In any other state, Highway 395 would be the crown jewel of scenic drives. In California, 395 is easily overshadowed by Pacific Coast Highway 1. Both roads run north-south, with PCH famously hugging the coast, and 395 running along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada range, a hundred or so miles inland. (The ultimate California road trip includes both epic routes.)
Originating in the Mojave Desert in southern California, 395 continues into Nevada, northern California, and Oregon, although the best known section runs through central California. The scenery is straight out of an old Western movie (and has served as backdrop to many of them).
While the drive can be completed in a few hours, a whole vacation can be planned around the natural wonders and historical sites there are right along Highway 395 or a short detour away, including Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks.
I’ll be breaking up the route in separate blog posts.
When the kids were little we took our first family road trip vacation with stops along 395. In many ways that trip inspired our full time RV travels. Now that we live in Reno, 395 is the route we take to visit family and friends (and our RV mechanic) in Southern California. I’m grateful for such an incredibly scenic route, but at the same time I’m often wishing for more time to stop and explore.
There are lots of of blog posts and guides available for a Highway 395 road trip. For tent campers, offroaders, and off-the-grid RVers, opportunities abound for camping in National Forests and on BLM land. This guide is geared more towards RVers like ourselves: a family with a big rig and tow vehicle, preferring the convenience and connectivity of campground amenities paired with day trips.
Whether you have one night or two weeks, Highway 395 is an unforgettable experience!
1. Victorville to Lone Pine
With the start of Highway 395 in Victorville, the first portion of the drive is through open desert scrubland. Around Ridgecrest, the route parallels the Eastern Sierras for the next couple hundred miles.
As the map above shows, there are three National Parks in the area. While Sequoia and Kings Canyon aren’t accessible from 395, their location gives you an indication of the spectacular natural surroundings. This area includes both Mt Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, and the lowest elevation at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park – less than 150 miles apart.
Randsburg: About 70 miles outside of Victorville, the “living ghost town” of Randsburg is a quick pitstop off 395 that will transport you back in time. Take in the history of this old mining town and enjoy an old fashioned soda at the lively General Store.
Fossil Falls: A lesser known natural attraction, Fossil Falls is a unique field of volcanic rock formations. It’s close to 395, but reached by dirt road. Research RV size limitations and accessibility in advance.
Lone Pine is an ideal location for exploring, grabbing lunch, or just stretching your legs. We always enjoy the Western charm, great food, and spectacular surroundings.
If you’re driving through, stop at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center before you get into town. There’s plenty of space for RV parking, and outdoor informational signs if the visitor center is closed. Drive your tow car into the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, about 15 minutes away. Even if you don’t have much time, the best known hike to Mobius Arch is less than a mile.
A couple of the restaurants we’ve enjoyed in town are: Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery, The Grill, and Tacos Los Hermanos Food Truck. Vibras Juice bar is great for smoothies, coffee, and pastries.
On your way out of Lone Pine, save time for an easy detour to Manzanar National Historic Site, just a few miles north of town.
We like Boulder Creek RV Resort with full hookups and amenities just outside of town. We’ve only stayed for quick overnights, but it would be a great base for exploring the area.
Diaz Lake is an Inyo county park on 395, with campsites available around a pretty lake. No hookups, but the sites are paved, there are vault toilets, a playground, and cell service.
Portuguese Joe is another county park, just outside the Alabama Hills, with campsites that can accommodate RVs up to 30 feet. No hookups, but basic site amenities like a picnic table, grill, fire ring, and campground vault toilets are available.
RVs up to 30 feet can also stay right at the base of Mt Whitney, at the Whitney Portal BLM campground.
One day, I’d like to stay overnight in the Alabama Hills. There’s a rustic campground and dry camping spots available. Do your research beforehand and be prepared for no cell service, but the roads and sites are generally big rig friendly.
The following are my must-sees near Lone Pine. They can all be visited in one day, but of course the more time you have, the more you can explore these and other gems in the area.
— Alabama Hills: If it’s not already clear, the more time you can spend here the better! The Mobius Arch Trail is very kid-friendly, although there are longer and lesser known hikes to explore. Info and maps are available at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center.
— Museum of Western Film History: The distinctive art deco building on 395 is hard to miss. The museum features a treasure trove of film history: posters, props, memorabilia, and vintage photos from hundreds of movies, tv shows, and commercials that were filmed in the Alabama Hills and surrounding area.
— Whitney Portal: I have no advice about ascending Mt. Whitney, but information about permits for day use and overnight hiking can be found here. You can hike for a few miles before reaching the permit-required area, like this trail to Lone Pine Lake.
— Manzanar National Historic Site: I’m embarrassed to admit that we’ve never actually stopped here, although we have talked about its history with the kids when we drive by. Learning about the US government rounding up and incarcerating Japanese Americans during World War II is one thing, but seeing this site, so isolated and open to the harsh weather, is really powerful. NPS has a guide for visiting from an hour to a full day.
— Death Valley National Park: It’s possible to visit Death Valley in a day from Lone Pine. The park border is about 50 miles from town, with the Furnace Creek Visitor Center in another 50 miles. Death Valley is one of my favorite National Parks, and not to be missed for its diverse and dramatic landscapes. An additional night in Lone Pine will give you time to experience the Park, or, even better, plan on camping overnight.
Next post… continuing north on 395 from Lone Pine to Bishop!