scenic shot of the desert

RVing California’s Eastern Sierras & Highway 395
From the iconic Alabama Hills to Mammoth Lakes.
By: Scott & Jaime Sichler

scenic shot of the desert

When we lived in LA, we would often make the trip to Mammoth Lakes for skiing and summer fun in the high Sierra mountains. With our sights set on getting to Mammoth as quickly as possible, we would zoom up Highway 395 and mostly miss what, as full-time RVers, has become one of our favorite areas to explore. 

Top Stops When RVing Highway 395

Here are our top spots and recommendations for RVing California’s Eastern Sierras and Highway 395, starting from south to north.

shot of the road from inside a winnabego motorhome

Lone Pine and Alabama Hills

This little town is the gateway for climbers taking on the highest point in the continental U.S. – Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet). A short drive west to Whitney Portal Road is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed Alabama Hills. Even if you have never been here, its massive boulders set against the mountains might seem familiar as numerous films and car commercials have been shot here. The list of films is diverse and includes The Lone Ranger, Tremors, Iron Man, Django Unchained, and Gladiator. More information is available at the Museum of Western Film History in town.

There are many spots to boondock in the Alabama Hills with amazing Instagram-worthy views, but check with the BLM for current information as irresponsible campers have abused the area, which has resulted in increased camping restrictions and enforcement of rules. Be prepared to provide all your water and power needs and pack out all trash including used (yuck!) toilet paper which seems all too prevalent these days and does not decompose very quickly in this fragile desert environment. 

pine trees on the side of a mountain

Recreational activities in the area include rock climbing, hiking to the rock arches, mountain biking, 4x4 Jeep trails, and visiting the filming sites (pick up a BLM brochure with maps). Nine miles up the road and a twisty climb (RVs not recommended) is Whitney Portal at 8,374 feet. Most climbers start here to summit Mt. Whitney (permit required). You can get a sample of the Mt. Whitney climb by hiking up to the beautiful Lone Pine Lake at the edge of the permit area. 

For more services (including trash, water, and a dump station), we also like to stay at BLM's Tuttle Creek Campground which is close to the Alabama Hills with larger sites, great views, and better cell service. The nearby Tuttle Creek Ashram is another scenic but thigh-busting hike up into the mountains. Fall is an especially beautiful time in the Eastern Sierras with pockets of autumn color contrasting with the granite peaks. Summer temperatures can be a little hot, but relief can be found farther up Highway 395 in the higher elevations.

winnabego motorhome parked in the desert

If you have seen the highest point in the continental U.S. and are interested in seeing the lowest point, Lone Pine is also a gateway to Death Valley National Park. Our first fall on the road, we experienced extremely soggy weather on the Oregon coast and rerouted to come here and dry out with a visit to Lone Pine and Death Valley. However, temperatures can be extremely hot even into the fall and the drive is challenging. 

The Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine has staff from the National Park Service, BLM, and U.S. Forest Service who can provide information on current conditions and is a great stop for maps and advice.

Bishop

Bishop is the largest town in this sparsely populated area and is a good place to get provisions including groceries and fuel. Even in normal times, fuel can be expensive on 395, so the Bishop Paiute Gas Station on reservation land is a good bet for lower prices. 

petroglyph rocks in california

The Tri-County Fairgrounds RV Park offers a full hookup option for camping that might be a good fit if temperatures drop in the higher elevations. We have also boondocked outside of town at another BLM managed site - Volcanic Tablelands. It's an interesting area and well worth a visit to check out the petroglyphs

Mammoth and June Lake – The High Sierras

Highway 395 really climbs in elevation leaving Bishop, so you might plan on taking a break and admiring the mountain views while giving your RV a breather. Before you reach Mammoth, there are several hot springs to soak in and some limited areas to camp. Check Campendium for options and current reviews.

woman sitting in a hot spring

The town and resort of Mammoth Lakes is very popular and often crowded but has a lot to offer including restaurants, breweries, hiking, lift-served downhill mountain biking, and summer events with live music. Advance reservations at the campgrounds will definitely be required. At 8,000 plus feet in elevations, the prime season for good camping weather is relatively short. Late summer and early fall are usually best, but always check the weather forecasts as conditions can change quickly.

winnabego motorhome parked in the grass with snowy mountains in the distance

June Lake is a smaller and usually less crowded town and area. The Oh Ridge campground has great views of the mountains and June Lake. We have stayed here several times and enjoyed visiting with our friends who campground host. The June Lake Loop is a good bike ride and also has a number of hikes up into the mountains. Don't underestimate the vertical gain and thin air of higher altitudes here though, especially if you aren't acclimated. June Lake Brewing is a nice spot to enjoy craft beer and food outside after a hike or ride. The area is also popular with ATVers.  

scenic shot of a lake with snowy mountains in the background

It's possible to take a day trip to Yosemite National Park by way of the Tioga Pass, but reservations are likely needed for camping and the steep pass is not RV friendly and also subject to closure. Bodie State Historic Park (closed in winter) is an old gold mine and now a ghost town from 1859 that has well-preserved buildings including houses and a saloon with many artifacts. The last three miles are unpaved and probably best for a tow vehicle. 

church in a ghostown

We will leave you here, but if you are hearing the call of the open road, 395 continues into Nevada and Oregon. Have you RVed in the area? Any tips and spots we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

User commented on May 11, 2022 4:25 PM
Sorry you did not mention Mansanar a Japenese interment camp, it is right outside of Lone Pine. A really great museum (free).
User commented on May 22, 2022 11:21 AM
The exhibit at Manzanar is excellent and well worth a couple hours of your time.
User commented on May 22, 2022 5:06 PM
Thanks for the information. We will be visiting the area this summer. Will check some of it out. ?Hope the AC holds out.