Along the eastern-most edge of California lies the “loneliest highway in America,” Highway 395. This off-the-beaten path highway runs parallel to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and features a variety of natural, scenic places in settings that are quieter and less crowded than much of the rest of the state. Here, travelers can find an array of unique lakes, many interesting desert structures, abandoned towns, some of the oldest trees in the world, the tallest peak in the contiguous US, and so much more. With plenty of places for free boondocking, beautiful scenery, quirky towns, and unique food and culture, Highway 395 makes an excellent destination for a California RV camping road trip. So climb aboard and join us as we explore this 250-mile stretch of scenic highway in eastern California.
1. Trona Pinnacles
Our journey begins at the beautiful Trona Pinnacles, just north of the small town of Ridgecrest. Before you begin, be sure to stock up on groceries, gas, and anything else you may need in Ridgecrest. This is the last town you will find for quite awhile with most modern amenities. The pinnacles are located at the end of a five-mile-long stretch of washboarded road. Here, you can camp for free for up to fourteen days, but you must drive very slowly and carefully if you are bringing your RV. Some RVers with larger rigs may feel more comfortable leaving their RV at another nearby camping destination and driving their smaller truck or tow vehicle to the pinnacles.
The pinnacles resemble a series of differently-shaped rock structures, jutting out of the desert earth, and the entire landscape almost looks like something from another planet. For this reason, this site has made an appearance in quite a few famous movies, including Star Trek V, Dinosaur, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes. At the pinnacles themselves, visitors can hike or drive through and around the pinnacles, taking in their unique beauty and interesting scenery.
2. Fossil Falls
After leaving Trona Pinnacles, you should head north to Fossil Falls, where you can also camp for free for up to fourteen days. Fossil Falls camping area is essentially a dried up prehistoric lakebed filled with bright red and black sand and covered in desert plants. You can camp in the lake beds, and these are easily accessible by RV.
If you plan to camp by Fossil Falls, be sure to take a hike down to the falls themselves. The hike starts out flat but eventually leads to a large chasm in the ground, which is filled with old lava flows. The dried basalt is a shiny black color, and it makes for quite a scene. Hikers can climb into the chasm for more exploration or enjoy it from the ground level. It’s truly a unique sight to behold and is almost never crowded or busy.
3. Alabama Hills
After leaving Fossil Falls, make your way towards Alabama Hills outside of the small town of Lone Pine. For many people, the hills are a favorite feature along Highway 395. This pretty desert environment is scattered with large boulders and sandstone rock structures of various sizes, all set in front of the backdrop of the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains. Camping here is abundant and free, and the town of Lone Pine is just a few miles away. There you will find a gas station, restaurants, a grocery store, and several cute shops.
Climbing and hiking are quite popular here, and there are many routes and trails for your enjoyment. Many famous movies were also set in this gorgeous location, the most popular of which include Django Unchained, Chaplin, How the West was Won, Star Trek Generations, Iron Man, Man of Steel, and Gladiator. Be sure to check out the local museum of film history on one of your visits to Lone Pine.
4. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Next up is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. This spectacular area is home to the oldest trees in the world, some of which are over 4,000 years old. When you first enter the forest area, you will find an excellent visitor information center, which teaches more about the trees and their lifespan and history. There are several great hikes, with varying degrees of difficulty for all skill levels. The most popular of these hikes is the Methuselah Grove Trail, a 4.5-mile loop trail leading to Methuselah Grove. This winding grove of beautiful, gnarled and weathered bristlecone pines houses the oldest living organism in the world. At 4,851 years old, Methuselah is anonymous to protect it from vandals.
If you are visiting in your RV, there are plenty of camping options in the surrounding Inyo National Forest. Ideally, you could set up camp in the national forest and then drive your tow vehicle out for a day amongst the bristlecones.
5. Mammoth Lakes
Our final stop on Highway 395 is at the beautiful Mammoth Lakes area. The actual town of Mammoth Lakes is a small ski town that houses a resort. This serves as the gateway to lots of fantastic outdoor activities year-round. Beneath the mountain town, opportunities for exploration and adventure are almost endless. Between the fabulous paddling and hiking around the alpine lakes, climbing opportunities, hot springs, and the stunning Devil’s Postpile National Monument, you would be hard-pressed to run out of things to do here. All of this combined with the fantastic nearby boondocking opportunities make this an excellent way to finish up your epic road trip along Highway 395.
Highway 395 is almost like a hidden treasure in a state brimming with things to do and places to see. You will find that this highway is a bit remote and off-the-beaten path. It offers ideal adventures for those looking to explore places with fewer crowds and more solitude. An RV road trip along 395 is perfect at anytime of the year, but the autumn season is best because of its cooler temperatures and dramatic landscapes. Be sure to add this one to your list when planning your upcoming RV camping vacations.
Have you traveled California’s Highway 395? What were your favorite features or campsites? Feel free to share in the comments below!
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