Traveling California's Route 395: The Eastern Sierras to Bishop, Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite National Park
If you’re an adventure lover based in California or Nevada, the Eastern Sierras should definitely be on your radar. With beautiful views of snow-capped mountains, lush green valleys and towering granite peaks, the Eastern Sierras offer the outdoor enthusiast an opportunity to participate in a multitude of sports.
For many, the 395 will be your access road and Mammoth Lakes or Bishop will be your basecamp for exploring the Eastern Sierra’s. In both Mammoth Lakes and the Bishop area you’ll find great campgrounds, incredible rock climbing, superb fishing, and the best hiking in California. Haven’t packed up for a road trip lately? Pull up our road trip checklist to make sure you’ve got everything you need!
Other great places to visit in the Eastern Sierra’s include June Lake, Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake, Lone Pine and Whitney Portal. Most of these areas are easily accessible from either Mammoth or Bishop.
If you plan to visit Yosemite National Park as part of your road trip through the Eastern Sierras, keep in mind that you can access the Tuolumne Meadows portion of the park via the 395 and Tioga Pass, but Yosemite Valley is clear on the other side of the Sierras. More on why we visit Tuolumne Meadows instead of the Valley later in this post!
Whether you’ll be based in Mammoth or Bishop, this guide will help you make the most of your next trip. We’ll cover:
Skiing and Snowboarding
Food & Nightlife
Read on to learn all the best spots for your next adventure in the Eastern Sierras!
Both Mammoth and Bishop have a range of camping options that will satisfy everyone. In addition, camping is an affordable way to explore some of the other activities on this list (fishing, hiking, climbing) or just spend more time in nature and less time in a hotel room or AirBnb.
Keep in mind Memorial Day through Labor Day are the busiest times in our national parks, so it’s often hard to score a spot in places like Yosemite National Park (we drove in at 4am and slept in line at the Ranger Station at Tuolumne to get ours!)
Best Time of the Year to Camp
Spring and Fall are the best times of year to camp in the Bishop area. Summer is often too warm to really enjoy being outside here. However, summer is the best time of year to camp in the Mammoth area. It’s also less crowded than Spring, when the fishing season begins, plus, it’s warmer, so you can enjoy being outside of those sleeping bags a little bit longer.
If you want to visit when the trees change color, fall is gorgeous, but it will be chilly in the evenings and early mornings!
Speaking of sleeping bags, is yours is a decade old and buried in the back of your garage? Well then it might be time to upgrade. We recently picked up new sleeping bags from Big Agnes, the Beryl SL (super light) Mummy Bags and have been cozy in near freezing temps!
Top 3 Camping Spots in the Eastern Sierras
Mammoth Lakes: If you want the beauty of nature with all amenities just a short drive away, you can’t go wrong camping in Mammoth Lakes. This is also a good choice for families with small children and those new to camping. Twin Lakes Campground and Lake Mary Campground are both popular campgrounds. More info on camping in Mammoth Lakes.
Bishop: There are a ton of campgrounds to explore in the Bishop area. You can find OHV campgrounds in the Coyote Mountains, family friendly accommodations at Bishop Park, and walk-in camping at Table Mountain Group Camp. The Pit is also a favorite campsite for rock climbers exploring Owens River Gorge, Happy and Sad Boulders, or the Buttermilks.
Lee Vining: The tiny town of Lee Vining borders Mono Lake, and is at the Eastern entrance to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, making it a very popular camp spot for those wishing to explore both areas. From here you can view Mono Craters, the remnants of the great glaciers that carved out the Sierra Mountains. You can also stock up on any last minute supplies before entering Yosemite National Park. The Lower Lee Vining Campground is located along Tioga Pass Road, but at 7,300 ft., it will be most likely be closed in the winter, as will the pass itself. Check the current road conditions on NPS.gov before planning your trip!
Camping Gear & Resources
Camping in Mammoth Lakes or Lee Vining? Check out Mammoth Mountaineering Supply for all your outdoor gear needs.
Camping closer to Bishop? Be sure to stock up at Eastside Sports which is located on Main Street in downtown Bishop.
Heading into Yosemite National Park? Then the Mobil gas station in Lee Vining is our top choice for gear and snacks. Inside you’ll find the Whoa Nellie Deli where you can stock up on everything, including incredible breakfast sandwiches or call ahead for pre-packed lunches!
The Eastern Sierras are chock-full of streams and lakes where several species of trout, perch and bass can be found. It’s also one of a few spots where you can find the elusive Golden Trout. Be sure to purchase a fishing license and check the local regulations before you roll out. Certain areas are off-limit, while others require the use of barbless hooks and artificial flies or lures.
Best Time of the Year to Fish
This depends on who you ask. The most popular time of the year to fish is in the spring (opening day aka ‘Fishmas’ is the last Saturday in April). However, adventure lovers may prefer fishing in the fall for far fewer crowds. The lack of crowds ensures you get access to the best spots along with plenty of bites. The season closes November 15th.
Top Three Fishing Spots
Lake Crowley: One of the most popular lakes for catching large trout is Lake Crowley. You can fish from the shore, rent kayaks or a boat and enjoy this man made reservoir that’s teeming with trout!
Convict Lake: Touted as one of the most beautiful lakes in California, Convict Lake is easy to access and has Mount Morrison as a beautiful backdrop. Convict Lake gets its name from a famous shootout between a group of convicts and a posse of bounty hunters. Today, visitors enjoy Convict Lake for camping, hiking, and, of course, fishing. You can catch big trout from the shore, by boat, canoe or kayak, or simply paddle around on your SUP or float tube.
Owens River: The longest river in the Eastern Sierra and one of the best for trout fishing is the Owens River. The Upper Owens River is where most of the action is at, with unusually large fish being pulled out year-round. That’s right, the Owens River is one of the few in Mono County where year-round fishing is permitted!
Fishing Gear & Resources
The Troutfitter is an old standby for fishing fans, whether you need bait, flies, or a whole new setup. They’re located conveniently in Mammoth Lakes.
Bishop Pack Outfitters is a good choice for those wanting a guided fishing experience to backcountry lakes. They offer other guided services (like horseback rides and photography trips) so be sure to check out their website.
Remember to pick up a 1-day or 10-day California fishing license.
Hiking & Trail Running
Some of the fun of fishing is getting out onto the trail and seeing where it takes you. Of course, you don’t have to fish to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Eastern Sierras. Here are some of our favorite hikes and trail runs in the area and the best time of year to go.
Best Time of Year to Hike and Run
With low humidity and temperatures getting into the mid-70’s, it’s no wonder why the summer is the best time to go hiking and trail running in the Mammoth area. Though the weather is relatively cool, the high elevation and dry air increase your risk of sunburn and dehydration, so be sure to bring sunblock and drink plenty of water.
Also, always check the weather conditions in the area you plan to hike or run. Be prepared for snow at higher elevations above 6,500 feet. You can check the Mammoth Lakes Trail System website for up-to-date info, but note that most trails will be closed between October to May. Pro Tip: June is the least crowded month to visit Mammoth.
Are you coming into town for skiing, snowboarding, or other backcountry winter adventures? Well then read on for skiing and snowboarding tips, and also check out our blog on preparing for winter backcountry adventures.
Top Three Hiking and Trail Runs
Rainbow Falls via Devil’s Postpile: This 4.8 miles out and back hike takes you past Devil's Postpile, rock formations that form in hexagonal ‘postpiles’. This trail is suitable for all runners, hikers, and dogs on leash are welcome. Rainbow Falls Trail will most likely be closed in the winter.
Lundy Canyon Trail: Closer to Lee Vining, the Lundy Canyon Trail is a lightly trafficked 5.5 miles out and back trail. We recommend this trail if you’re traveling in the early Fall as you’ll see the leaves changing colors, wildflowers, waterfalls, and even a famed beaver dam. Dogs on leash are welcome.
Bishop Pass Trail: If you’ve got the heart of an adventurer, check out this 10 mile out and back hike near Bishop. You’ll climb up granite “benches” and pass alpine lakes along the way. This is the 2nd most advanced of the three listed, so be sure to read more before heading out.
Mt. Whitney via the Mount Whitney Trail: Before you even step out of the car, be prepared for steep switchbacks to reach Whitney Portal. Some stop here, maybe hike around for an hour, and then dip their tired legs in the mountain stream that runs down to the valley. But if you came up here for the big one, read on!
The 21.9 mile strenuous hike summits Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states. This being said, some might feel you need to be an experienced rock climber, and have proper climbing gear, but Mt. Whitney can be summited without it. However, if you are interested in more technical rock climbing, there are summit routes that will require gear.
Whichever way you choose to summit, permits are required and become available via lottery mid-February. Still interested and didn’t quite plan that far ahead? Check in at the Lone Pine Ranger Station for last minute openings.
When it comes to rock climbing, Yosemite National Park is not only the best in Eastern Sierras, it’s the premier rock climbing destination in the world. You could spend your whole life climbing here and not discover all that the area has to offer. Besides Yosemite Valley, there’s also Hetch Hetchy, Wawona and our favorite climbing spot in the park, Tuolumne Meadows.
Not ready for big wall climbing? Well with great weather and low humidity, the Bishop area is a climbing mecca year round.
Best Time of Year to Climb
For rock climbers, the colder and drier the better. This is because cold, dry weather produces more friction between your skin and the rock. Bishop tends to stay fairly cool and dry, so climbing is great October through May. After May, head to higher elevations near Mammoth Lakes or Yosemite National Park.
Top Three Spots to Climb
Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park: If you’re interested in climbing in Yosemite in the summer, we say skip the crowded Valley and head for Tuolumne Meadows. Here you’ll find less crowds, cooler temps and a greater chance of scoring a camp site!
In addition, if you think Yosemite climbing is all about Half Dome and El Capitan, think again. Tuolumne Meadows has hundreds of both trad and sport routes, and dozens of boulder problems. The classics in Tuolumne include Tenaya, Matthes Crest and Cathedral Peak.
The Buttermilks: This is one of the most famous spots in Bishop. The Buttermilk’s boasts big quartz monzonite boulders with polished patina crimps as well as sharp edges. But the landing’s are good and the climbs are fun, making this one of the best spots to boulder, whether beginner or pro.
Happy & Sad Boulders: Just twenty minutes away you can find the Happy & Sad Boulders, a formation of volcanic tablelands. Here you’ll find hundreds of world-class boulder routes.
Owens River Gorge: According to Mountain Project, the Owens River Gorge is the most concentrated sport-climbing area, making it a great crag for sport climbers of all levels. This area is often crowded, but with a little exploring, you should be able to find some space to yourself. It’s climbable all year round, but summer temps can be close to 100 degrees!
Hiking, Trail Running and Rock Climbing Gear & Resources
If you want to stock up in Bishop, you can’t go wrong with Eastside Sports. They have everything you need, plus, the staff know the area well. Make some time to chat and you may come away with great tips on secret hikes and what to bring!
Skiing and Snowboarding
Though the Mammoth Lakes area has a ton of recreational opportunities, when you hear of Mammoth, you might be thinking about 2 things: skiing and snowboarding. Mammoth Mountain is a huge ski resort with every type of terrain a skier or snowboarder could dream of. Plus, they usually get an abundance of snow! If you’re visiting during the summer months, the mountain biking is epic and the Mammoth Bike Park is one of a kind.
Best Time of Year to Ski and Snowboard
In Mammoth, the skiing and snowboarding often runs from November through June. Yes, June! If you have the flexibility, head up after a storm for soft fluffy powder and first tracks. Otherwise, plan your trip for early spring for great weather and big snow days.
Top Three Ski and Snowboard Spots
Backcountry Style: If you’re craving less crowds, check out chairs 12 & 14. Got your avy gear? Check out the Tele Bowl. No avy gear but want to learn? Check out our blog post on preparing for backcountry adventures to get tons of tips on books to read and courses to attend.
Technical Fun: More technically proficient skiers and snowboarders love Upper and Lower Dry Creek for their challenging runs.
Groomers for Days: If you want to carve it up on some groomers, start at the face of Chair 3 and head down to Stump Alley. You can get great long runs that are a perfect way to start or end your day.
Skiing and Snowboarding Gear, Rentals and Service
Mammoth Mountain also offers rentals, lessons, gear tune-ups and Mammoth Lakes Village has all the shops you could ever want right on the main plaza.
Another great spot is the Mammoth Gear Exchange for gently used ski and snowboard gear, but they also having hiking and camping equipment, along with tons of apparel.
One of our favorite stops while traveling through the Eastern Sierras are visiting the hot springs along Route 395. Some of these geothermal pools are all natural, while others are human-made. In addition, they are small and often hidden, making it even more exciting when you arrive and can have one all to yourself!
Either way, nothing beats a soak in a scenic pool while watching the stars comes out after a long day of hiking, climbing, or skiing the mountain.
Best Time of Year for Hot Springs
Cold weather makes the hot springs more luxurious, so we recommend visiting in fall, spring, or even winter. However, heavy snowfall might prevent you from getting there! In addition, many of the hot springs are clothing optional, so be prepared to turn around if you have little kids in tow!
Top Three Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s or Crowley’s Hot Springs: Close to the Mammoth Airport, this hot spring is the easiest to find and closest to Mammoth. A nice boardwalk takes you from the parking lot out to the pools. There’s no shelter from the sun out here, but incredible views of the Sierras.
Old Benton Hot Springs: This is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway. A rustic bed and breakfast, beautiful hot springs that flow into hot tubs, and a historic mining town are all nestled off Highway 120 and Highway 6, just east of Mammoth Lakes.
Keough Hot Springs: The Keough Hot Springs is a resort with all the amenities. You’ll find both human-made hot springs or you can head a bit down the road where the primitive pools lay. Either way is a great choice, just remember nudity is common in the primitive pools, so be prepared.
Travertine Hot Springs: If you have the time, the Travertine Hot Springs are a great destination. These all-natural hot springs have a beautiful view, and there are several pools where you can relax and enjoy. These springs are closer to Bridgeport, which is an hour north of Mammoth Lakes, but worth the trip if you are coming from or continuing north to Lake Tahoe. The Travertine Hot Springs are also a great place to stop if you’re planning to visit Bodie State Historic Park. Bodie is an old gold mining town turned ghost town with still beautifully intact buildings that once housed 10,000 residents!
Food & Nightlife
Though we all love the great outdoors, no trip is complete without some great food and local craft brews. We enjoy preparing our own feast at the campsite, but sometimes we do head into town when we are out of food or too tired to cook! Here are some great options for every budget.
In Mammoth Lakes:
The Village: If you have the budget, there’s really no better place to be for food and nightlife than Mammoth Lakes Village. Here you’ll find everything from pizza to ice cream and high end retail shops.
Family Fun: If you’ll be traveling to Mammoth with your family, you’ll want to make Mammoth Rock ‘N’ Bowl a destination. Downstairs the kids can enjoy bowling and pub food, while upstairs the Brasserie serves up gourmet French fare.
Local Hangout: For a wholesome pub menu and games like table-football, look no farther than the Clocktower Cellar. With hand-punched fries and fresh-ground hamburger patties, the Clocktower is the perfect comfort meal to end a long day on the mountain. Plus, they have over 160 types of whiskey!
Sheepherders Bread: No trip along Highway 395 is complete without a stop at Schat’s Bakery. Stop in for coffee and breakfast, or just grab a loaf to snack on while you head to your next destination.
BBQ or Steakhouse: Right across the street from Schat’s you’ll find Holy Smoke Texas Style Barbeque. Try their short-ribs or tri-tip to refuel for your next adventure. Wanting a fancier dining experience? Try the Whiskey Creek Steakhouse!
Jerky & More: Don't miss out on delicious jerky and smoked meats at Mahogany Smoked Meats. Stop on the way into town for some sandwiches from their deli to make the next few hours of your road trip fly by!
Wishing You Safe & Happy Adventures
If you’ve never travelled along the 395 through Bishop and Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite National Park, add it to your adventure list. And if you’ve been a dozen times, I hope this guide gives you some new ideas for your next road trip.
Want more adventure tips and travel destinations? Check out some of our other travel blogs here:
Until next time, happy adventuring!
- Meredith McConvill