US-395: The Best Road Trip in the Country

Having done every possible road trip ever,* I can attest to this with authority: US-395 provides the greatest road trip in the United States.

Let’s consider its leading competitor: CA-1 (US-101). For those of you unfamiliar with the West Coast, Highway 1 (known as the PCH** to Southlanders***) runs from Orange County in Southern California to Humboldt County in Northern California along the California coast, where it joins with US-101 and continues all the way up the Oregon and Washington coasts to the Olympic Peninsula. It is absolutely gorgeous. A road trip along the Coast Highway usually results in the following:

Mile 1 – Ocean. “Oh my God, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Look at the water.”
Mile 20 – Ocean. “Oh my God, it’s still absolutely gorgeous.”
Mile 150 – Ocean. “My goodness, this is the most beautiful scenery ever.”
Mile 400 – Ocean. “Oh sweet! In ‘n Out Burger!”
Mile 700 – Redwood Forest. “Oh my God! Look at the trees! They look so much like trees!”
Mile 800 – Redwood Forest. “Oh my God! Look at the gas prices!”
Mile 1,000 – Ocean. “God dammit, @$&%in’ rainstorm!”

And that’s it. That’s all you see for over a thousand miles. Ocean. More ocean. Some trees. And then more ocean. Yes, it’s beautiful. But… what if you could go on a road trip where your environment changes rapidly from one scenic wonder to another within the span of mere dozens of miles?

Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to US-395. It may not have ocean or redwood forests, but it’s got everything else: deserts, mountains, lakes, decrepit farmland, meth – Everything. Other than the obvious scenic wonders, US-395 is significant for another reason entirely: it introduces you to a whole side of California completely neglected by the state stereotype. It’s not just palm trees, surfers, and gays here, people. I won’t go so far as to say Eastern California is True California, but it’s definitely California’s slightly unstable, neurotic alter-ego.

Not seen here: movie stars

Part 1 – the Owens Valley

Your journey up US-395 will start you at the junction of CA-14 and US-395 near Inyokern, CA (creatively named for being at the border of Inyo and Kern counties). This is one of the most depressing and desolate regions of California, and for that reason, it has an eerie, often disturbing beauty about it.

Gus's really good Beef Jerky

You know not much is around when they advertise for "really good" beef jerky 30 miles away.

The towns in this region are oft impoverished and decaying, but don’t judge them too harshly! They used to be flourishing (or something like that) centers of agriculture and mining until the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) bought out their water rights so movie stars could water their lawns. With little water, these towns lost the ability to sustain themselves, and thus remain a shell of their former states. You see, when you travel on 395, you’re not just seeing beauty, you’re experiencing history and suffering. Life isn’t just about joy and happiness – it’s about completeness, and part of that is experiencing sorrow, angst, and continuous drought.

Prosperity!

But don’t worry: the alienation won’t last long. Before you know it, you’ll enter into the Owens Valley: one of the deepest valleys in the United States, surrounded by 14,000 foot mountain ranges on both sides. Although LADWP tried its best to completely destroy this region too, the towns continue to try to maintain a vibrant Old West feel. Against the backdrop of the Eastern Sierras, the Owens Valley has a humbling character.

There are two excursions near the town of Lone Pine I highly recommend:

1) Whitney Portal Road: Is the desert too hot? No worries, climb a 13-mile road 4,000 vertical feet to the lush Inyo National Forest and John Muir Wilderness to see the tallest mountain in the US outside of Alaska: Mount Whitney (around 14,500 feet). While you can’t climb Mount Whitney from Whitney Portal without securing an entry permit (nearly impossible), you can enjoy a brief picnic amongst the granite, forest, and creek with a stunning view of the desert beneath you and an even more stunning view of the mountains above you.

It's close, but not as close as you think.

2) Manzanar: the Owens Valley isn’t all Old West and wilderness. Manzanar is the most famous Japanese internment camp from World War II, and sadly, you’ll probably be the only tourist there. A minute on the grounds of Manzanar will make you realize why the US government chose this of all places to relocate the Japanese; in the middle of a vast desert and up against the Sierra escarpment, there is nowhere to escape. To the west is an impassable wall of killer mountains stretching hundreds of miles in each direction and dozens of miles wide. In every other direction, there is no water, no shade, and no civilization.

One tours Manzanar via a 3-mile driving loop that takes you around the camp, pointing out where certain buildings used to be. Most striking is the cemetery at the far end of the loop, which is marked by a stubby obelisk with a Japanese character, standing alone against the backdrop of the cold, hardened, indifferent Sierras.

Alone in Manzanar

At the end of the Owens Valley is the bustling Western town of Bishop, CA. Bishop, unlike its oft sleepy neighbors, has active recreation and tourism. Many pass through Bishop on the way to mountaineering or skiing, and hence it has a relatively lively restaurant and bar life, not to mention the most randomly placed best bakery in California: Eric Schatt’s Bakkery.

But before you get to Bishop, the Ancients await…

Part 2 – the White Mountains

To the east of the Owens Valley lies the White Mountains of California, and in the White Mountains live the oldest living things on Earth.**** These would be the Bristlecone Pine trees, which are claimed to be around 4,000 years old. When Moses parted the Red Sea, these trees were already investing in their retirement.

They're also kind of ugly.

While the Bristlecone Pines might be the most appealing reason to take the short detour into the White Mountains, the mountains themselves provide an exquisite view of the Sierras opposite the valley. Additionally, White Mountain Peak, the tallest of the White Mountains and the third tallest mountain in California, is an easy (if you have the lungs of a Tibetan monk) and fascinating hike through barren alpine tundra.

The soil isn't ideal for farming.

Part 3 – Mammoth Lakes area

Once you leave Bishop, you’ll immediately climb a couple thousand feet out of the Owens Valley and into Mono County. Suddenly, things are greener, trees are more plentiful, and mountains are closer. Also, you’re miles away from arguably the best ski resort in California: Mammoth Mountain. But watch out! Mammoth Mountain is due to explode, and might actually kill you in your sleep.

After hitting up the Mammoth Lakes Brewery, which, as of writing, gives you a free sampling of all of their beers, you can descend into Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America, which was almost killed by none other than the LADWP (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) until a lawsuit forced the company to restore the lake. This is good news for the birds of the USA, many of whom use the lake as a migratory rest stop (up to 80% of the country’s seagulls). In addition to being a haven for birds, it’s also chillingly beautiful with its unique calcium tufa columns.

Lake Tahoe's great-grandpa

After you’re done with Mono Lake, you can sample Lee Vining’s $5.00/gallon gasoline and during the summer months, take Tioga Pass into Yosemite. But that could be a whole new road trip, so allow us to continue northward into the picturesque anus of California…

Part 4 – California’s butt-crack

Just north of Mono Lake lies Bodie, an infamous ghost town known back in its day for lawlessness, inhospitality, horrible weather, daily murders, and burning down all the time. It’s also a royal pain in the ass to get to due to the poor condition of its dirt road which is often closed in the winter (in other words: all the time). Although it’s a pain in the ass, Bodie is well worth the detour and car damage. The town hasn’t changed much since the 1940’s, even though it very well looks like it could’ve been right out of the 1860’s.

"Goodbye, God. We're going to Bodie."

A couple miles down the road from Bodie is Bridgeport, the site of the Mono County courthouse. There’s not much to do in Bridgeport other than look at how adorable it is.  However, you can go to the Mono County Museum, where you can pay two or three dollars to learn about the way of life in Mono County!  Yipee!

Beyond Bridgeport is the Toiyabe National Forest and a canyon that runs into the Antelope Valley. At this point, you can opt to take Highway 89 up to the most isolated county in California, Alpine County – but watch out: Alpine County has a tendency to be closed for the winter. If you actually have the fortune of entering Alpine County, the largest town and county seat is Markleeville. It is literally a stretch of road about a football field long with a booming population of 200 people, although I have really no idea where those 200 people live.

Alpine County was kind of my White Castle for this trip.

When you reach the casino sticking up out of the middle of nowhere, you know you’re in Nevada, and your road trip is over. But! If you’re feeling adventurous, continue on to Reno and then to Northeast California, because if you do, you could be the only person you know that has ever stepped foot in Modoc and Lassen Counties.

Part 5 (Optional: proceed at your own psychological risk) – The Forgotten and Neglected Northeast California

I call this part of the road trip optional because, unlike the preceding stretch of US-395 described above, the beauty displayed in Northeast California is not stunningly glorious and diverse. In fact, it’s often drab, depressing, and a little frightening. And because of that, I love it. You see, you really can find beauty in the most unexpected of places if you approach it with the right frame of mind.

Upon reentering California from your brief stint in Nevada (you know, the part that isn’t Vegas), you will drive through exactly two incorporated towns in the next roughly 200 miles. This is the California people don’t know about: civilization is sparse and transportation is limited. Cows outnumber people, and dilapidated barns and warehouses outnumber cows. Yes, this is Lassen County***** and Modoc County. Welcome to the most alienated psychological environment in California. I can only show pictures.

The natives of the land.

The windmill just wants someone to talk to. Someone who listens.

At least the neighbors look welcoming.

Congratulations with the completion of the road trip!  Good luck on your ten hour drive in the opposite direction back to civilization!

P.S. Lassen County is most known for its high security Pound-Me-In-The-Ass prison, so don’t pick up any hitchhikers.

 

* actually not true.
** Pacific Coast Highway
*** a term for Southern Californians used probably only by me
**** arguable
***** interesting tidbit about Northern California counties: Mount Lassen is in Shasta County. Mount Shasta is in Siskiyou County. Absolutely nothing is in Lassen County. Ta da!

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About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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68 Responses to US-395: The Best Road Trip in the Country

  1. Pingback: When bad decisions lack consequences: an (uneventful) Anecdote | Doctor Quack

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  3. Thank you for such a great description. I’ve just moved to SoCal and will be using this post as a guide for a weekend getaway!

  4. Kenny Galdeen says:

    I sorta did this trip in reverse order this week. I had business in both Reno, NV and Mira Loma, CA. So I drove down from Reno – via Lake Tahoe – to Highlands, CA. In one day. It was FANTASTIC!! In fact the reason I am on this blog is because I Googled to see if there were any articles on this route being a road trip. This is my first excursion to the West (I live in Cincinnati) and what an introduction to CA. I am not even going to venture to the Ocean. There is no way it can compare to the views I saw along 395. I hope to bring the family out sometime and do this trip again. Of course I will take more than 9 hours to do it next time.

    Oh yeah – I paid $5.09 for gas just past Lake Mono.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      It makes me so happy to hear that you did this trip, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. As I said in the post, I think the eastern part of California is incredibly underrated, and it’s a shame most people associate California with the coast and only the coast. Surely the coast is beautiful, but what you can get along 395 is something you really can’t find much else. There’s certainly a lot of ugliness too, but that’s part of the charm.

      How did the daylight hold up while you were driving, and was there any snow left on the Sierras to your west?

      • Kenny Galdeen says:

        I had daylight until just north of Lone Pine. There was a lot of color to the sky as I pulled into Lone Pine, it was pretty dark from there south. There was still snow on the Sierras, and the mountain passes were still closed from the winter.

        Since I was alone for this trip I was able to enjoy some of the ugly charm in my own little way. Wondering about life in that area and how things have/haven’t changed for the people living in those towns from generation to generation.

      • Doctor Quack says:

        I’m only learning about it myself, but as I understand those towns used to be rich agricultural communities until the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power bought the water rights way back. Since then, they’ve been drying out and decaying, which is truly unfortunate.

      • rickyjacobs says:

        A quick question, Dr. Quack — I’m taking this trip north-to-south in early May (celebrating my 70th that way). Are the 30 miles from Randsburg to Adelanto a part of the beauty and worth traveling? Or should we turn around and retrace our steps after Red Rock Canyon State Park (or thereabouts)? We’re planning on lots of hikes along the way. (Starting from Oakland, to 395 via Markleeville, and slowly south to Red Rock Canyon, then Randsburg and back…Unless you think we should definitely take in the view to Adelanto…) Thanks so much for your advice. RJ

      • Doctor Quack says:

        Admittedly, I’ve never driven that stretch of 395. At Inyokern / Ridgecrest / Indian Wells, I usually take CA-14 towards Palmdale/Lancaster.

        But if you’re going to be turning around anyway, I can’t imagine that stretch to be worth your time, unless you’re a fan of wide open spaces.

      • rickyjacobs says:

        Hmmm — I hadn’t thought about continuing on 14 after Red Rock Canyon…! Would you recommend a “side trip” along 14? Or just reversing at Red Rock Canyon?? Thanks so much for your fantastic input ~ RJ

      • Doctor Quack says:

        I would probably reverse at Red Rock Canyon. There isn’t much to see south from Red Rock Canyon, unless you want to go to Devil’s Punchbowl or all the way down to Los Angeles. It’s desert in the starkest sense of the word.

      • rickyjacobs says:

        Thanks so very much, Dr. Q. Let me know if you have a P.O. Box — I’ll send you a souvenir of the trip!

  5. My weekend getaway turned into a 3-week adventure. The only plans at the start were to travel north on 395, and I had so much trouble staying the course. I detoured to Route 66, Death Valley, and then across Nevada. Just posted the first two days of the trip. Good thing is I liked parts of it enough and missed enough to have plenty of reasons for a return trip. My goal is to eventually make it on 395 to Canada!

  6. Kim says:

    Thanks for the details and pictures! We are taking this route up to Yosemite and then up to Oregon on I-5…I am excited to see new side of California! Kim

  7. Kate Swytak says:

    I did a drive by a few years ago but want to really see the 395 this time, thanks. Top of my list are swimming in Mono Lake, spending 4+ hours in Bodie and walking around Manzanar, but there is just so much to do!

  8. Susanne zook says:

    Is this possible to do in the winter?

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Mostly yes, but sometimes no. Some of the mountain passes in US-395 close if there’s a storm. The desert portions are always open (from Olancha up to the Mammoth Lakes area), but between Mammoth Lakes and Tahoe gets a little dicey with the weather.

      Also, the road to Bodie gets closed until about May, and while you can walk in on foot via snowshoe or cross country skis, you wouldn’t be able to drive in. The same holds true for Alpine County communities like Markleeville.

  9. DrG says:

    Hi Doc, we’re a “stone’s throw” away from the US / Canadian border (Lynden, WA) and are hoping to drive Hwy 395 to Palm Springs, CA in early November, 2014. We have a great all-wheel drive vehicle and are accustomed to driving in winter conditions. What advice do you have for making this drive in early November … and are there any added bonuses this time of year?

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Hi DrG. Sorry it took so long for me to reply (I was on vacation) and I hope you receive my reply.

      As far as driving 395 through Eastern Washington and Oregon, I’m not too sure what to expect in November, but I’m sure you have a pretty good idea living close to there.

      In Eastern California, early November should be still rather temperate, if not somewhat cold. Unless it’s a seasonably early winter, snow shouldn’t fall east of the Sierras until December, and considering how winters have been treating us lately, it will probably be dry until January. So while you should prepare for cold weather, I wouldn’t worry about adverse weather conditions making it dangerous or unpleasant.

      The bonus would be: since most of the drive east of the Sierras and into Palm Springs is a desert (and Palm Springs is in a particularly hot desert), doing the drive late in the fall should keep the weather from being unbearably hot the more south you get. Also, assuming it will not have snowed yet, most of the Trans-Sierra mountain passes should still be open, meaning you can make day trips into the Sierras from 395 (these passes close at the first snow fall of the season). This would be good for hiking, if that’s your thing, and driving to stunning vistas of the desert and surrounding mountain escarpments.

      So to summarize: upsides: 1) it shouldn’t be too hot or cold, 2) it probably won’t snow or rain on you, 3) access to surrounding mountain passes.
      downsides: 1) the foliage might be kind of dull (being late fall and assuming a dry summer and early fall), 2) if it hasn’t snowed, the Sierra Escarpment won’t look as scenic as it usually should be

      I hope this helps, and I hope you enjoy your trip.

  10. Vale Laurito says:

    Heyyyy I love your blog although so far I have only read about 2 articles. So we are driving to Reno for a Tool concert all the way from Riverside CA, why Reno you ask, well, my future ex husband bought the tickets without looking at other tour dates, such as San Francisco and or San Diego…hence the future ex husband joke. But the damage is done and Im all about traveling and seeing new things, specially when no one else seems to appreciate them, if its too popular Im not into it anymore. Totally doing almost all of the stuff you wrote about (probs not Bodie), my questions are….is it worth doing all of this on March 8-9, is it worth going to do a trail at Yosemite or should we plan this with more time later in the year, have you discovered any new stuff you could recommend, how long did this all take you and any quirky cool off beat places to stay in along the way if necessary?
    Thank so much and please keep writing!

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Hi Vale. It is worth doing this in March, but the weather will probably be quite cold still (or at least very cool), and depending on whether or not California has been getting any rain (I know California is in a record drought this year), the trans-Sierra passes will most likely be closed. This means it might not be possible to get over Tioga Pass and into Yosemite Park from the US-395 side. If you do this later in the year, like in the late spring or summer, the mountain passes will be open, and it’ll allow you access more outside of US-395.

      On that note, you might want to make sure the passes on US-395 are also open during that time, because the weather can get kind of dicey around Bridgeport, CA and Mammoth.

      I’m kind of a speedy tourist, so the whole route can take me two days (it’s only about nine hours or so of driving between Riverside and Reno). But if you want to see a lot, I can imagine taking three or so days to get there. It might also be worth stopping by Mammoth Brewing Company if you’re into beer. Last I was there was many years ago, so I don’t know if the tasting room has changed, but I enjoyed it. Bishop is kind of a cute, junky old west town that I often stay in, and Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ is a hit with all the tourists passing through.

      I hope you have a good time.

  11. Vale Laurito says:

    Muchas gracias Doctor Quack 🙂

  12. Vale Laurito says:

    Sight seeing, beer and bakeries are my favorite things so I will definitely be all over that! Thanks again.

  13. Stu Pudasso says:

    HOTSPRINGS !!! Many hotsprings along 395, much of it on DWP land, open to public. Some near Crowley Lake, Bridgeport, a small cooler one north of Reno. Markleeville is the entry to Grover Hot Springs State Park. 395 north of Bend OR up to the Columbia River is insanely lonely.

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Stu, I am headed up 395 from Phoenix to Oregon in a couple of weeks and want to hit the hotsprings! Can you give me more details or point me to a resource? Thank you.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    What do you think about driving this route at the end of July? I’m planning to head from Orange County, CA, to Portland Oregon… Would that be a bad idea in the heat?

    • Doctor Quack says:

      It’d be hot, but it wouldn’t be prohibitively hot. It depends on your heat tolerance. The Owens Valley is pretty high in elevation: about 4,000 feet. So other than driving through the low-lying parts of the Mojave Desert, it should be a maximum of 100 degrees, and probably around 90 degrees usually. Of course, once you get into the Lake Tahoe area and into Northern California, it should be perfectly fine. As long as you have air conditioning, I’d recommend it.

      The worst part about doing it in late July would be the lack of scenic snow on the Sierra Crest. But all the roads would be open if you wanted to go to Bodie or do a side trip over some trans-Sierra mountain pass.

  15. Mark says:

    I’ve done Hwy 395 from Mono Lake to Lone Pine, now I want to do the rest. For some unknown reason I’ve always wanted to see what Goose Lake and Alturas are like so I’ll probably start there and end up in Hesperia. Thanks for the great travelogue.

  16. rickyjacobs says:

    A road trip south on 395 has been on my bucket list for quite some time, and now a plan is in the works to celebrate my 70th next spring doing just that. I love your irreverent, informative and funny blog. Two questions: 1) Would you say the best time to go would be May/June? 2) For old geezers who gave up camping a decade or three ago (oh those hips in a sleeping bag!), any suggestions of bedbug-free places to stay along the way? Am psyched for this trip, and so appreciative of your blog. Thanks very much. Ricky J.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Hi Ricky,

      First of all, thank you for your kind words, and happy early birthday (or belated birthday).

      The advantage to going in May/June is that the weather will be warm (not too hot) and the Sierra Crest should still theoretically have snow on it (if it actually precipitates this year in California. I’m not sure if you’re from around here, but we’re in a massive, historic drought). The snow is a very nice scenic touch. Later in the summer, it looks kind of drab.

      The only problem with May/June is that a lot of the mountain passes may still be closed for snow over the Sierras, and perhaps into Bodie as well. That depends on the level of snowfall in the winter, so if there is little snowfall, this is probably not a problem.

      In short, yes, May/June would be an excellent time to go.

      As far as bedbug-free places to stay, I’m uncertain. I usually stay in cheap motels, of which there are a couple in every town along the way, but they’re often of questionable cleanliness. Larger towns like Bishop should have better accommodations than smaller ones like Independence, but I can’t recommend one place over another.

      • rickyjacobs says:

        Thanks so much for your reply, Dr. Q. I’m from Oakland, so it will be easy to keep an eye on the precipitation (or its absence) over the next several months. I hadn’t realized the route to 395 via Tahoe might also be blocked. I had hoped it would be a workaround to Tioga Pass. Hmmmm… Dilemma. In any case, I will let you/your readers know of any good places to stay along the way if we find some.
        Much appreciation for this terrific blog of yours.

      • Doctor Quack says:

        I-80 is always open, and I believe US-50 is too (although I’ve never driven it). Tioga Pass and all the other passes between US-50 and CA-178 are usually closed for the winter, and depending how harsh the winter is, they could be closed until June (at the latest, I’d imagine).

        You can check for road closure updates on this website: http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi

  17. Jdbrawn says:

    Great review, how is 395 as a truck route. Driving from LA to Reno to vend at a motorcycle rally starting 9/22. Towing a 48 ft trailer and wondering about how twisty 395 is.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      It’s mostly pretty good. It’s completely straight from Victorville to Bishop. After Bishop, it takes some turns, but it’ll still be fine with a trailer. The only concern is after Mono Lake, it gets a little curvy over a mountain pass, and then follows a canyon to the Nevada border. It’s definitely a manageable truck route, but those stretches would require care and diligent driving.

  18. Mark says:

    I just did the 395 trip starting in Alturas and ending in SoCal. it’s a great drive and the only thing I disagree with is the description of Northeast California. I thought it was beautiful. Don’t miss it! I spent a night in Susanville and in Bishop. Don’t miss the side trip to Markleeville, it’s well worth it. The trip up to the bristlecone pines was beautiful, but took much longer than I was expecting. Finally, don’t miss Manzanar. The US Park Service has done a great job of creating an interesting and educational experience. Most people don’t even know that the US government imprisoned our own citizens for fear of their “allegiance” to Hirohito. South of Manzanar is pretty much nothing. Just lots of hot flat desert that leads to more hot flat desert. Overall a great trip that I would do again.

  19. Jen Luetgens says:

    This looks great! Do you know if this route would be open in the winter? I’m hoping to head up to Lake Tahoe from Death Valley via 395 in late December, but I’m not sure how realistic that plan would be given winter conditions…

    • Doctor Quack says:

      That’s a good question. I believe it should be. If there’s a particularly heavy snow, US-395 might be closed at Conway Summit just north of Mono Lake, but I do believe they plow US-395, and so it should be open throughout the winter with the exception of certain heavy snow days.

  20. Anniep says:

    Hi, loved all the info and the photos. Will be driving from Reno to Las Vegas in beg of June via 395. Value your opinion of best route – Bishop to Beatty, or Lone Pine to Beatty, or Big Pine to Beatty.I guess I am looking for the safest route. Thanks

    • Doctor Quack says:

      If you’re coming from Reno, Bishop, Big Pine, and Lone Pine are all along 395 on the way to Beatty. If you mean that you plan on turning eastward off of 395 at one of those three cities, then Lone Pine would probably be the most well-traveled and thus probably the safest. You also get to enjoy the view of the Eastern Sierras longer, and you get to go through Death Valley, which is a bonus. Death Valley has some pretty steep grades though, so as far as safety is concerned, that might or might not affect your decision.

  21. Anniep says:

    Thanks so much.We will def go via Death Valley. We were just going to drive 95 all the way until I found your info by chance. I am planning which of your sites to stop and see.Thanks again.

  22. Mark Atchley says:

    We are planning on traveling up 395 from Mojave to Susanville the 3rd week in May 2015 in our 40′ motorhome, towing a car. Do you foresee any issues with any sections that might be too steep (up or down) and/or too curvy (I would not take CA1 for this reason)?
    Thanks for all this great info,
    Mark

    • Doctor Quack says:

      I don’t think curvy is an issue. If CA1 is your limit of curvy, 395 is much, much straighter than CA1.

      As far as steepness goes, there are some decent grades that you should be aware of. In Mono County, coming out of Bishop towards Mammoth Lakes, as well as between Mono Lake and Bridgeport. They’re not that steep in my opinion, but I’ve never driven a motorhome while towing a car. I’d say maybe 6%-8% grade if I had to guess.

  23. alex says:

    heading up to carson city nevada. from the lancaster area. is the 395 curvy. i am travelling with kids and want to avoid car sickness as much as possible. also would like to avoid curves in night time driving. thanks.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      It’s not too curvy. It’s a straight shot up from Lancaster all the way to Bishop with almost no curves whatsoever. Through the Mammoth area, it’s not bad, but it’s not completely straight either. I’d say you’re fine.

  24. Jim says:

    We’re planning on stopping overnight about halfway from Los Angeles to Reno. Can you recommend a good place to stay overnight with a three year old? It would also be a bonus if there was some interesting sites to visit while we are in the area for a few hours. Can you also recommend a good place along the way to buy gas.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Hi Jim, there isn’t a single motel or hotel in particular I recommend staying, but there is no shortage of them along 395, and I think Bishop probably provides the most choices and is the largest of those towns. It’s also roughly halfway. But most of the things to see are the surrounding mountain areas. It might be better to head up a little further to the June Lake area. There are accommodations there (albeit less of them), but it’s in an area with a lot of lakes, which might be a little more fun for a three year old than mountains. I hope this helps.

      P.S. If you stay in Bishop, Erick Schat’s Bakkery is the most popular food establishment in town.

      • rickyjacobs says:

        I took this road trip in May (with guidance from Dr Quack’s terrific blog), and my only complaint is that I didn’t allocate enough time! About 40 miles south of Lone Pine are Fossil Falls, which might be fun to investigate with your child close at hand. I recommend staying at the Best Western in Lone Pine over the fusty Dow Villa. The Best Western Frontier is long-time family owned, and includes a good breakfast, for less money: 760-876-5571. I loved the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, but I don’t think a 3-yr-old would find it that captivating. Just south of Olancha (I think Quack accidentally said north) is a captivating sculpture garden, which might be interesting for a young child and the parents. In June Lake, I recommend staying at the June Lake Motel (not room 111. Go for room 112 if it’s available — beds are bad in 111, good in 112). 760-648-7547. June Lake Motel is also privately owned, reasonably priced, and many rooms have kitchens! Seeing the tiny brine shrimp in Mono Lake might be fun for your child. Mono Lake is such a trip for anyone! The community center (in Lee Vining) would be a good place to stop to ask about kid-friendly things to do around there. (The tram in Mammoth might be fun.) Gas is expensive along 395, but if you go to the Mobil on 120 (just off 395) you can get good food at the Whoa Nelly Deli when you’ve filled up your tank. Your child might get a kick out of one of the hot springs (Wild Willy, near the Mammoth airport) or Travertine (in Bridgeport). This is a FANTASTIC road trip ~ have a great time!

  25. Laura says:

    I’m currently on day 1 of my 395 road trip coming from Southern California I went up to Yosemite and plan to do whatever feels right on the way back down south, I did a Google search to try and prioritize the rest of the 395 trip & came across this blog… and I am SO glad I did!! Your sense of humor is such a breath of fresh air while I’m sitting in this $104 extremely crappy, no jacuzzi having “lodge” in Lee Vining with no living, breathing human being around to speak to. This really helped with planning out my next few days, thank you!!

  26. Pattie says:

    Love your blog. Husband, grandson, and myself are trying to plan a trip. Will try to shorten the details. Land in Reno, next month, approx July 18. Have about 8 days to work with, not inc flight days. Husband and g.son son want to do an Adventure Pass thing at Heavenly, and also a white water rafting trip in Lotus, CA. We also would like to do a road trip on 395, heading south, given where we will be. Still on the fence about Yosemite because of lack of time to be able to devote to it. Trip is a high school graduation present for grandson. His #1 request is to see mountains. Although traversing them might be an issue for me, unsure of altitude issues. I had originally seen the Tahoe/Yosemite loop drive option, and it seemed like a great idea. But the Tioga rd part of it got me a bit worried.
    Any thoughts or ideas you might have for us would be very much appreciated.

  27. mcinlv says:

    Dr. Quark. I’m driving from Vegas to Bridgeport, Ca. next weekend. Since 395 is longer, I had originally planned on 95 north out of LV, but now I’m not so sure of the roads once crossing into CA north of Beatty, NV. Not very many places to stop, probably poor cell phone service, etc., etc. Have driven 395 a few times before, but from So. Cal. many years ago. Your thoughts/opinions?

    • Doctor Quack says:

      I wouldn’t be too concerned about the roads in California north of Beatty. As long as you fuel up at your best opportunities and get snacks, I imagine you’ll be fine. US-6 to CA-120 from Coaldale to Lee Vining is extremely empty, and you’ll likely lose cell service from time to time, but that’s a risk one has to take when driving in the vast emptiness of the Great Basin.

  28. Cathy S says:

    We drive from Oregon to the end of 395 at the 15 in California a lot !!
    BEAUTIFUL Drive

  29. Dale Shaffer says:

    Hey Doc,
    Just a little note to tell you thanks for this write up. I am doing the drive from DV to Reno as the pass through Yosemite will be closed.
    My end game is San Fran but am taking the long route…just to see another Google find in Reno…Sun Valley Trailer Park…. I too like the oddities on my road trips.

  30. Mitch Bligh says:

    Hi. This blog is amazing, great work!
    My family and I are coming over to LA to visit friends in early April. We will spend a couple of days in LA, then a couple in Palm Springs, then another couple in Joshua Tree. We were tossing up then travelling to Yosemite via Fresno or traveling up the 395 to Lake Mono area. We have 4 or 5 days only. I get the impression that the 395 will be a much more interesting route despite the fact that we won’t be able to get to Yosemite via that route, that time of year. It sounds like it may be worth the sacrifice.
    I have two questions:
    1. You mention there are many accommodation options on the 395. Do you think we need to book cheaper hotels this time of year or would we expect to find plenty of vacancies along the way? This would give us maximum flexibility.
    2. If we were to travel up the 395 could you recommend a route that would take in different things on the way up and back, rather than straight up and down the same road? Perhaps take in Death Valley somehow? I realise we’d have to retrace our steps a bit but that’s ok, just looking for options.
    Thanks.
    Mitch

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Hi Mitch. Thanks for posting. I do have to say: Yosemite is quite something to behold, so you might want to reconsider going through Fresno to get to Yosemite, since it’ll likely be closed from the East. Then, if you wouldn’t mind the extra driving, you could keep going north and cross the mountains at Tahoe (US-50) which is open during the winter, and then come back down 395. That would allow you to take in different things up and down, but it would also force you to drive a couple hundred extra miles.

      Otherwise, going back through Death Valley would be a good option for the return trip, although it’s no clear shot through and you would be backtracking a little bit. Continuing south from Death Valley is the Mojave Preserve, one of my favorite places for its off-the-beaten-path peacefulness, and if you just keep going south from that, eventually you hit Joshua Tree, kind of.

      As for hotels, most of what’s along 395 is in the cheap Motel vein until you get to more resort places like Mammoth Lakes. I wouldn’t be too concerned about booking in advance. I’ve never not found vacancies.

    • Richelle Jacobs says:

      Hi Mitch ~ I travelled 395 in early May of ’15 and had no trouble whatsoever finding places to stay. It was nice not to have booked anything, allowing us the freedom to travel at our own natural pace. Bring your parkas, though, because as you travel north it may get cold (we hit a hailstorm at Bodie State Historic Park.) Death Valley is a great idea for a side trip, though not sure about the weather there in April. Going up and down 395 wouldn’t be boring, though, because there’s so much to investigate that a return trip would just give you the chance to take in what you missed on the way up (eg Mt. Whitney, Convict Lake, the fossil formations, trails in Bishop, Galen Rowell’s store in Bishop, a Mono Lake boat tour, other lakes along the way.) This was a magnificent road trip — you’re in for a treat if you decide on this route!

      Richelle (from Oakland, CA)

  31. Mitch Bligh says:

    Thanks for the reply and for your epic Tahoe suggestion. I like the idea. We may be taking on too much here, 1200 miles in 6 days, but it is a road trip and there’s too much to see not to see it! My main big question is accomodation. We will book a nice hotel in Yosemite asap but do you think we will be able to find cheap motels for the rest of the time without booking? It will be Easter and Spring Break but I’m not sure on how it would impact us. Any advice or notes on this trip appreciated! Here’s what I’ve come up with:

    1st, 2nd & 3rd Palm Springs BOOKED
    4th & 5th Joshua Tree. Air BnB BOOKED
    6th 2 hour Drive to Mojave National Park. Drive through park checking out Hole in the wall (1.5 mile walk) Kelso Dunes. Kelso Depot Museum. Lava Beds. Joshua Tree forest. Sunset in Baker very nice. Stay in Baker. Small and not much to see but we will be tired! Or travel a bit further north to save some time next day.
    7th Lone Pine via Death Valley. Early start. Highway 190 and take in the awesome views from Dante’s View (2 Hours) then Zabriskie Point (1/2h), and then onto Furnace Creek (10 mins). Check the visitor center to get oriented, see the exhibits. Drive down to Badwater (20 mins) and experience the lowest place in North America. Turn around at Badwater and take the scenic Artist Drive on the way back up to Furnace Creek (40mins). Badwater road should have lots of wildflowers with a bit of luck. Lot’s to see here. Drive 2 hours to Lone Pine to stay. 5 hours and 40 minutes driving today but lots of stops. 13 hours of daylight available to us.
    8th Up early then drive to Tahoe. From Lone Pine 4 ½ hours. I imagine a very scenic drive. Stay Tahoe.
    9th Early start in Tahoe then drive to Yosemite 4hours Stay in Park. Make the most of the daylight!
    10th Yosemite All Day leave park in the evening and stay in cheap motel to the south.
    11th 5h drive to Anaheim taking in the scenery along the way. Stay near Disney overnight.
    12th Disney
    13th LA
    ———————————————-
    Thanks again for your input. You’ve already made my plans better! I cant wait to hear what you have to say. BTW, I will be travelling with my wife and kids 8 & 9 in an SUV.
    Cheers,
    Mitch

  32. Mitch Bligh says:

    Hi again.
    Can anyone help me with my main question? Dates are 6th to 11th April.
    “My main big question is accomodation. We will book a nice hotel in Yosemite asap but do you think we will be able to find cheap motels for the rest of the time without booking? It will be Easter and Spring Break but I’m not sure on how it would impact us.”
    Thanks so much!
    Mitch

    • Richelle Jacobs says:

      We traveled Highway 395 the first week in May a couple of years ago, and never had any trouble whatsoever finding accommodations along the way. So April should be just as easy. LOVED the trip. (Especially liked the Best Western in Lone Pine.)

  33. Mitch Bligh says:

    OMG, we had such a great time! What a beautiful country you have. Joshua Tree was a bit of a highlight as was Yosemite. Thanks for your help!

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