Designated a scenic route along much of its path through California, U.S. Highway 395 skirts the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.
The route runs through historical towns, follows tumbling streams, overlooks lakes, traverses ranch country and climbs several foothill summits. It provides year-round access to outdoor recreation on a network of connecting roads to alpine resorts, winter sports areas, fishing lakes and streams, campgrounds, hiking trails and mountain passes.
Southern Nevadans can reach U.S. 395 from several points, as far south as Barstow, Calif., using Insterstate 15 and California Route 58. A popular route to winter sports areas near U.S. 395 uses state Route 190 through Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park. One adventurous approach from Nevada leaves U.S. Highway 95 to twist and climb over Lida Summit and Westgard Pass to Big Pine, Calif., and then heads north to Bishop. This precipitous, 90-mile route runs near the ancient Bristlecone Pine preserve in the White Mountains. It also accesses Nevada’s remote Fish Lake Valley.
Many Southern Nevada travelers use the major access to U.S. 395 at Bishop, Calif., reached from U.S. 95 north of Tonopah on U.S. Highway 6 from Coaldale Junction, which passes Boundary Peak, Nevada’s highest point. Official designation for U.S. 395 as a scenic route begins at Bishop and runs north until the highway enters Nevada near Carson City. It covers 87 miles of Nevada and returns to California northwest of Reno.
The peaks of the Sierras rise abruptly from valleys along the eastern slope. Snow-fed creeks and rivers carve deep canyons and pool into lakes and reservoirs, creating an anglers’ paradise. Fish camps, rustic resorts and campgrounds near streams dot these canyons. Vegetation crowding the water in the canyons and stately stands of aspens cloaking mountain slopes make U.S. 395 one of the premier areas for fall color in the West, starting by the end of September.
U.S. 395 passes numerous areas with hot springs, reminders of the region’s active geology. The Hot Creek Geological Area with its blue sulfur springs is a small-scale Yellowstone. Hikers along the San Joaquin River on the trail to Devil’s Popstpile National Monument note bubbling hot springs in the river’s shallows.
Turn onto state Route 203, the road to Mammoth Lakes, popular for winter sports and a hub of summer activities. Stop at the U.S. Forest Service’s regional information center for maps and trail guides. The scenic views just keep getting better along this drive and then you top a summit to see an expanse of snaggle-toothed crags called the Minarets.
The nearby June Lake Loop is a popular 16-mile side trip off U.S. 395 north of the road to Mammoth for summer and winter recreation. The loop accesses June Lake Village and four mountain lakes favored by fishermen, boaters, campers and hikers.
Several roads leave U.S. 395 to reach passes through the Sierras when not blocked by snow. The Tioga Pass Road into Yosemite National Park is one of the most spectacular routes. It reaches Yosemite Valley through the park’s backcountry.
U.S. 395 links many historical towns proud of their Western heritage preserved in several small museums, restored vintage buildings and other attractions.
Near Bishop, take time to visit the Laws Railroad Museum featuring remnants of narrow-gauge lines that served logging, mining and ranching.
In Bridgeport, an 1880s schoolhouse displays collections of the Mono County Museum.
Bodie Ghost Town, a state historical park, lies a few miles off U.S. 395 near Mono Lake. Original buildings maintained in “arrested decay” preserve a colorful era when mining was king.
Briny Mono Lake with its strange calcite formations attracts visitors to the Mono Basin Scenic Area’s visitor center near Lee Vining. The lake’s brine shrimp attract large numbers of birds and many bird-watchers and photographers.
— Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.