The Eastern Sierra of California, a place of remarkable beauty, is far more than just a mountain range. In fact, it’s a hub of outdoor activities, boasting some of the finest fishing, hiking, and skiing opportunities in the state. One of the standout features of the region is the majestic Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, a sight that is truly awe-inspiring. Denying oneself the chance to explore the Eastern Sierras would be to miss out on the tranquility of its serene alpine lakes and the thrill of its challenging trails.
Visitors can delve into the area’s rich history at the Eastern California Museum, explore the unique Mono Lake with its ancient limestone formations, or drive down June Lake Loop, the Eastern Sierra’s hidden gem. For those with a love for wildlife, the region’s diverse habitats are home to an array of species. Indeed, the Eastern Sierra is not just a destination, it’s an experience worth savoring. And, with this complete guide to the Eastern Sierras, visitors don’t have to struggle to find the best places to visit, stay, and eat.
Things To Do In The Eastern Sierra
Outdoor lovers are drawn to the Eastern Sierra region, offering some of the best things that one can do in California. Here’s a list of the top attractions and activities in this fascinating destination.
Explore The Mammoth Lakes Basin
Mammoth Lakes, California
The Mammoth Lakes Basin, nestled in the heart of the Eastern Sierras, is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can marvel at the picturesque landscape, dotted with pristine alpine lakes, each of which offers unique fishing opportunities.
The basin is also home to a network of trails, ideal for hiking and mountain biking, that wind through lush pine forests and offer breathtaking views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks.
Although Mammoth Lakes is one of autumn’s best getaways, the region is still a wonderful destination in other seasons. For instance, in winter, the area transforms into a snowy playground, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
- Address: Lake Mary Road Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Hours: Open 24 hours (daily)
- Cost: Prices for different activities vary
Witness The Otherworldly Formations At Mono Lake
Tufa rock formation, Mono Lake, California
The lake’s iconic tufa towers, calcium-carbonate spires formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water, create an otherworldly landscape that is a photographer’s dream. Birdwatchers will also be thrilled as the lake is a vital habitat for millions of migratory and nesting birds.
- Address: Mono Lake, CA 93541, United States
- Hours: Open 24 hours (daily)
Visitors can rent a kayak and get up close to the tufa towers for a more immersive experience.
Step Back In Time At Bodie State Historic Park
A picture of Bodie Ghost Town
Bodie State Historic Park is found northeast of Yosemite, and it offers a fascinating glimpse into California’s gold-mining past. This well-preserved ghost town, which thrived in the late 1800s, features over 200 structures, including a church, a school, and a mill, all of which remain in a state of ‘arrested decay.’
Visitors can stroll the deserted streets, peek into the old buildings, and imagine life during the Gold Rush era.
- Address: Bodie State Historic Park, Bridgeport, CA 93517, United States
- Hours: 9 am – 6 pm (daily)
- Cost: Adults (18 and over): $8; Children (4 to 17): $5; Children (3 and under): Free
Visitors are allowed to bring their dogs, but they must always be on a leash.
Hike The Alabama Hills
A view of the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California
The Alabama Hills, located west of Lone Pine, offer some of the most scenic spots in the Sierra Nevadas. This area is known for its unique rock formations and arches, and it offers numerous trails that meander through the rugged landscape, offering stunning views of the Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley.
Movie buffs will also appreciate the area’s cinematic history, as it has been a popular filming location for Westerns since the 1920s.
- Address: Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA 93545, United States
- Hours: Open 24 hours (daily)
- Admission: Free
Visit The Methuselah Grove
The 4000-year-old Methuselah tree
The Methuselah Grove, located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, is home to the world’s oldest living tree known as Methuselah, a 4840-year-old bristlecone pine.
Visitors can walk the 4.5-mile Methuselah Trail, which winds through the grove, offering close-up views of the forest’s ancient pine trees, including Methuselah, all while enjoying the panoramic views of the White Mountains and the Owens Valley.
- Address: White Mountain Rd, Bishop, CA 93514, United States
- Hours: 6 am – 10 pm (daily)
- Cost: $3 per person/ $6 per car (free for children under 18)
Explore Inyo National Forest
Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, California
Inyo National Forest, occupying a massive 1.9 million acres in the heart of the Eastern Sierras, offers an unparalleled hiking experience. The forest is a rich tapestry of towering Jeffrey pines, ancient bristlecone pines, and serene alpine lakes.
It’s also home to Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States. Hikers can choose from numerous trails, including the challenging Mount Whitney Trail, which offers panoramic views of the Owens Valley and the Great Basin Desert.
- Address: 351 Pacu Lane, Suite 200, Bishop, CA 93514, United States
- Hours: Open 24 hours
- Cost: $15 for entering Mt. Whitney Zone; $5 for all other forest areas
All charges include an additional $6 transaction fee.
Paddle Through The Pristine Waters Of Convict Lake
The clear waters of Convict Lake with mountains in the background
Convict Lake, situated in the shadow of Mount Morrison and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, offers a distinctive kayaking experience. The lake’s tranquil, crystal-clear waters mirror the surrounding aspen groves and granite peaks, creating a truly idyllic setting.
Visitors can rent a kayak and paddle across the 170-acre lake, taking in the stunning views of the glacier-carved basin and the abundant local wildlife.
- Address: Convict Lake Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Hours: Open 24 hours
- Cost: Kayak rental: Approx. $20 per hour
For the best experience, visitors should consider camping at Convict Lake Campground, which is open from late April to late October.
Journey Through the Diverse Landscapes Along the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway (US Highway 395)
A highway running through the Eastern Sierra region
US Highway 395, the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, is a 132-mile journey through California’s most striking landscapes. The route traverses the arid Owens Valley, skirts the shimmering Crowley Lake, and ascends into the verdant Jeffrey Pine forests of the High Sierra.
Along the way, travelers can stop at viewpoints like the Mono Lake Vista Point, offering a breathtaking view of the ancient saline lake and its iconic tufa towers.
- Address: US Highway 395, Eastern Sierra, CA, United States
- Hours: Open 24 hours
- Cost: Free
Venture Along the Lundy Canyon Trail
A beautiful view of Lundy Canyon
The Lundy Canyon Trail is a hiker’s paradise, offering a diverse array of natural wonders in the Eastern Sierra region. The trail meanders through groves of aspen and juniper, past cascading waterfalls, and up to a glacially carved canyon.
From the trail’s highest point, hikers can enjoy a sweeping view of the canyon, the turquoise Lundy Lake, and the distant Sierra Nevada ridgeline.
- Address: Lundy Lake Rd, Bridgeport, CA 93517, United States
- Trail Length: 6 miles (9.5 km) roundtrip
- Difficulty: Challenging
Discover The Untamed Beauty Of Rock Creek Canyon
The John Muir Wilderness in the Eastern Sierra Little Lakes Valley trail in California, USA
Rock Creek Canyon, nestled in the Eastern Sierra, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. The canyon is a stunning tableau of verdant meadows dotted with wildflowers, a babbling creek teeming with trout, and towering peaks of granite and basalt.
Visitors can hike along the Rock Creek Trail, taking in the views of the jagged peaks of the Bear Creek Spire and the verdant Little Lakes Valley.
- Address: Rock Creek Rd, Bishop, CA 93514, United States
- Hours: Open 24 hours
- Cost: Free
Where To Eat In The Eastern Sierras
Woman and child standing next to Convict Lake in Eastern Sierra
- Address: 763 N Main St, Bishop, CA 93514, United States
- Hours: 6 am – 6 pm (daily)
- Dishes: Cranberry, white chocolate chip bread, pies, pecan rolls, donuts, muffins
- Address: 126 Old Mammoth Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Hours: Thu – Mon: 7 am – 8:30 pm; Tue & Wed: 7 am – 3 pm
- Dishes: New York Steak & Egg, The Good Life Breakfast (egg, bacon, pancakes/hash browns), Sandwiches (Turkey Melt with Cheese, Tuna Sandwich, Monte Cristo Sandwich)
- Address: 3141 Main St, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Hours: Fri – Tue: 9 am – 5:30 pm (closed on Wed & Thu)
- Dishes: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Smoked Tri Tip Sandwich, Burritos, Mac & Cheese
- Address: 6118 Minaret Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Hours: 11 am – 9 pm (daily)
- Dishes: Ground Burger Steak, Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Bison Burger, Mammoth Burger
- Address: 2000 Convict Lake Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Hours: 5 pm – 9 pm (daily)
- Dishes: Pan-Seared Scallops, Steak Frites, Pistachio-Crusted Salmon, Fresh Rainbow Trout, Beef Wellington
- Drinks: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, vodkas, Scotch whisky, tequilas
- Address: 587 Old Mammoth Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Hours: Wed – Sun: 4 pm – 8:30 pm (closed on Mon & Tue)
- Dishes: Beef Stroganoff, New York Strip, Roast Turkey Sandwich, Steak Tartare
- Drinks: Watermelon Sangria, Smokin Kiwi, Moscow Mule,
Where To Stay In The Eastern Sierra Region
A tent in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine
The Eastern Sierras offer countless accommodations whether visitors want a rugged experience or complete luxury.
- Address: 368 Tecopa Hot Springs Road, Tecopa, CA
- Price: From $111
- Amenities: Private parking, hot tub, laundry facilities, grill, patio
- Address: 70970 Us-395, Bridgeport, CA 93517
- Price: From $151
- Amenities: Laundry facilities, grill, mountain view, free parking
- Address: Shaver Lake, California, United States
- Price: From $279
- Amenities: 1 bedroom, pet-friendly, satellite TV, WiFi, lake access, free parking, full kitchen
- Address: Three Rivers, California, United States
- Price: From $301
- Amenities: Studio, private balcony, river view, gas fireplace, full kitchen, shared backyard
- Address: Crowley Lake Dr, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, United States
- Price: $10 per site per night
- Amenities: RV/tent sites, potable water, fire pit, dump station
- Address: Bishop, CA 93514, United States
- Price: $14 per vehicle per night
- Amenities: Potable water, fire rings, vault toilets, grills
Best Time To Visit The Eastern Sierras
A view of the Rush Creek Trailhead with snowy mountain peaks in the background
The Eastern Sierra is a region that experiences a semi-arid climate with distinct seasons. The most favorable months to visit are May to September when the weather is warm and the skies are clear.
Here’s a detailed overview of the region’s weather patterns during different seasons.
May to September
This period marks the prime tourist season in the Eastern Sierras, with the weather being warm and welcoming. The temperatures average highs of 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) and lows of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
Summer brings less precipitation and clear skies, providing ideal conditions to explore the area’s outdoor attractions. Because of this, tourists should be prepared for larger crowds and peak prices during this time.
October to December
The temperatures begin to drop in October, with highs of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and lows of 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degrees Celsius). The weather becomes more unpredictable as the region transitions into winter.
While it is cooler, it is still a favorable time to visit the Eastern Sierras as the crowds start to dwindle, and prices become more reasonable. Visitors should be aware that occasional snowfall is common during this season, especially from late November to December.
January to April
These months are characterized by cold weather, with frequent snowfall and lower temperatures. The temperatures range between highs of 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) and lows of 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius).
While the snow can limit outdoor activities, it presents an opportunity for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. The crowds are significantly lower during this period, and the prices are quite affordable, making it an ideal time for travelers interested in a budget-friendly trip.
Getting Around The Eastern Sierra Region
A highway running through Mono County in Eastern Sierra
Travelers planning to explore the Eastern Sierras may choose to fly into the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which is approximately a two-hour drive from the Eastern Sierra region. This airport welcomes daily flights from major cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.
For international travelers, the San Francisco International Airport serves as a convenient gateway, although it is approximately a five-hour drive to the Eastern Sierras.
To navigate the region, visitors have several transportation options at their disposal:
The Eastern Sierras are best explored by car, offering the freedom to explore at one’s own pace. The region is well-connected by Highway 395, which runs north to south, offering easy access to the various towns and natural attractions in the area.
Car rental services are readily available at both Reno-Tahoe and San Francisco International Airports.
Eastern Sierra Transit Authority operates a bus service that connects the towns in the region. The bus service operates on weekdays from 6 a.m. to around 6 p.m., with limited service on weekends. Fares start at $3 per ride, but riders can opt for multi-ride passes for more savings. These are priced at around $30 for a 10-ride pass and about $110 for a 30-day pass.
During the winter months, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area operates a free shuttle service for skiers and snowboarders. The shuttle runs from Mammoth Lakes to the ski area, providing a convenient and cost-effective way to reach the slopes.
- The shuttle operates daily from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
For those who prefer a more active mode of transportation, the Eastern Sierras offer numerous hiking trails. These trails provide an up-close view of the region’s stunning landscapes.
Hiking in the Eastern Sierras requires a certain level of physical fitness and preparation due to the area’s high altitudes and rugged terrain.
Spending The Perfect Day In The Eastern Sierras
Fall colors at Sabrina Lake in Bishop, California
The ideal day in the Eastern Sierras begins with a hearty breakfast at Erick Schat’s Bakery. Then, a morning hike at the John Muir Trail offers breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic by Convict Lake before embarking on a relaxing kayak ride.
Then, the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is perfect for a late afternoon stroll, offering a unique landscape. As the day winds down, have dinner at The Restaurant at Convict Lake, which is known for fine dining. Finally, end the day with stargazing at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.