160 mi / 258 km
Start in the howling dust devils of the northern Mojave and finish between the pine forests of the Mammoth Lakes on this epic Californian drive. It all begins in the shadow of Mount Whitney just outside of Lone Pine, before doglegging through the Sierra Nevada up to some of the most celebrated ski fields in the state.
You'll cruise through Clint Eastwood territory just outside of Lone Pine itself. Drive the route along Turtle Creek and then veer onto Movie Flat Road. The name says it all – this was the filming location of some of America's best-loved gunslingers, from Rawhide to The Lone Ranger. Western buffs will surely recognize the backdrops from their favorite flicks. Nature buffs will simply be awed by the wildness of it all – this corner of California is a Mars-like world of dusty boulders and gnarled rock formations.
Then, you'll push north. The White Mountains and the Inyo Mountains lurch over the road on one side; the Sierra Nevada dominate the other. It might be freeway but it's pretty spectacular stuff. And there are some unsettling sights, none more so than the remnants of the Manzanar POW camp. It was there that over 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated for the duration of WWII.
The colder climes are heralded as you pass through Big Pine under the Mammoth Mountain Beanie. It lays claim to being the biggest beanie statue in the world. It's hard to argue. Get that compulsory selfie and then enter the mountains proper at the town of Bishop, where there's always time for a traditional Dutch olliebollen (a deep-fried donut) at Erick Schat's Bakkery.
Skirt Wheeler Crest and Red Mountain, watching the sinewy rock faces roll by. Detour up to the Hot Creek Geologic Site, which showcases steam-belching fumaroles and hot pools that go from 100 degrees to 300 degrees without warning. The climax of it all comes with the duo of ski fields at Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain. By winter, they combine to offer 5,000 acres of skiable terrain. By summer, they're a hiker's dream, with routes like the Sky Meadows transporting you to shimmering lakes and through idyllic alpine meadows.
It was here in 1968, whilst construction workers dug at a housing development that they stumbled upon something incredible: the remains of ancient mammoths. What started as an accidental discovery turned into a major scientific excavation. Over 65 mammoths and other Ice Age creatures were unearthed at the site, revealing insights about the prehistoric ecosystem.
This unexpected find transformed Mammoth Lakes into a renowned paleontological destination, attracting scientists and curious visitors alike. Today, the Mammoth Site offers tours and a museum, showcasing the fascinating history that lies beneath the surface of this picturesque mountain town.
Heading out of Mammoth Lakes, take the scenic route off to the trio of lakes; June, Silver and Grant. If you're lucky enough to be here in Autumn, ready yourself for the spectacular orange and red hues that hug the crystaline lakes.
And as this remarkable drive comes to an end, you'll find yourself on the banks of Mono Lake amongst the towering Tufa towers. A type of limestone formed by the chemical reaction of calcium and carbonate ions in the lakes water. The towering Tufa's can rise to over 30 feet tall and make an ideal habitat for seagulls, herons, and phalaropes to raise their young.
It's the perfect place to reflect and appreciate this incredible drive with its captivating landscapes forged by the endless geological forces and the passage of time.
Got a tip for this route? Send us yours!The roads are sealed along this route. View current road related warnings and closures, see the Caltrans QuickMap.
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