This California Hwy 395 road trip itinerary covers the best places to visit, where to stay, and all of the must-know tips!
Is there any better way to enjoy the diverse beauty of California’s landscape than a road trip? Honestly, driving is one of my favorite ways to travel.
And highway 395 is one of the most iconic road-trip routes with good reason.
The Eastern Sierra region offers breathtaking views, charming towns, and many outdoor activities. In this comprehensive guide, I will provide you with all the most important information for planning your adventure along this spectacular route.
I’ll take you through the must-see stops such as Alabama Hills, June Lake Loop, Bodie State Historic Park, and more.
And, of course, time management is crucial for travelers with limited vacation days. So I’ve got some tips on making the most of your time while exploring attractions along the highway for you as well.
Planning Your California Hwy 395 Road Trip
California Hwy 395 takes you through the heart of the Eastern Sierra mountain range, offering incredible views and unforgettable experiences.
To make your journey as enjoyable as possible, here are a few tips to help you start planning your perfect Hwy 395 road trip.
Determine Your Route and Duration
The first step in planning your Highway 395 road trip itinerary is to decide how long you want to spend exploring this beautiful region.
The entire length of California’s portion of Highway 395 spans approximately 1,300 miles from Hesperia to the Canadian border.
Depending on your interests and time constraints, you may choose to focus on specific sections or tackle the entire stretch over several days.
Research Must-See Stops Along the Way
Highway 395 offers countless attractions that cater to various interests — from natural wonders like Red Rock Canyon State Park, Alabama Hills, and Hot Creek Geological Site; historic sites such as Bodie State Historic Park; or recreational activities at June Lake Loop or South Lake Tahoe. (More recommendations on stops below!)
It’s important to take some time before hitting the road to research which stops align with your preferences so that you don’t miss out on any hidden gems during your travels.
When driving, it’s helpful to have a general structure in mind. Knowing in advance what stops to make can really help organize your days and make the trip fun!
Choose Suitable Accommodations Along Your Route
When road-tripping along Highway 295, there are two lodging options you can take:
- Hotels: Whether it’s a classic hotel or staying in a cozy bed and breakfast in Bishop, there are plenty of accommodation options along Hwy 395. I do recommend booking your lodging in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. The last thing you want is to be stuck in your car for the night.
- Camping: If you prefer camping, numerous campgrounds can be found throughout the Eastern Sierra region. Some popular choices include Whitney Portal Campground, June Lake Campground, and Convict Lake Campground. Be aware that some campgrounds may require reservations or have seasonal closures. So I’d double-check their websites before your trip.
Prepare for Changing Weather Conditions
The weather along Highway 395 can vary greatly depending on elevation and time of year.
In higher elevations like Tioga Pass or Yosemite National Park, snowfall is common from late fall through early spring; while lower areas such as Southern California’s deserts experience hot temperatures during summer months.
Pack appropriate clothing layers to stay comfortable throughout your trip and check local forecasts before setting out each day. You don’t want to get caught off guard.
Familiarize Yourself with Road Conditions
Finally, before heading down Hwy 395, familiarize yourself with road conditions – particularly if driving through mountain passes or remote areas without cell service. The easiest way to do this is by checking websites such as Caltrans for construction zones and potential hazards.
Read more: How to Rent an RV for a Road Trip
Must-See Stops Along Hwy 395
And now, to the most exciting part. There are many amazing stops to discover along your journey down Highway 395, from small towns to breathtaking views.
Here are some of the most popular and picturesque locations you won’t want to miss.
1. Red Rock Canyon State Park
The first stop I would recommend is Red Rock Canyon State Park, located just off Highway 14 before merging onto Highway 395. The park has stunning desert cliffs, buttes, and vibrant rock formations that are perfect for photography enthusiasts or those looking for a short hike.
The park is open every day from sunrise to sunset and also has camping grounds if you’re interested in spending a day or two there to start off your journey.
My hotel recommendation in the area: SpringHill Suites Ridgecrest
2. Alabama Hills
Next up is the famous Alabama Hills, nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lone Pine. The region’s iconic rock formations and arches have been the backdrop of many films and advertisements throughout its history (The Lone Ranger, How the West Was Won, and Gunga Din to name a few).
One of the most famous rock formations in the Alabama Hills is the Mobius Arch. The arch is a great spot to get some pictures, especially if you’re able to go during the sunrise or sunset hours when the light illuminates the mountains in the background. Absolutely incredible!
My hotel recommendation in the area: Historic Dow Hotel
Read more: The Best Photography Locations in California
3. Whitney Portal Road & Mount Whitney
Take a small detour up Whitney Portal Road for some incredible views of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States.
If you’re looking to learn a little bit more about the region, you can stop by the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center, located just south of Lone Pine, where knowledgeable staff can provide information about local attractions, hiking trails, camping spots, and more.
My hotel recommendation in the area: Dow Villa Motel
4. Manzanar National Historic Site
Not so much further down Highway 395, you can make a stop to delve into history at the Manzanar National Historic Site. The museum is a former World War II Japanese internment camp located just north of Lone Pine.
Depending on how much time you have, you can make this a quick one-hour stop to explore the visitor center or up to a full-day stop, during which you can explore Manzanar by foot. The rangers at the visitor center will be happy to help you with any questions upon arrival.
5. Hot Creek Geological Site
Witness Mother Nature’s power firsthand at the Hot Creek Geological Site. This geothermal wonderland features hot springs and mud pots set against a backdrop of mineral deposits.
Because of the high temperature of the water and the high levels of minerals such as sulfur and arsenic in the water, you can’t swim in the hot springs, but there are beautiful walking trails to observe the springs from a distance.
It makes for a fun stop, even if you just have a couple of hours.
6. Mono Lake & South Tufa Area
No Highway 395 road trip would be complete without a stop at the otherworldly Mono Lake.
The distinguishing feature of this lake is its tufa towers. Tufa towers are tall, skinny rock formations made of calcium carbonate, which form over a long time when water with minerals in it mixes together. They create an unforgettable landscape that can be best appreciated from the South Tufa Area, accessible via a short walk from the parking lot.
Definitely worth a visit!
If you’re looking for more lakes to visit in the area take a detour along June Lake Loop (Hwy 158). This is another beautiful spot with a crystal clear lake and beautiful mountain scenery.
My hotel recommendation in the area: June Lake Motel
7. Bodie State Historic Park
Not far from Mono Lake is the official gold rush ghost town – Bodie State Historic Park. Entrance to the park is less than $10 and it’s well worth the visit.
At the park, you can walk the streets of the ghost town and explore the buildings, many of which are preserved in a state of “arrested decay” to give visitors a sense of what life was like in the 1800s. Also, a super fun spot to take pictures!
My hotel recommendation in the area: Walker River Lodge
8. Lake Tahoe
The final stop on my list is Lake Tahoe. While not directly on Highway 395, Lake Tahoe is a popular road-trip destination and an amazing place to visit any time of the year.
Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, located right on the border of California and Nevada. It’s one of the largest and deepest lakes in North America, with crystal clear water that changes color throughout the day from blue to green to turquoise. So stunning!
The lake is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery and offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, and swimming. The area is also home to several ski resorts, hiking trails, and beaches.
My hotel recommendation in the area: Marriott Grand Residence Club, Lake Tahoe
Read more: The Ultimate California Travel Guide
CA Hwy 395 Road Trip Guide
If you’re worried about making the road trip work with limited vacation time, don’t be! One of the great things about road trips is that they are flexible. You can adapt your itinerary to best fit your needs. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your time on Hwy 395.
Create a Flexible Itinerary
Before hitting the road, plan an itinerary that includes all must-see stops and highlights along Highway 395. However, remember to keep it flexible so you can adjust for unexpected discoveries or changes in weather conditions.
Prioritize Your Stops
Hand in hand with the previous point… With so many scenic drives in California and countless attractions along Hwy 395, it can be helpful to prioritize which places are most important to visit and then keep some other stops in reserve as a plan B if you end up having time to spare.
Avoid Rush Hours & Plan Drive Times Wisely
When traveling on Hwy 395, it’s best to avoid peak traffic hours around major cities. Plan your drive times accordingly so you can spend more time exploring the Eastern Sierra and less time stuck in traffic.
Take Advantage of Short Hikes & Scenic Walks
Hwy 395 is home to numerous hiking trails that offer breathtaking views with minimal effort. For example, you can take a short hike along the Methuselah Trail in Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest or explore Hot Creek Geological Site. These can be short stops but will add a lot to your experience on the road!
Last but not least, don’t forget to capture memories of your California Hwy 395 road trip by taking lots of pictures along the way.
From stunning landscapes like Alabama Hills and Red Rock Canyon State Park to charming small towns such as Bishop and Lone Pine, there are endless opportunities for amazing photos.
Hwy 395 Road Trip Safety Tips
With any travel, and especially road trips, it’s important to keep a few notes on safety in mind. Here are a few tips that have really been a help to me.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Before setting out, ensure your vehicle is in proper condition by inspecting its fluids, tires, and brakes; also make sure to pack necessary emergency items like a spare tire, jumper cables, flashlight, first aid kit, and water.
Additionally, pack emergency supplies such as a spare tire, jumper cables, a flashlight, a first aid kit, and extra water. Hopefully, you won’t need any of this, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Be Aware of Weather Conditions
The Eastern Sierra experiences varying weather conditions throughout the year; it’s crucial to stay updated on forecasts before hitting the road. Check websites like the National Weather Service Forecast Office or download reliable weather apps for accurate information.
Stay Alert While Driving
Driving for hours on end can be draining on the body and mind. That’s why it’s especially important to take breaks along the way.
There are many rest stops available along the Highway for a stop-off to stretch or use the restroom. Plus, you never know what you might discover at one of the stops! The spontaneity and flexibility that road trips provide might be my favorite part!
FAQs: Hwy 395 Road Trip
Generally, the shoulder seasons (April-May or September-November) offer fewer crowds, moderate temperatures, and good road conditions. The summer months can also be a fantastic time to explore the region, but beware that the temperatures can rise to 100°F in some areas along the highway.
Yes, I think it’s one of the safest highways to drive. For much of the route in this itinerary, it’s a four lane divided highway and you don’t have to deal with as much traffic as driving on some other highways in California.