The Splendor Of Scenic Highway 395
It’s almost as if this road was always meant to be here. Highway 395 is a thing of beauty that sculpts itself almost seamlessly into the curves of the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, snaking all the way from Southern California to the Canadian-Washington border. To drive this road is to take a journey in scenic splendor and it’s a trip everyone should make….at least once in their lifetime.
The caravan “pack” (Alex, Ellen, us and our 12 paws) decided we couldn’t miss it either, and despite forecasts of hard chill in the mountains we made the turn to Reno and picked up the 395 trail down south from there. This particular section of 395, the bit that runs through California, is undoubtedly one of the most scenic and I took dibs on the wheel so I could enjoy all it’s curvaceous beauty right from the driver’s seat.
And it was just as fabulous as we expected. Not only is 395 a superb road in near-perfect condition (which is really saying something in California), but it’s a super-easy drive with stunning views, fabulous spots to camp, some of California’s most beautiful treasures (Mono Lake, John Muir Wilderness, Mount Whitney), cute little mountain towns (Lee Vinning, Mammoth Lakes), great food (stop at Dick’s Smoke Wagon in Big Pine for some lip-smacking BBQ), no end of sight-seeing and hiking, and a bit of history to boot.
The essence of 395 goes right back to the beginning of the highway system. Around 1895 two guys met with the idea of creating a ~14,000 mile network of state roads in California. The original 1896 map included a route passing through Inyo and Mono counties, the very first concept of 395. Many years later and much expanded 395 eventually developed into the massive 1,490-mile “Three Flags Highway“, a route touching 3 countries from San Diego (at the Mexican border) through 4 US states all the way to Canada. These days 395 ends further north at Hesperia, CA, but it’s still a significant road jam-packed with interest.
Our “pack” travelled the road over the period of about a week and a half from the high plateau of Reno to the peaks of Mammoth Lakes, past movie history in Lone Pine and into the desert. We took it at as it came to us, stopping for camping and hiking along the way, but for those looking for a little extra info you can download a free Hwy 395 Audio Traveling Companion and pick-up the most excellent (also free) Scenic Backroad Motortouring Guide from any of the local visitors centers.
And as for the temperature? Despite some night-time chills, day-time temps were near-perfect, the trails and roads were near-empty and fall colors were still gorgeous even a week after I saw the “peak” with my Nepal hiking buddies. In fact I would venture to say that fall seems as near perfect as it gets to make this drive and I’ve got to wonder why more folks don’t do it. Either way we were darn happy we made the turn at Reno. Scenic 395 totally delivered and, like all great experiences, has left us breathless with awe and wanting for more.