Get ready to put the pedal to the metal.
As far as fantastic drives go, few can compete with Highway 395, a road that connects California to Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. It offers travelers the chance to experience varied landscapes, bringing them to the highest peak in the continental U.S., the lowest point in the nation, through ghost towns, national parks, lively ski resorts, and everything in between.
Here’s what you need to know before embarking on a road trip along the Sierra Nevada mountain range that will leave you awestruck.
What to Know About Driving Highway 395
Highway 395 begins (or ends, depending on which way you’re traveling) in Hesperia, California, a city about 90 minutes east of Los Angeles. It then continues for 1,300 miles until its end (or, again, beginning) point at the Canadian border, where it turns into British Columbia Highway 395. While the entire drive is beautiful, its most famous section runs from the Los Angeles area up to Reno, Nevada (about 260 miles in total). Just this portion alone can fill up an entire week’s worth of road tripping, so we’ll focus on the best stops along this popular stretch.
Where to Stop Along Highway 395
Death Valley National Park
Make a stop at Death Valley National Park, a destination filled with extremes. The park is home to the gorgeous salt flats of Badwater Basin, which mark the lowest elevation point in the United States (282 feet below sea level). It's also one of the hottest places in the world. In 2023, Death Valley registered its highest temperature — 129 degrees Fahrenheit, just shy of the all-time hottest recorded temperature on earth, also registered at Death Valley — 136 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913. This park has a softer side, too. Come spring, if the rains are right, it can experience a magical super bloom event unlike any other.
You'll find a poignant reminder of America's World War II history at Manzanar. The former internment camp is now a National Historic Site, which both honors and tells the story of the Japanese-American families who were detained here throughout the war. Travelers can visit the interpretive center, walk around the camp, and learn about life here with a guided tour.
Convict Lake, one of California's clearest bodies of water, is a beloved destination for photographers, as it perfectly reflects the surrounding peaks when the winds are low. On your drive, pull over to take a photo, go for a hike, or hop on a quick boat ride and cast a fishing line to see what you can snag.
Mammoth Lakes Basin
Continue on to another lakeside destination — Mammoth Lakes Basin — where you'll find Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, Lake Mamie, Lake George, and Horseshoe Lake. In addition to crystal-clear waters, these spots in Mammoth offer visitors the chance to see some seriously spectacular natural colors. Be it wildflowers in spring, bright green trees and grass in summer, or a kaleidoscope of hues in fall, it has it all. Come kayak in the warmer months, or check out the snowcapped peaks come winter. This brings us to our next stop...
Just around the corner, you'll find Mammoth Mountain, one of America's premier ski destinations. Mammoth is known for its ultra-long ski season, which often stretches into July, as well as having fantastic terrain for both beginners and experts. Those wanting a next-level adventure can also book a backcountry guide to get fresh tracks all to themselves.
Have one more lake adventure, but this time with an otherworldly twist. At Mono Lake, visitors can gaze upon the tufa towers, unique natural structures made from limestone. And they aren't just beautiful; they're also important habitats for migratory birds and local owls.
Yosemite National Park
During your drive, pay a visit to Yosemite National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of America's most magnificent public lands. Here, you can watch climbers make their way up Half Dome, feel the power of Yosemite Falls, and take in the bucolic Tuolumne Meadows.
Bodie State Historic Park
Get a glimpse of history at Bodie State Historic Park, a ghost town that has been perfectly preserved just as the gold rush miners left it in the early 20th century. Guests can walk the same streets as settlers in the 1850s, peer into windows of homes that still have the table set, and even take a ghost tour in the late summer or early fall.
Lake Tahoe, another must-visit on a Highway 395 road trip, is famous for its unique blue hue, which you can enjoy from either California or Nevada, as it straddles both states. Hike, bike, or paddle in the spring, summer, and fall, or head to any of its world-class ski resorts in the winter.
End this section of your trip along Highway 395 in Reno, the "Biggest Little City in the World." Yes, you can spend some time in its casinos, but Reno has a lot more going on than just its neon lights. It's also home to a thriving arts district, fantastic restaurants, and the Riverwalk District, where nature and culture come together, marking an ideal endpoint to your journey.
When to Drive Highway 395
Because many of the places you’ll want to visit along Highway 395 are all-season destinations, there’s really no wrong time to depart on this road trip. Instead, you'll need to think about your travel goals first, then determine the time of year to embark on the journey.
If you’re hoping to swim in all the lakes mentioned above, summer and early fall are for you. Prefer to hike, bike, and explore on foot? Head out in the late spring, summer, or fall. And if you’re looking to ski, the best time to go is mid-December through approximately the end of March (though spring skiing is a thrill, too.)
However, it's important to remember the road can get rather treacherous during the winter months, with sections requiring chains when the snow gets too deep. Check the highway patrol website before leaving to ensure you’re aware of the conditions and have all road trip necessities handy. This way, you can worry less and focus on all the sites ahead.
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