By Cheri Sicard
Highway 395 in California runs along the Eastern Sierra and is home to arguably some of the most spectacularly beautiful scenery in the entire U.S. In the video below, join outdoor photographer Gabriella Viola on a trip along this famed highway to discover her favorite places and stops along the route.
Encompassing both Mono and Inyo counties, the Eastern Sierra is on the remote eastern side of California’s Sierra Nevada range. Gabriella says this rugged region is home to crystal-clear alpine lakes, granite peaks, hot springs, waterfalls, and much more. Even if you don’t intend to plan a trip, the video, created by a professional outdoor photographer, provides some amazing eye candy.
Gabriella’s best of Hwy 395 stops
#1 Little Lakes Valley
A day hike just north of Bishop, CA, Gabriella says every step of hiking the trail at Little Lakes Valley is simply drop-dead gorgeous. And she has the video footage to prove it. You’ll pass by several lakes on the way to the hike’s culmination, the crystal-clear Gem Lake. The 8-mile round trip hike starts about 10 miles from Hwy 395 at the end of Rock Creek Rd.
#2 Parker Lake
The 3.6-mile easy-going Parker Lake Trail starts near June Lake and ends at the spectacular turquoise blue alpine lake. According to Gabriella, this is a short hike with a big reward.
#3 Big Pine Lakes
Located near Bishop, the Big Pine Lakes hike features some of the most incredible scenery in the Eastern Sierra, and that is saying a lot. There are actually seven sequentially numbered Big Pine Lakes, with lakes one, two, and three being known as the most scenic. The views are out of this world, but you will have to work for them on this hike. A favorite of backpacking campers, Gabriella says you can do this as a day hike if you only go as far as the second or third lake and then turn back. Even then, expect a challenge as you will cover 13 miles at 3,000 feet elevation.
#4 Rainbow Falls
In Mammoth Lakes, CA, this 101-foot-tall waterfall is the tallest in the Eastern Sierra. To access the falls in the summer you will pick up the mandatory shuttle bus at the Mammoth Adventure Center and get off at Shuttle Stop #9. The trail to the falls is a well-marked, relatively flat 1 1/2 miles, where you will come upon two excellent viewpoints of the falls.
#5 Hot Creek Geological Site
This active geothermal area can be found about 15 minutes south of Mammoth Lakes near Hwy 395. A short, easy hike takes you along the creek bed past geothermal pools of boiling water bubbling up from the ground.
#6 June Lake
About 20 minutes north of Mammoth Lakes, the magnificent Carson Peak serves as the backdrop for the breathtakingly beautiful June Lake. A popular spot for boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing, you access the area by driving the 14-mile scenic June Lake Loop that will take you past services like campgrounds and restaurants as well as natural wonders.
#7 Conness Lakes
This hike begins near Lee Vining, CA, off the Tioga Pass. The moderate-rated 6.3-mile out-and-back hike culminates at crystal-clear alpine lakes and glacier lakes tucked among the mountains.
#8 Lake Mary
Located in Mammoth Lakes, CA, Lake Mary is the largest lake in the Mammoth Lakes basin. Easily accessible, Lake Mary is popular for boating, paddle boarding, and fishing.
#9 Buckeye Hot Springs
Located along the banks of Buckeye Creek near Bridgeport, CA, exit Hwy 395 at Buckeye Rd. and travel about 3 1/2 miles to the hot springs. Once there you will find a few small soaking pools with spectacular views overlooking the mountains. Gabriella recommends spending some time soaking in these before heading down to the main hot springs. (I think I would choose to do that in reverse.) The hot springs themselves feature grotto-like caves and waterfalls that cascade into the rock-lined pools. WOW! Some find the water here too warm. But no problem—just move down the creek to one of the cooler pools.
#10 Twin Lakes
Located about 15 minutes from Buckeye Hot Springs, as the name implies, you will find two lakes here. Both are equally accessible and are popular destinations for fishing. Nearby boat and cabin rentals can enhance the experience if you don’t come prepared.