Route 66. The Pacific Coast Highway. Virginia’s Skyline Drive. All iconic American road trips.
But this vast country of ours holds many more lesser-known — even secret — roads that few travelers have ever heard of, let alone explored. California’s Highway 395 is one such thoroughfare. It’s vast, remote, and breathtakingly beautiful. You could easily spend a month exploring every town, hike, and dirt side trail along its 557-mile stretch from Hesperia to the Oregon state line. But, here are its four can’t-miss sights.
Time-travel the Ghost Town of Bodie
Classic cars, abandoned homes, and rusted-out appliances — all spread across 500 acres of beautifully barren California wild land. This is Bodie, a perfectly preserved ghost town that feels plucked from a spaghetti western. At its peak in the late 1800s, it was home to 10,000 people, all looking to strike it rich during the state’s gold rush heyday. When the minerals dried up, so too did the town. Its residents fled in a hurry, and today nearly 170 buildings — including abandoned whorehouses, saloons, barns, and even hotels — remain in a state of “arrested decay.” Many of the interiors are still stocked with food and sundries as though the occupants just briefly stepped out. The National Park Service now manages the site and, for a small fee, visitors are free to tour the grounds. Note that the entrance road can become difficult, even impassable, during snowstorms and hard rain.
Eat at Erick Schat’s Bakery
There are few services — including gas, food, and essentials — along most of Highway 395. On arrival in the tiny town of Bishop, look for Erick Schat’s Bakery — a welcome sight for hungry roadtrippers. Since 1938, it’s been a staple of the local food scene. Gourmet cheeses, spreads, jarred foods, sweets, and pastries are all on offer and the counter also serves scratch sandwiches that are arguably the best of any deli around. Don’t miss the Sheepherder Bread — a traditional stone-baked loaf that put Schat’s on the map.
Explore the Alien Landscape of Mono Lake
Not far from where Tioga Pass Road joins Highway 395 lies Mono Lake. The lake’s iconic landscape is dotted with tufas — otherworldly geological formations unlike anything in the Eastern Sierras. The lake’s sky-high salt content provides the basis for a unique wetland ecosystem that attracts dozens of bird and mammal species, making it a great spot for wildlife-loving hikers. It’s also popular among in-the-know photographers who flock to the water’s edge at sunrise and sunset for spectacular photo ops.
Hike the Best Hikes in California
Some of the most notable points of exploration are just off 395. The base of Yosemite connects with Tioga Pass by way of a 45-mile stretch of Highway 120. The 6,000-foot elevation change provides a stunning and worthy road trip all to itself. Along the way, you’ll find sweeping panoramas of the Eastern Sierras and peeks at legendary Half Dome. As a bonus, nearby Tuolumne Meadows — one of the largest and highest elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada range at 8,600 feet — offers some of the best hiking in the state. Plan a spring trip when the meadow is at its greenest and lush with just-bloomed wildflowers.