rider of the old Western frontier, driving hundreds of miles in a given week around his parish that included Bishop, Lone Pine, Death Valley, Shoshone, and more. During the “water wars” ensuing from the Los Angeles Aqueduct project and the loss of the Owens River and the livelihoods of hundreds of longtime local families, Fr. Crowley was a peacemaker. He was also among the first early boosters of tourism in the Eastern Sierra.
To the west, Convict Lake, a natural lake with fishing, boating, and resorts. Named for a jailbreak in Carson City in the 1870s, when several of the escapees fled to the lake and killed some of the posse that was pursuing them.
Mammoth Lakes, all-year recreation destination with emphasis on winter and skiing, snowboarding, and such. All visitor services. Devil’s Postpile National Monument is a forested and volcanic natural wonder where you can see perfectly hexagonal basalt columns where a lava flow crystallized.
Along 395 from Mammoth Lakes to Lee Vining are volcanic formations like Aeolian Buttes. The Eastern Sierra is an active seismic and geothermal area. If you peeked at my “Users’ Guide to Lone Pine,” you already know about the big 1872 earthquake. Those still happen up and down the Owens Valley Fault; and there are hot springs in various places because this area has volcanic origins. The intriguing Long Valley Caldera is one of California’s best kept secrets, and some scientists believe it has the potential of the Yellowstone mega-volcano if it decides to get feisty.
June Lakes Loop, Hwy 158, starts and ends at 395. Resort community with a cluster of scenic lakes.
CA Hwy 120 east, signed for Benton; goes to Navy Beach Road and Mono Lake South Tufa. Small parking fee at the lot (covered by America the Beautiful annual pass), and you can walk to the shore and tufa spires. Also along 120 in this area – road to Panum Crater, an interesting hike into a volcanic crater.
At the SE corner of 395 and 120 is a cenotaph “To the Unknown Prospector.” From the mid 19th c. on, millions of people poured into California, Nevada, and other Western states chasing bonanzas of some kind. The 1849 California Gold Rush is just the best known, but Montana, Alaska, Colorado, and other states had theirs; and precious ores and industrial minerals have been mined all over the West (you know that if you went to Boron). The “unknown prospector” was a New Yorker or a Texan, a poor kid looking for his (or less often, her) fortune, a scion denied his share of the family estate, a Civil War veteran wanting peace and a change of scene, an emigrant from Europe, Chile, China, or Australia – IOW, all kinds of folks. Some became wildly rich and some flopped, some made their pile and went home, many stayed and became the farmers, merchants, doctors, teachers, sheriffs, parents, and other pillars of their new communities – and many simply vanished into the giant maw of the American West. If your family tree has a hole from the 1840s to 1900 where someone left home and never returned, this monument might be for you.
Lee Vining and the east end of Tioga Pass Road (CA 120) – 75 miles to Yosemite Valley. Lee Vining is a small but seasonally busy town with basic services. Its main sight is Mono Lake, a natural marvel bigger than San Francisco. The tufa spires are columns formed by reaction between minerals in the water and fresh water from artesian wells below the lake. Mono Lake is also a wildlife haven, a stop for birds on the Pacific flyway, and a landmark in California environmental and water policy history. Two visitor centers: Mono Lake Committee on the main drag in Lee Vining and the U.S. Forest Service north of town on the east side of 395. Other access to the lake: Old Marina north of town and Cemetery Road where the Mono Inn is. Go look at the cemetery and I halfway guarantee you’ll want to be buried there.
Conway Summit, at 8100 feet the highest point on Hwy 395 in the U.S. between the Canadian border and its terminus near Cajon Pass. This is a curvy upgrade with a vista point on the west side of the highway to look down on Mono Lake. At the top, Virginia Lakes Road goes west to a cluster of small lakes in national forest land.
NORTH SECTION – MONO LAKE TO CARSON CITY
CA Hwy 270 to Bodie, a state historic park containing one of California’s best preserved ghost towns. Bodie is about 8000 feet in elevation and last 2 miles of road is rough gravel, OK for any car driven carefully and closed in winter. Bodie was a prosperous gold mining town but was abandoned in the early 20th c. Now you can see the buildings with furniture and frayed curtains, as if the people had just gone to the store and never came back. No services other than the historic site and bottled water, so be prepared.
Bridgeport, Mono County seat and a very small town. Ornate historic courthouse on the main drag, a few motels and other small businesses. Twin Lakes Road west of town goes to popular fishing area with a few rustic resorts.
CA Hwy 108, Sonora Pass – west through Stanislaus National Forest to the Mother Lode country on the west side of the Sierra; closed in winter. Five miles west of the junction is the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Center, where troops are trained in winter combat, leadership and strategy, and military horse and livestock operations. This is the most populated community in Mono County. No visitors, but part of the base can be seen from the road. The next portion of 395 runs next to the Walker River and has several campgrounds.
Town of Walker – several small motels, stores, gas, Mountain View BBQ and Walker Burger (yumm), nice county park, and a cluster of cool antique and local craft shops. Five miles north is Meadowcliff Lodge, at the foot of a monstrous granite cliff (rooms, KOA, pool, restaurant, gift shop, and places to just relax and look at the horses and cows on nearby ranches). North of Meadowcliff is Coleville, a hamlet with an antique shop or two, post office, county library, and most of the housing for the USMC base on Hwy 108.
Topaz Lake, small recreational reservoir with boating, fishing, camping. NTWHA if your trip includes the more unique Owens, Mono, Convict, and Tahoe, but has lodging, motels, casinos, and restaurants.
Gardnerville and Minden, once little rural settlements and now approaching Carson City suburb status. All services, but notable for Basque hotels and restaurants. Many Basques from the Pyrenees migrated to the American West in the late 19th c. to work herding sheep, and little towns like this were hubs where they came every few months for news, gossip, mail, and social life. Read the works of Nevada author Robert Laxalt for insights about the life of Basque immigrants.
West of Minden and Gardnerville, NV Hwy 207 to Lake Tahoe. This goes over Kingsbury Grade, a gorgeous scenic route with lots of twists and turns that climbs steeply and drops down toward Lake Tahoe and has the most astounding views. If heights don’t bother you, these views are to kill for. If they do, stay on 395 to U.S. 50 at the south end of Carson City proper; it’s hilly (duh, it goes over the Sierra), but nothing like Kingsbury.
If you go as far as Carson City, in the south part of town are the Stewart Indian School historic and cultural site and Nevada State Railroad Museum. Northeast of town is Virginia City, an 1860s Comstock Lode silver mining town and now a “touristy ghost town” with all visitor services and adventures.