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10 Jaw-Dropping Places to Explore in California's Eastern Sierra: HWY 395 Adventure Guide

Updated: Aug 16, 2023


The best things to do in California's Eastern Sierra

If you are looking for the best things to do in California's Eastern Sierra, you've come to the right place!


The Eastern Sierra is the remote east side of California's Sierra Nevada, which includes Mono and Inyo Counties. The rugged and impressive region is home to crystal-clear alpine lakes, granite peaks, hot springs, waterfalls, and more!


Highway 395 is the road that parallels the Eastern Sierra and provides access to some of the best hiking trails, turquoise lakes, and off-the-beaten-path experiences in California. Here are 10 jaw-dropping places to explore in California's Eastern Sierra.


You can also watch the video version here:


 

1. Parker Lake

Parker Lake near mammoth lakes california

Parker Lake near mammoth lakes california

Parker Lake is a 3.6-mile out-and-back trail near June Lake, California. The easy-going trail leads to a turquoise alpine lake that looks like it belongs in Glacier National Park. If you're looking for a short hike with a big reward in the Eastern Sierra, Parker Lake certainly won't disappoint.

 

2. Buckeye Hot Springs

Buckeye hot springs near bridgeport CA

Buckeye Hot Springs is located along the banks of Buckeye Creek near Bridgeport, California. To reach the hot springs, take HWY 395 to Buckeye Road and travel about 3.5 miles. Buckeye Road is a bumpy dirt road but 4WD isn't necessary.


You'll find a couple of small pools near the parking area that overlook the creek and have beautiful views of the mountains. You can soak in these before hiking down to the main hot springs.


Buckeye hot springs near bridgeport CA
Small hot spring pools near the parking area

My favorite part of Buckeye Hot Springs is the grotto-like waterfalls that cascade into the rock-walled pools. I found the temperature to be perfect, but some might find it to be a little hot. If that's the case, you can hang out in one of the cooler pools further down the hot springs.


Buckeye hot springs near bridgeport CA

Here's a video of Buckeye Hot Springs:


 

3. Twin Lakes

twin lakes in bridgeport california

twin lakes in bridgeport california
Lower Twin Lake near Bridgeport, California

About a 15-minute drive from Buckeye Hot Springs are Twin Lakes. Twin Lakes, comprised of an upper and lower section, are easily accessible, about a 10-minute drive off HWY 395. The lakes feature spectacular scenery and are a popular spot for fishing. There are cabin and boat rentals available at nearby Twin Lakes Resort.

 

4. Rainbow Falls

Rainbow falls in Mammoth lakes California

Rainbow falls in Mammoth lakes California

Rainbow Falls in Mammoth Lakes, California, is arguably one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the Eastern Sierra. At 101 feet, it's also the tallest. Its name comes from the rainbow that appears from its mist, and the best time to see it is mid-day when the sun is at its highest.


If you're visiting in the summer, you'll need to take the mandatory shuttle, which boards from the Mammoth Adventure Center. Here's a detailed post I wrote on visiting Rainbow Falls and nearby Lower Falls. It has all of the information you will need as well as a link to a video.

 

5. June Lake

June Lake in Mono County Califorinia

Located about 20 minutes north of Mammoth Lakes, June Lake is a picturesque alpine lake with the impressive Carson Peak as the backdrop. It's a popular spot for boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing. The area features a 14-mile scenic loop, known as the June Lake Loop, which offers plenty of beautiful scenery and a handful of lodging and restaurant options along the way.

 

6. Connes Lakes

Conness Lakes near Lee Vining California

Conness Lakes near Lee Vining California

If you are looking for a hike that ends with a set of stunningly blue turquoise lakes, then look no further than Conness Lakes! Conness Lakes are glacial lakes fed by the largest glacier in the Sierra Nevada north of Tioga Pass. Located near Lee Vining, California, off of Tioga Pass, the hike is 6.3 miles out and back and is rated moderate. I consider the Connes Lakes hike one of the most beautiful hikes in the Eastern Sierra region.


Here's a video of the Conness Lakes hike:


 

7. Twin Falls Overlook

Twin Falls overlook in mammoth lakes

Located in the heart of Mammoth Lakes on Lake Mary Road, Twin Falls Overlook is a scenic vista with sweeping views of the Mammoth Lakes basin. And the best part is that you don't have to hike to get to it; you can drive right up to the overlook. Once you've enjoyed the views from Twin Falls overlook, you can walk across the street and take in the scenery at Lake Mamie.

 

8. Big Pine Lakes

Big Pine Lakes hike near bishop California
2nd lake along the Big Pine Lakes hike

Big Pine Lakes hike near bishop California

Located near Bishop, California, the Big Pine Lakes hike features some of the most incredible scenery in the Eastern Sierra, but you'll have to earn the views. There are 7 Big Pine Lakes, numbered sequentially. Lakes 1, 2, and 3 are known to be the most scenic and look like they belong in Banff National Park with their turquoise water and the majestic Temple Crag in the background.


The Big Pine Lakes hike is a popular backpacking hike but can be done as a day hike if you hike to 2nd or 3rd Lake and then back. That being said, at 13 miles round trip and 3,000 ft of elevation gain, it's a challenging day hike. But the views are worth the effort.

 

9. Benton Crossing Road


Right off Highway 395, near Mammoth Lakes, is Benton Crossing Road. Benton Crossing is particularly scenic because it has a spectacular view of the Sierra Mountains. It also leads to several well-known hot springs near Mammoth Lakes including Wild Willy's and Hilltop Hot Springs.

 

10. Hot Creek Geological Site

hot creek geological site in mammoth lakes california
Brees Lookout at Hot Creek

Located about 15 minutes south of Mammoth Lakes is an area of active geothermal springs known as Hot Creek. The site is easily accessible, about 3 miles down Hot Creek Hatchery Road off HWY 395, and is free to visit.


From the parking area, you can walk down the Hot Creek Interpretive Trail, a short path that takes you along the creek bed. There are several signs along the trail that warn visitors to stay away from the scalding hot water and unstable terrain.


Tip: Just past the main parking area is an overlook called Brees Lookout, which has a perfectly lined-up view of the meandering creek and the Eastern Sierra Mountain Range.

 

I hope you enjoyed my guide to exploring California's spectacular Eastern Sierra. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss the latest blog posts, videos, and announcements! And of course, you can check out more adventures on YouTube and Instagram.


*Help keep the outdoors beautiful by Leaving No Trace.

 

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