5 Scenic Destinations in California’s Eastern Sierra
It’s one of California’s best-kept secrets for adventure seekers.
Mono County is home to outstanding scenic beauty, outdoor recreation and natural wonders, including the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite National Park
Mono County offers access to Yosemite’s eastern entrance – and less crowded side – via the impressive Tioga Pass Road/SR 120 West. While U.S. Highway 395 (a state-designated Scenic Byway) is open year round, Tioga Pass Road/SR 120 West is closed for the winter months, usually from early November to late May.
Must-See Scenery: Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point are three spectacular spots not to be missed.
How to Explore: Enjoy hiking, wildlife viewing and spring wildflowers at Tuolumne Meadows; fish, swim and kayak at Tenaya Lake; and take photos of Half Dome and Clouds Rest from Olmsted Point.
Kayaking at Tenaya Lake
Bodie State Historic Park
The largest unrestored ghost town in the USA and site of one of the richest gold strikes in California history, Bodie swelled to a population of almost 10,000 in the late 1870s. Today, memories of the mining days come alive on Bodie’s dirt roads, with almost 200 buildings still standing exactly as they were when the town was abandoned.
Must-see Scenery: Wander Bodie via a self-guided tour, and snap photos of the old buildings and cemetery. Maps are available at the museum for a small fee. Tours of the Stamp Mill are scheduled daily throughout the summer.
How to Explore: Make this a side trip from late May through late October from Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake or Bridgeport, the nearest town to Bodie. Bring a jacket and walking shoes, as well as food, water and sunscreen; there are no services at the state park.
An abandoned building at Bodie State Historic Park
Mono Lake is a vast saltwater lake known for its calcium carbonate (limestone) formations, called tufa towers. Salts and minerals from the mountains, combined with natural evaporation, make it more than twice as salty as the ocean.
Must-See Scenery: See the other-worldly tufa formations, the volcanic Panum Crater and millions of migratory birds.
How to Explore: The best location to see the limestone tufa formations is at the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve (South Tufa). Guided canoe, kayak and walking tours are also available; inquire at the two visitor information centers in Lee Vining.
Kayaking around the tufa towers in Mono Lake
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Postpile is considered one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt formations. What looks like a tidy lumber pile created by giants was actually formed through a complicated series of volcanic flows and glacial movement.
Must-see Scenery: The 18-meter-high basalt columns are impressive alone, but the symmetrical hexagonal pattern cross-section they form is even more remarkable from the top of the Postpile.
How to Explore: Visitors can take the mandatory shuttle bus to Devils Postpile from Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge base area in the summer months. From the bus stop, the hike to the base is 0.6 kilometers.
Devils Postpile National Monument
Rainbow Falls sits where the San Joaquin River tumbles over a 30-meter drop. It earned its name from the rainbows that seem to dance in its mist.
Must-See Scenery: Watch the never-ending rainbows that form in the cascading water, especially on sunny days.
How to Explore: A relatively easy 4-kilometer hike (one way) from Devils Postpile, Rainbow Falls is open only in summer, usually from mid-June through October. Enjoy a picnic, fish for trout in the San Joaquin River and be sure to bring a camera.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) offers year-round flights into Mono County via Mammoth-Yosemite Airport (MMH). In the winter, catch direct flights from San Diego (Alaska Airlines) and San Francisco (United). Mono County is only a few hours drive from international airports in Reno, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By car, US Highway 395 is open year-round, while the mountain pass routes (Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass, Monitor Pass) are closed in winter months, but stay open from approximately mid-May to mid-November.