California is an RVers paradise. From beach to forest to desert, there is something for everyone in this vast state.
But what if you’re looking for a California RV adventure far from the crowded highways, throngs of beach going bikini-clad tourists, or tour buses full of visitors snapping selfies in front of giant redwoods? Then head on over to the east side.
Here you’ll discover a different side of California.
One where beauty is found in the towering mountains, amazing vistas, small towns, and an abundance of unspoiled nature.
Highway 395 travels along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, from the California/Nevada border south of Reno to the intersection of I-15 near San Bernardino. The entire route is breathtakingly beautiful and filled with fascinating places to explore, but the best of the journey lies between the tiny towns of Lee Vining and Lone Pine.
Lee Vining – Gateway to Yosemite
Lee Vining is known as the gateway to both Yosemite National Park and Mono Lake. Don’t overlook the town itself though. Here you’ll find a hefty dose of quirky small town charm in the form of eclectic bed & breakfasts, shops selling unusual trinkets, and the famous upside-down house.
As you roll into town Mono Lake appears on the horizon. There are a number of easy pull-offs perfect for gazing out over this ancient inland sea. From a distance you can just make out the strange limestone formations that rise up and out of the water’s edge. For a closer look head down to the South Tufa Trail. This short trail winds along the shore through a maze of jagged spires and giant towers of limestone rocks called tufa.
After you’ve had your fill of fun among the tufas, backtrack a mile or two for a side trip up the Tioga Pass Road (also known as Rt. 120 west). Be sure to stop for a bite at the Whoa Nellie Deli where they serve up specialties such as Lobster Taquitos and Wild Buffalo Meatloaf.
RVing on Tioga Pass Road
The journey begins with a gentle ascent past sage brush-filled meadows and stands of arrow-straight Aspens. Gradually the route steepens and the meadows give way to towering cliffs, sweeping views, and mountain lakes.
At the top you can continue onto Yosemite National park, or turn around and enjoy the view all over again on your way down.
If you get the urge to stop and stay awhile, there are a number of national forest campgrounds along Tioga Pass Road. For larger RVs (30+ feet) the campground closest to town, Lower Lee Vining Campground, is the best bet for appropriate sized sites. For a less rustic experience check out the Mono Vista RV Park in Lee Vining.
Back on 395 head south about five mile miles to the June Lake Loop. Initially constructed as a road for employees of the Rush Creek Hydroelectric plant, today this scenic byway is a popular route for tourists. Some come simply to drive around the horseshoe shaped, glacial formed canyon.
The loop travels past crystal clear lakes, steep rocky mountains, and quaint lakeside towns.
Camping opportunities are plentiful around the June Lake Loop. You an choose from five national forest campgrounds and a number of private campgrounds, all offering full amenities – including the historic Silver Lake Resort.
Take an RV Trip to Mammoth Lakes
The bustling ski town of Mammoth Lakes is next on the route. While this is a popular winter destination for ski bunnies looking to escape the LA area, Mammoth Lakes is far more than just a ski town.
The options for year round adventure are endless.
Ride or hike some of the more than 300 miles of trails in and around town, take a drive up to Devil’s Postpile National Monument, fish from the pristine mountain lakes, or seek out some fun at Mammoth Mountain where they offer zip lining, rock climbing, a super bungee trampoline, and scenic gondola rides.
After all of that activity wind down with a relaxing soak in one of the areas free natural hot springs.
Mammoth Lakes has no shortage of RV camping opportunities. From the rustic and beautiful Twin Lakes National Forest Campground, to the conveniently located and in-town Mammoth Mountain RV Park, there is something for everyone.
Volcanic Tablelands and the Town of Bishop
Continuing south on 395 is the town of Bishop. At a considerably lower elevation than Mammoth Lakes, Bishop is a bit warmer and a bit flatter than Mammoth Lakes. The landscape here is dominated by the Volcanic Tablelands, a long flat stretch of land filled with desert scrub brush and surrounded by views of the Eastern Sierras in one direction, and the White Mountains in the other.
This massive fragment of flat terrain is broken up by ridges of soft rolling boulders popular with the rock climbing crowd.
For such a small town Bishop is a food haven. Most folks begin with a trip to the famous Erik Schat’s Bakery where you simply can’t make a wrong choice. From a loaf of freshly baked bread, to cookies coated with a thick slather of icing, to a fruit pie or a hearty sandwich, everything is tasty.
But don’t fill up too much! Your next stop is the Bishop Burger Barn where they serve up local beef patties, hand cut fries, and the most amazing thick milkshakes. Still hungry? Chow down on some ribs at Holy Smoke Texas BBQ, get your noodle on at Thai Thai, or indulge in a spicy plate of chile rellenos at Astorgata’s Mexican Restaurant.
After all that eating, burn some calories by driving up to the John Muir Wilderness and hiking around one of the high mountain lakes.
Law’s Railroad Museum
Finally, no stop in Bishop is complete without a visit to the Laws Railroad Museum.
The 11-acre museum is housed on the historic site of the Laws Station and train yard for the Carson & Colorado Railroad. Today the museum, which is run by the Bishop Historical Society, displays not only old railroad cars and locomotives, but also a recreated historical village from the 1800s complete with a pharmacy, general store, post office and more.
There are a number of private and public campgrounds in Bishop. For an in-town stay check out the Highland’s RV Park, the BLM run Pleasant Pit Campground, or the Millpond County Park. Farther outside of town on Hwy 168 you’ll find a selection of national forest campgrounds.
Explore the Alabama Hills
The last stop on this trip down 395 is Lone Pine. A small town with a western-themed main street, Lone Pine is perhaps best known as the jumping-off point for those looking to explore the famous Alabama Hills or tackle California’s tallest mountain, Mount Whitney.
The Alabama Hills have played host to film makers and adventure seekers for years. A trip to the Lone Pine Film History Museum will leave you in awe of the long history of moviemaking in the area.
Starting with silent Westerns in the 1920s, this area became a mecca for film makers who developed a fondness for the remarkable movie backdrop provided by the wild looking terrain. More recently, the Alabama Hills have served as the setting for countless sci-fi movies and various commercials.
The Alabama Hills holds an attraction for far more than Hollywood though. The rounded contours of the Alabamas have been etched over the years by wind and water, creating a sea of soft looking boulders that stand in sharp contrast to the jagged granite peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. You can either mountain bike or hike the many trails that wind through the boulders.
For a more strenuous hike drive up to the base of Mount Whitney. You’ll need a permit, and a lot of energy and stamina to hike all the way to the top of this 14,505 foot-tall mountain.
If you’re looking for a less ambitious climb tackle the 5.5 mile round trip trail to Lone Pine Lake. At the lake, stop for lunch and enjoy the view of the valley below and the towering mountains above.
By far the BEST place to stay in Lone Pine is among the Alabama Hills. The area around Movie Road is operated by the BLM and open to dispersed camping. Or check out the nearby Tuttle Creek Campground. Low on amenities with no hook-ups and only vault toilets, but high on beauty with views from every site of the incredible Sierra Nevadas. The best part? It’s only $5/night! If you must have hook-ups then travel a a few miles south of town to the Boulder Creek RV Resort.
The eastern side of California may not be the most glamorous or the most famous part of this state, but the raw beauty, wild forests, imposing mountains, and whimsical small towns are sure to impress and will leave you wanting to return again and again.