Historic 395 Road Trip: Mono Lake to Nevada

See Part 1: Historic 395 Road Trip: I-15 to Bishop, California
See Part 2: Historic 395 Road Trip: The Mammoth Area

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.[1] 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

395 Road Trip from I-15 to Oregon

All packed up and ready for our 395 Road Trip from I-15 to Oregon in June 2010.

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 sites and activities that are easily somewhat accessible between Mammoth and the Nevada border, which concludes our current Historic 395 Road Trip series — until we hit the stretch of road through Oregon and up to Canada.  Click on each header for a link to the complete write-up on the outing.

Exploring Mono Lake and the Tufa Towers

Mono Lake

Mono Lake and some tufa towers.

Visiting the highly alkaline Mono Lake and its odd looking Tufa Towers limestone formations is one of my fondest childhood vacation memories – and I can’t explain why. It’s just a cool geological spot that has always fascinated me. While water levels were dangerously low during my childhood (because Los Angeles was stealing its water), the lake is now quite full with both water and wildlife.

If you need a bit more inspiration to visit, Mono Lake served as the site for the town of Lago in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

Mono Lake is located right off of Highway 395, 30 miles north of Mammoth. Be sure to spend the $3 per adult to visit the South Tufa Area, which has the largest concentration of Tufa Towers on the lake. And budget enough time in this area to also spend a few hours in nearby Bodie.

Walking Tour of Bodie Ghost Town

Bodie State Historic Park

Take a walk through old west history in this perfectly preserved ghost town.

Bodie State Historic Park is an abandoned gold mining “ghost town” located just north of Mono Lake, dating back to the 1850s. At its heyday in 1879, nearly 10,000 people called Bodie home and the town had a reputation for lawlessness. Most businesses folded up by the second decade of the 1900s, but residents and the last mine remained in town until the early 1940s.

Although the ghost town contains only about five percent of the buildings that existed during its heyday, what makes Bodie so notable is that is has been preserved in a state of “arrested decay”. The buildings, and the objects within those buildings have simply been left exactly as they were when the proprietors and residents left town.

Bodie can easily be tied in to a visit to nearby Mono Lake. Plan to spend a few hours there taking a self-guided walking tour through history.

Scenes along Northern Highway 395

While we didn’t make any stops between Bodie and the Nevada Border, since we were pressed for time, our whole family loved watching the scenery and flora change as we climbed up along the Northern California stretch of 395. Turnouts along the beautiful Walker River provide breathtaking picnic and rest spots.

The Walker River along Highway 395

A scenic turnout alongside the Walker River.

Historic “Wild West” Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City NV

This old boom town is still a viable community.

Virginia City, Nevada is one of my favorite side trips any time I visit the Lake Tahoe area. It is a historic district and a National Historic Landmark located 26 miles southeast of Reno, off Highway 395.

This unincorporated community was a silver mining boom town that sprang up after the Comstock Lode was found in 1859. However, unlike Bodie, Virginia City is not an abandoned ghost town — it remains a viable community with residents and businesses.

Fans of the Old West can easily spend a day or weekend wandering through town, enjoying the eateries, shopping, watching reenactments, and exploring a number of self-guided or guided tours.

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  1. Tina says

    Hi, did you manage to visit Mono Lake, Bodie and Virginia City in one day? We’re coming up the 395 from Lone Pine as part of a road trip from the UK. I’ve allowed 4 days to see ‘everything’ (!) from Lone Pine to Virginia City!

    • says

      Hi Tina,

      No. Mono Lake and Bodie are easily doable in a single day; they are right next to each other, and will take up most of that day.

      Virginia City is further north, closer to Reno and Carson City.

      But 4 days is plenty of time to enjoy that entire stretch of 395. I’d do Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes in one day. Spend a day exploring the Mammoth Lakes area. Use Day 3 to visit Mono Lake and Bodie (and everything in between there and Mammoth–including a loop trip around June Lake). And your final day 4 would be the last leg up to Virginia City.

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