I’m sharing a comprehensive guide to RVing along California Highway 395, with places we love and places we’ve been wanting to explore when we’re not driving through.
3. Bishop to Lee Vining / Bridgeport
The route shown has two detours off 395 marked, for Mammoth Lakes and June Lake Loop. You’ll want to leave additional time to stop and explore. Note that this stretch of 395 climbs into the mountains, so keep a close eye on weather advisories.
My first introduction to 395 was after we first moved from New York to Los Angeles, and would drive up to Mammoth Lakes for ski weekends. I couldn’t get over the spectacular scenery continuously unfolding before us during the entire six hour drive.
— Devils Postpile National Monument: We visited this geological wonder on that first family road trip six years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite places. The National Monument can be reached by a 13-mile drive from Mammoth Lakes on a winding mountain road. Note that vehicles over 25 feet are prohibited, and during the summer and busy weekends visitors must take a mandatory shuttle bus from town.
–– Rainbow Falls: Part of the National Monument, this spectacular 100-foot waterfall frequently features rainbows in the mist. Easy to pair with Devils Postpile, the Falls can be reached by a 5+ mile round trip hike, or drive/shuttle bus for a short walk to the top of the falls.
— June Lake Loop: This 16 mile-long scenic drive follows a horseshoe shaped canyon with four beautiful lakes and spectacular scenery. It’s easily accessible for RVs.
Lee Vining: This tiny town has a commanding location overlooking the expansive Mono Basin, and at the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park. If you’re driving through, stop in Lee Vining for lunch and a visit to Mono Lake.
We’ve eaten a few times at Nicely’s restaurant and always enjoy the classic roadside diner fare and decor. Whoa Nellie Deli, improbably located in a Mobil gas station, is well known for their sandwiches, but they are only open seasonally and we’ve missed out so far.
The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center has excellent exhibits about the ancient saline lake’s unique ecosystem. The easiest way to visit the shore of Mono Lake and get back on the road is to leave your RV in town and drive to the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve.
TIP: If you have more time, Mono Lake’s South Tufa area has a high concentration of tufas. Look for the turnoff before you arrive in Lee Vining. A 5-mile drive off 395 leads to a large parking area, with informational signs, restrooms, and a nature walk to the beach and among the tufas.
Lee Vining: Mono Vista RV Park is a family-run campground with shady grounds, great views, and full or partial hookups. It’s located in the center of town right on 395, in walking distance to shops, restaurants, and the visitor center.
Lower Lee Vining Campground – There are several National Forest dry camping options in the area. Lower Lee Vining is closest to town and has sites for larger rigs.
- TIP: Peer review sites campendium and thedyrt are great resources for researching campsite accessibility, RV size limit, and cell reception with details from RVers who have stayed at the campgrounds.
June Lake: There are also a few camping options around June Lake Loop, about 20 minutes south of Lee Vining, with a mix of National Forest and private RV parks.
Bridgeport: I love stopping in this town 30 minutes north of Lee Vining, with its pretty Main Street and nice selection of groceries, deli takeout, bakeries, and restaurants. There are a couple RV parks close to town with excellent reviews: Paradise Shores RV Camp and Willow Springs Motel & RV Park.
When we overnight again in the area, it will be tough to not return to Twin Lakes Resort. We stayed in an overflow campground, which we ended up loving for its peaceful setting. The classic summer resort itself has cabins, tent and RV sites, a store, cafe, and swim beach.
Mono Lake: As stunning as Mono Lake is from above, it’s a totally different experience to walk around the shore and get up close with the unique tufa formations. Check out the excellent visitor center for information on hiking trails, guided ranger walks, and even canoe tours.
Bodie State Historic Park: If you’re going to go to one Western ghost town, make it Bodie. Dozens of buildings in a carefully maintained state of disrepair provide an immersive experience into the past, and an incredibly photogenic backdrop. Be aware that in order to reach Bodie, you’ll be driving 15+ miles on a dirt and gravel road out and back from 395. Allow for extra time, and leave the rig behind.
Travertine Hot Spring: You could plan a whole itinerary around hot springs along 395. Travertine is well known and relatively easy to get too, which means you should expect to find other people there, or be pleasantly surprised to have it to yourself. Taking in the expansive views while relaxing in one of the two natural tubs is an unforgettable experience.
Yosemite National Park: Route 120, or Tioga Pass, is the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, at 395 in Lee Vining. The first thing to understand is that Tioga Pass is only open seasonally. The actual date all depends on the snow level. The pass has opened anywhere from April 15, to as late as July 1. If Tioga Pass is closed, you’re looking at a six hour drive around the Sierras to get to Yosemite.
When it is open, Tioga Pass is an incredible drive in its own right, with lots of scenic points before reaching Yosemite Valley. It’s also a challenging, winding mountain road, and takes about two hours to get to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
- TIP: It’s possible to drive an RV on Tioga Pass (tour buses take this route), but it requires mountain driving skills and will take longer than two hours. RV campsites that can accommodate larger RVs are extremely limited in the Park. Look for campgrounds in the gateway towns on the west side of the Yosemite, and use your tow car to visit the Park.
Next post… continuing north on 395 to Reno and beyond!