An amazing weekend California road trip on Highway 395, what could be more fun? The California scenic highway 395 is arguably one of the best California road trips, if not the entire United States. One of our favorite things about living in California is that there are so many fun things to do within a short drive. Road trip! Paul and I spent 86 hours exploring destinations in Mono and Inyo Counties. While we’ve skied and backpacked in the Mammoth Lakes area, we’ve never ventured further north.
California 395 is often referred to as one of the West’s Best road trips. You’ll see a vast change of scenery along the way and breathtaking views. Driving North in California you first experience seemingly endless desert miles, rolling hills, sage, then the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Mount Whitney. As you continue North, this road trip continues to unfold with beautiful mountains and lakes.
There is more to do on an amazing road trip on California’s 395 than can be done in three days, so we settled on these highlights: the tufa towers at Mono Lake, the alpine beauty of Twin Lakes, the world’s oldest trees at Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Mazanar National Historic Site and the ghost town of Bodie. Our goal was to briefly see as much as possible so that we know which places we’d like to visit again. The wonderful part of this vacation is that it has a bit of everything: scenic natural wonders, history, tales of the old west, environmental causes, and recreational sports. Whatever you are into, you’ll find it here. This is a road trip you don’t want to miss!
For this California’s 395 adventure we opted for a loose idea of what we wanted to do. This is our favorite type of traveling, with no schedule. We basically pack up the car and see where the wind blows. For this trip we had three requirements:
- We had to be back Sunday afternoon, meaning only four days of travel ( 86 hours).
- Everything had to be dog friendly, we were bringing our fearful two year old golden retriever, Tucker with us.
- We are on a tight budget!
We packed the car with camping gear and left Orange County at 3pm on Thursday arriving near Mono Lake in the evening. Found a dispersed camping area and called it a night. We woke up early Friday morning and headed to Bodie State Historic Park..
Bodie State historic park
Bodie State Historic Park is heralded as America’s best preserved un-restored ghost town. During its heyday from 1877-1888 this remote gold and silver mining town held roughly 10,000 residents. After the mining was depleted, the town shrunk to a single caretaker within several decades. In the 1940’s it became an official ghost town and in 1962, California State Parks purchased it. Currently it is kept in “a state of arrested decay”. The buildings roofs, foundations and windows are repaired and stabilized, but not restored. Amazingly 170 of the town’s original buildings still exist, each containing its original artifacts.
Make sure that when you arrive you buy the $2.00 self-guided tour booklet. It’s worth every penny! It will tell you all about each building and the people who lived in there. Second, don’t miss the school house. Look in the windows! There are desks, books, even writing on the chalk board. There is an eerie sense in Bodie that kept reminding me of Stephen King’s book the Langoliers. Very few times in your life do you experience a place where people just leave. It’s almost as if they vanished. Usually when people move they take their belongings, yet that’s not the case here. It’s a strange, yet surprisingly wonderful.
Next we headed to Bridgeport where we stopped and received our fire permit at the ranger station (required to have a fire or use a propane stove in the back country). The ranger provided useful information including camping, hiking and restaurant ideas. She suggested lunch at The Barn because they have outdoor seating for our dog. The food was good. However, to our surprise, this cute little hamburger stand had the best sweet potato fries that we’ve ever had! Also, check out the court house on your way through town. Next, we ventured to Travertine Hot Springs.
Travertine Hot springs
The road that leads you to Travertine Hot Springs is a short distance (about a mile) and just behind the ranger station, simply follow the signs. There is one tub by the road, four tubs about 25 yards from the parking area and a few other small tubs scattered around the area. We have found that this type of undeveloped hot springs often provides the most colorful experiences. They seem to attract interesting characters. Many places openly go naked at sunset to allow more sensitive types to use the tubs during the day. Some hot springs are more modest, others openly nudist. This might sound strange, but each hot springs really has a different culture that we try to respect. The culture varies depending on the location.
Really what it comes down to is everyone is trying to have a good time and relax, but sometimes these characters will be more entertaining than others. This was the case at Travertine. Today featured an extraordinarily chatty 60 something year old man parading around outside the hot tub wearing only flip flops, two tattooed women taking naked photos of each other and one spry 80ish year old man only wearing an open white button down shirt and neckerchief.
Hot tub Story #8,341
You really need an idea of what the hot springs looks like in order to continue the story. It’s really a large mound of travertine rock, maybe 12 feet high, with hot water coming through holes. Surrounding the mound are about five small individual pools. If you lean back on the mound you can look out at a mind blowing view of the mountains.
We first saw this naked fellow go by carrying a pool hose and a pick ax. Odd, but nothing completely abnormal at a hot tub. Ultimately, he decided that our area suited him (pun intended). Instead of sitting in one of the four tubs, this old man scrambled up the rocks to the right of us doing amazing feats one wouldn’t expect from a man his age.
Initially, we were on one end of the pools and he was on the other. We leaned back on the rock, looking out to take the picture above. We wanted a picture that capture the amazing view we were seeing. When we turned around to take a selfie with the mountains behind us, we realized we weren’t alone. A mere inches away from our faces, pick ax in hand, Yukon Cornelius was hanging by one hand and trying to chisel out new water channels through the rock. After several swings of his ax (and nether regions), we decided we’d had enough fun and decided to leave for the next destination. Old butts aside, the views of the Sierra were stunning.
california road trip to Twin Lakes
We stayed at Paha Campground and found a spot right next to river.
Twin Lakes Campground from the US forest service is located next to the river at the beginning of the lake. It has lush vegetation, trees and flowers. We preferred this campground to Crags Campground, which is more brown and open. There is also a cute General Store. You’ll find stuff you need (matches) to stuff you just want (s’mores fixin’s). Everyone there was helpful and nice!