If you're in the Eastern Sierras, you have GOT to see...
June 30, 2011 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Things to do in the Eastern Sierras and Mono / Inyo counties, California! Your favorites?

I will be taking a series of multi-day backpacking trips this July in the Eastern Sierras as well as Yosemite and will be traveling up the 395, eventually coming into Yosemite from the east, so this question is specific to that general area. Due to extreme amounts of snow still in the high country, and high water levels from snowmelt...I *may* have to abort some of my planned excursions...leaving me with free time in this gorgeous part of the country. With that said, what are some things to see and do if I have to change my plans?

My primary interest with regards to this trip is photography (bakpacking being a means to that end), but other interests are hiking, local history, and anything active and outdoorsy. Also any interesting / picturesque towns to visit.

I have already looked into visiting some of the thermal springs in the area (for swimming), as well as Mono Lake and possibly Bodie Ghost town (although I have plans to visit Bodie later on in August anyway).

I would love any suggestions you might have!
posted by jnnla to Travel & Transportation around California (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is worth a visit, about 1hr east of Bishop. It's at over 10,000' so snow might still be a problem.
posted by Long Way To Go at 12:47 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Manzanar is certainly worth a visit.
posted by doctord at 12:56 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Galen Rowell's Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop. Devil's Postpile and the Earthquake Fault in Mammoth Lakes. Inyo Craters. And seconding the Bristlecone pines.
posted by zanni at 1:45 PM on June 30, 2011

If you like photography, I will add a second recommendation for Rowell's Mountain Light Gallery. You really wouldn't expect to find such a cool gallery way out there.

There is also the Laws Railroad Museum in Bishop. A great nugget of local history is the old Slim Princess railroad line. Most of the tracks are gone, but with a good map, you can find the ruins/foundations of the old stations.
posted by mintymike at 2:28 PM on June 30, 2011

The Alabama Hills west of Lone Pine are pretty neat and historic. In proper lighting, the area is quite striking for photography. There was a restaurant or bar in Lone Pine that had all kinds of old photos (there's probably more than one in town that has this) from when they used to film westerns out there. Nearby is, of course, is Whitney Portal to the trailhead of the climb to Mt. Whitney.

Death Valley is not all that far from there too.
posted by elendil71 at 3:13 PM on June 30, 2011

Best answer: Devil's Postpile is cool, as is taking the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain (stunning views).

June Lake is a very picturesque little town, and the whole June Lake Loop (all 14 miles of it) is lovely. If you drive it make sure to stop at the Rock Creek Lakes Resort for home-made peach pie. It's phenomenal but they sell out by 10:00AM most days.

If you're looking for hiking Duck Pass and Mammoth Crest is a wonderful 13 mile loop.

If you're up for something more adventurous, most of the California 14ers are accessible from the east side and many of them are doable as day hikes. Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the lower 48) is a 22-mile out-and-back (if you can get a permit).

If that's too tame for you the Russel, Whitney, Muir loop will get you 3 14ers in one day (some class 3 and 4 scrambling, and one spooky, exposed 5.4 move. Bonus is I'm almost positive you don't need a permit for the loop).

Going in Keersarge Pass to Bullfrog Lake will give you amazing views.

My MIL guides free tours of the South Tufa at Mono, memail me and I'll give you the details.

OK, I'll stop now, feel free to memail me for details or with specific questions.
posted by dolface at 3:18 PM on June 30, 2011

Well, in addition to Bodie, there's Masonic and the Mine above it.

Bridgeport is picturesesque, sorta (the Courthouse, definitely), and there's good hiking out of Twin Lakes.
posted by notyou at 3:21 PM on June 30, 2011

Dolface really knows his stuff, but I just wanted to clarify that Rock Creek Lakes Resort is not on the June Lake Loop, but is off 395 between Mammoth and Bishop.

It's been a few years since I've eaten there, but you can get surprisingly tasty food at the Tioga Gas Mart/Whoa Nellie Deli at the Junction of 120 and 395 near Lee Vining
posted by not.so.hip at 3:59 PM on June 30, 2011

not.so.hip is absolutely correct; I got all hot and bothered at the thought of that pie.
I meant to write Silver Lakes Resort which IS on the June Lakes loop.

That being said, Rock Creeks Lake Resort ALSO has fantastic pie (and not just peach) and there's good hiking to be had out of there too.
posted by dolface at 4:05 PM on June 30, 2011

So many good things...
Benton Hot Springs
Mono Lake!
Tecopa Hot Springs
Death Valley
June Lake
posted by sleepytako at 4:59 PM on June 30, 2011

Best answer: You're going to my favorite place! I hope the passes melt out so you can get into the back country!

Some photo specific suggestions (you should be able to find all easily on google):

Dawn at the Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills.
Dawn at Convict Lake.
Dawn at North Lake.
Sunset from the scenic viewpoint on the way to Conway Summit and on the Sherwin Grade.
Beaver Dams in Lundy Canyon.
Sunrise over the Owens River at Aberdeen Station Road with the sierras glowing pink in the background. Or really, sunrise from anywhere with any foreground with the Sierras glowing pink in the background!
Bristlecone Pine Forest at sunset (maybe sunrise too).

Climb White Mountain Peak! Easy 14-er, not as much snow.

Depending on what kind of car you have, there are lots of cool SUV/4wd (easy and not so easy) roads around. There are several books on Amazon about these.

Do you like rockhounding? Lots of spots toward the south (and toasty) end of 395.

Museum at China Lake Naval Weapons base. Petroglyphs to which you can arrange tours through the base somehow (but I've never done it). Actually, petroglyphs are supposed to be all over the darn place in the Owens Valley.

"The Deepest Valley" is a well written book with a great overview of the Lone Pine through Bishop region, with history, geology, hiking, driving, general interest stuff, without going into too much agonizing detail about each.

Cerro Gordo silver mines allows visits if you call in advance. And it's a really cool drive up to the mine (high clearance probably a good idea). There's a fossil bed up there that's up a truly spectacular road too, if you have a proper 4wd.

Near Owens Lake (Olancha), Keeler is still inhabited, but parts of it are fairly picturesquely rustic.

Shop for off season ski gear sales in Mammoth. There are outlet stores there too, which I hear you can get good deals at sometimes, even though they're in a resort town.

If you're super bored one day, there's a "Color Me Mine" and a movie theater in Mammoth.

Spring flowers around this time of year - try McGee Canyon.

Trail rides from South Lake, McGee Creek, Horseshoe Meadow, Red's Meadow, Rock Creek, maybe more.

Mountain Bike at the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park.

Explore the volcanic activity up there - obsidian dome, the cinder cones by Mono Lake, etc.

There is a Photograph America newsletter for the eastern Sierra, I think it's pretty good, but you probably already have it.

Just explore all the small roads, and drive up each canyon, as you head north. In the morning and evening. At noon, it can be pretty glary, hot and brown: head up a canyon and hike during that part of the day.

The canyons are very pretty to drive up, and there are lots of spots to stop the car, get out your hammock, go for a short or long hike, and have a snooze.

You might consider backpacking in the Domelands Wilderness instead, if you can't do one of your regular trips. Lower altitude, less snow. Not the same scenery, of course, but you still might like it.

There are tons and tons and tons of nice day hikes on the east side -- even if it's too snowy to go over the passes, you can most likely hike TO the passes and enjoy the view - the snow line is higher on the east side of the crest. There is alpine scenery very close to the car in the Eastern Sierra (sorry if this sounds condescending, it just sounds like you have't been before). Two weekends ago, in Lone Pine canyon (Whitney Portal), the snow had melted up to about 10,000 ft. I'm going up this weekend, to the South Lake area, and expect it to be around 10,500. Memail me if you want a report on Tuesday. This varies of course from canyon to canyon - the ones around Mammoth get the most snow.

Death Valley is neat, but maybe a little warm this time of year.

Rent a canoe or kayak on South Lake, Lake Sabrina, Convict Lake, Saddlebag Lake, any of the Mammoth Lakes, etc. You can also arrange excursions out onto Mono Lake if you want to photograph the island.

Eat lots of meals at the Mobil Station (Whoa Nellie Deli). They have an excellent bookshelf too - lots of books written by locals that you won't find at the actual visitors centers. Also shop for books at the Interagency Visitors Center in Lone Pine - they have a huge selection, but more mainstream than the Mobil.

There's a really nice (but basic) guest ranch in Bridgeport (Hunewill Ranch), don't know if they will have last minute availablity, but you never know. There are also fancy spas and nice restaurants in Mammoth if you're into that sort of thing.

Sorry to ramble on so long! Enjoy your trip.
posted by bluesky78987 at 11:10 PM on June 30, 2011

Just a couple more things about the Silver Lake area, the Frontier Pack Train offers hour-long, half- and full-day trail rides and is pretty much just next door to the Silver Lake Resort mentioned above. Besides the lake fishing, there's pretty good fishing on Rush Creek around the lake as well. And sometimes (depending upon the run-off), there are easily visible waterfalls high above and to the west of the Lake. (Yeah, I grew up there.)
posted by not.so.hip at 7:24 AM on July 1, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the great responses. I now have loads of information to go off of. I will definitely be checking out the Mountain Light gallery, and had totally forgotten about the Bristlecone Pine Forest...I'll just need to check on the snow levels. Dolface and bluesky...some really great info, may meMail you for some more details...sounds like you spend quite a bit of time in this area! I'm getting excited for this trip! Thanks everyone!
posted by jnnla at 10:38 AM on July 1, 2011

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