The 395: California’s (Second) Best Stretch of Road

There is a long stretch of highway running north/south in California which few out-of-state tourists bother navigating. And yet, the 395 captures so much of what the Golden State has to offer in the natural beauty department.

Highway 1, which winds its way up the coast is perhaps more beautiful, but the 395 embraces a different type of nature than golden sand beaches and crashing waves. The 395 cuts across the desert landscape of California on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas. It is a stunning route, with desert landscape stretching out before you and the enormous, snow-capped Sierras looming above.

One or twice a year I drive this route to either go backpacking in the Sierras, or nowboarding at Mammoth Mountain. For most people like myself, the 395 is usually blown through at 80 miles an hour on a Friday night in the dark. Those who take a more leisurely drive, however, will discover that this desert road is rich with a bounty of nature, history, and tourist sites.

The Los Angeles Times recently spotlighted this long stretch of road and the highlights one can expect. Did you know, for example, that the 395 slices right between the lowest elevation and the highest elevation in the continental United States? Yep, Badwater (-282 feet) and Mt. Whitney (14,495 feet) are within spitting distance of each other. In fact, there is an annual, grueling race in which elite runners start in Badwater and run 135 miles to the Whitney portal. Yikes. Count me out.

The LA Times mentions so many cool stops along the drive that it would take a week to visit all the ghost towns, hot springs, fishing holes, Hollywood western locations (400+), lakes, one-horse towns, day hikes, mines, flora and fauna, historic hotels, fish hatcheries, bakeries, and even a couple of museums.

So, next time I undertake the grueling drive, I’ll be sure to stop along the way and truly enjoy it.