Highway 395 has been a favorite drive of our since Jeff and I were both kids. We each have fond memories or road trips with our respective families, frequently heading to Mammoth — his family for skiing, my family for hiking and camping. Since getting married three years ago, Jeff and I have taken our own kids on Highway 395 Road Trips in 2010 (all the way to Oregon) and again in 2011 (for a Mammoth vacation). The majesty of 395 scenery is just as breathtaking as we both remember fro childhood, but — fortunately for you — the highway is now wider and much better maintained.
U.S. Route 395 is a U.S. Route in the western United States. The southern terminus of the route is in the Mojave Desert at Interstate 15 near Hesperia. The northern terminus is at the Canadian border near Laurier, where the road becomes Highway 395 upon entering British Columbia. At one time, the route extended south to San Diego. I-15 replaced the stretch of 395 that ran from San Diego to Hesperia. Old 395 can be seen along I-15 in many locations before it branches off at Hesperia to head North.
— Source: Wikipedia
Whether you are heading to Lone Pine to climb Whitney, planning an active vacation in the Mammoth area, or are taking a cushy road trip in the family motorhome, every Californian and visitor to California must drive historic Highway 39 at least once in their life.
Following are our recommendations for fun, educational, family and dog-friendly Mammoth-area sites and activities that are easily accessible along beautiful Highway 395. While we have a bunch of outings in the Mammoth region, in this post, we’re just focusing on ones you can easily access right off of Highway 395. Click on each header for the complete write-up on the activity.
Convict Lake is one of the many spectacular crystal blue lakes situated around Mammoth — about 10 miles away from town, right off Highway 395, across from the Mammoth/Yosemite Airport. The lake, creek and surrounding peaks get their name from an ambush that took place here on September 17, 1871, when escaped prisoners from Carson City killed two members of the posse sent to capture them.
We spent a gorgeous sunny afternoon renting a boat for half-day to soak in the beautify of this majestic lake with the kids and our dog. Visitors can rent pontoon boats, motor fishing boats, canoes, or kayaks to fish, explore the lake, and just have fun.
If you have a high clearance vehicle (it doesn’t have to be a 4WD), spend an hour off-roading to a spectacular overlook above Convict Lake. Even if you have or will spend time boating, fishing, or hiking on the lake, you can’t get these kids of views from lake level.
Your buddies or kids will get a kick out of the bumpy windy dirt roads, and chances are very good that you will get to see real live cowboys at work herding cattle through the area.
This excursion can easily be done the same day as boating on the lake, and visiting Hot Spot Geologic Creek. It would also make a great mountain biking ride.
Hot Creek Geologic Site is the home to an active geothermal spring — which includes geysers — situated in the Long Valley Caldera, a 20-mile long valley at the base of Mammoth Mountain formed from a volcanic explosion 760,000 years ago. It is located 8 miles east of Mammoth Springs, off Highway 395, near the airport. An adjacent fish hatchery makes this a very popular fishing spot — there’s even a nearby fishing resort.
The site is literally 10 minutes off Highway 395. The hot creek is just a 5 minute walk from the parking lot.
Inyo Craters are the southernmost craters in a 25 mile long chain that stretches from Mono Lake to Mammoth Mountain, and were . The first two both hold small lakes and were formed in the mid-14th century. This 1.25 mile round-trip hike is wort the brief detour off of Highway 395.
From Highway 395, exit Dry Creek Road (literally, a dirt road). Head west 2 miles up Dry Creek Road, then turn right on Forest Road 3S22 to get to the the trailhead.
This geologic formation, along with Devil’s Postpile, is one of my most memorable spots from childhood vacations with my parents.
Obsidian Dome is a mile-long 300 foot black glass high lava dome located near Mammoth Lakes and June Lake, California. The Dome is essentially a big pile of shiny black volcanic glass that was formed by an explosion (a Phreatic Blast) when magma reached the water table, turned the water to steam, cooled and then turned to rock. Located 2.7 miles off of Highway 395, this short detour affords a quick fun climb up a unique geologic formation that dates back to eruptions in 1350 CE.
View Road Trip: Historic Highway 395 in a larger map