395: Adventure's Highway

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Highway 395 is California's backbone. It's the road you take when you want to head to Tahoe to ski. It's the road you take to camp in Mammoth. It's the road that traverses the Pacific Crest Trail and connects Death Valley, to Yosemite and Lassen National Parks. Along the 395, you will watch an endless flat drive start to shift into spiny sierras that arise out of lava beds and craggy earth. You will find yourself exhaling city life, and inhaling the great outdoors.

The 395 is adventure's highway, get in, and let's go!

Note: this road trip is for those coming or going along the 395.

It starts south and heads north, so you can pick it up where ever you are.
If you're driving from Orange County or LA, you've likely been in the car for over 2 hours, and you have to pee, and you're a little cranky because the kids' iPad keeps running out of battery.

Solution: stop at Randsburg general store for a malt. It's an over 100-year-old cafe with old-timey vibes and tasty snacks. They make soda and ice cream the old fashioned way, and it's located in a living ghost town, ooh, spooky … It's well worth the detour.

Tell the kids to chill and run around unsupervised in the parking lot. Then, reward yourself on your fantastic parenting skills with a banana split that you don't share.

DETOUR: If you're feeling ambitious, drive two hours east and spend the day at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park. And then go deep into the park and camp and see Badwater Basin. Death Valley is highly underrated and full of diversity. There are towering mountain ranges and salty flats, enormous calderas, painted badlands, and sandy dunes. Just check the weather before you go, during the summer months temperatures can reach 120 degrees. Your entire body will cry tears of sweat.

If you don’t end up taking the massive detour to Death Valley (I get it, but if you’ve never been, you should make a plan to visit. It’s outstanding), then it’s only an hour to Lone Pine. Eat something soaked in gravy at Alabama Hills Cafe, then take a 7-minute drive west, to stretch your legs and scramble over the rock formations of Alabama Hills. Check out Mobius Arch, ooh I can see Mount Whitney!

Set up camp for the night. Alabama Hills is beautiful, and it’s on BLM land, which means it’s federally protected and free to camp. Just be sure to leave no trace, pack it in and pack it out. You know not to leave trash and poop, I don’t need to tell you that, right?

Go 20 minutes up Whitney Portal Road to take in the 8,000-foot views and high-five climbers before they set out to summit the tallest mountain in the contiguous US.

From Lone Pine, it's just under an hour's drive to Keough's Hot Springs.

You can pay to soak in the established pools, but where's the fun in that? Instead, opt for a little off-road driving to the spring's creek that people have dammed up to form small pools for some relaxing and soaking. These pools are directly under some noisy power lines, and last time we were there, we were eaten alive by giant mosquitoes. Do yourself a favor, bring headphones and bug spray.

From Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes, is just under an hour, but you're not ready to head to Mammoth just yet. There's a rumbly in your tumbly, and the 395 hosts some of the best BBQ places this side of Texas including Copper Top in Big Pine, Holy Smoke in Bishop, and Uncle Jimmy's in Mammoth Lakes.

Get your meat on!

Go to Copper Top in Big Pine.

After you load up your belly at Copper Top, Drive 40 minutes northeast to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

There you will find a natural preserve of 4,000 year old trees that rise up 10,000 feet into the sky. You can hike the Schulman Grove Discovery Trail for a quick .9 mile loop around the trees.

If barbecue isn’t your jam, stop at Mountain Rambler for a beer and squash empanadas.

And always stop at Schat’s Bakery get a sandwich to-go. Stash your sando in your car cooler for later. Your future self will thank you.

Stay in Mammoth:

Snag at a campsite at the Twin Lakes Campground.

If you can’t get in there, there are plenty of campgrounds in the Inyo National Forest to choose from in the Mammoth Ranger District.

While you’re in Mammoth:

Soak at Wild Willy’s hot springs.

Get a beer and tots at Mammoth Brewing Co.

Hike 6 miles to Devil's Post Pile, Rainbow Falls and end at Red's Meadow.

Take the lift up to the summit of Mammoth Mountain (11,052 ft).
You get an ariel view of Mammoth Lakes, the stunning skyline, and the rocky minarets.
It's dog-friendly and sometimes super cold and windy, even in the summer. There's probably snow and people snowboarding and mountain biking.
We've gone every summer for the last 3 years and taken a photo in the same spot

Drive the June Lake loop and stop at June Lake Brewing for a pale ale and a loco moco at Ohanas 395 (a permanent Hawaiian food truck in the parking lot).

Eat some lobster taquitos at Whoa Nellie Deli before heading into Tuolumne Meadows pronounced (twall-a-me) inside of Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne is my favorite part of Yosemite, it’s stunning and worth the short trip to have a picnic on the granite rocks and take a dip in the cool Tuolumne River. Make sure to stay for the sunset, it's breath taking and I imagine it's what heaven looks like.

Check to see if Tioga pass is open before you drive, that road is often closed due to snow. It’s usually open during the summer months. Bonus points if you take the Yosemite Bus (YARTS) that drops off and picks up in Mammoth.
Opposite the Tioga pass is the extra salty Mono Lake. Drive to South Tufa to see the most prominent salty formations.
For the best views, see it at dusk or dawn.

From Mono Lake, it's only another 30 minutes to Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport. Whoo-hoo for more hot springs!!

Chill hard before you drive another two-and-a-half hours to Tahoe.

From Tahoe, keep going north. It's a little over three hours to Lassen National Park.