Length: 2 days
Day 1: Monitor Pass to Lee Vining
Directions: From Markleeville, follow State 89 east over Monitor Pass and continue to the junction of U.S. 395. Head south on U.S. 395 to Bridgeport, then follow signs to Bodie, east of the highway. Return to U.S. 395 and follow it south to Mono Lake and Lee Vining.
Monitor Pass. Keep the camera handy as you crest this 8,314-foot gateway to the Eastern Sierra for a classic Western vista of broad valleys dotted with ranchland, and soaring peaks under a big sky.
Bridgeport. Step back in time at the Italianate-style Mono County Courthouse, in use since 1880. At Ken’s Sporting Goods , peek into the sidewalk freezer to see what’s biting, then pick up fishing supplies and ask for directions to local hot spots .
Bodie. Listen to the dry wind rattle the weeds at eerily fascinating Bodie State Historic Park . In the country’s best-preserved ghost town, certain areas remain just as they were when Bodie was a booming silver-mining community of 10,000. Don’t miss the walk up to the lonely cemetery.
Mono Lake. Explore this remarkable remnant of an inland sea, edged with natural limestone formations called tufa towers and filled with bird life. Visit the excellent interpretive center , take a self-guided or naturalist-led nature walk, or join a guided canoe or kayak tour .
Lee Vining. Make sure Tioga Pass is open (if it’s winter), then head to the Whoa Nellie Deli , incongruously tucked inside the Tioga Gas Mart. Try the lobster taquitos or herb-encrusted tenderloin.
Spend the night in Lee Vining.
Day 2: Lee Vining to Lone Pine
Directions: From Lee Vining, head south on U.S. 395 to State 158 (June Lake Loop). Swing around the loop, then return to U.S. 395. Take State 203 west to access Mammoth Lakes, returning to U.S. 395 to continue south to Independence, Manzanar, Whitney Portal Road, and Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills.
June Lake Loop. One of the prettiest detours off U.S. 395, this route circles through aspen and pine forests trimming a trio of alpine lakes—especially spectacular in fall.
Mammoth Lakes. Ride the scenic panorama gondola to the 11,053-foot summit and Top of the Sierra Interpretive Center at Mammoth Mountain . Enjoy lunch at the Lakefront Restaurant at Tamarack Lodge , serving excellent hearty French fare, or grab picnic supplies at cozy Stellar Brew & Deli (3280 Main St).
Bishop. See spectacular images captured by Galen and Barbara Rowell at theMountain Light gallery. Stop in at eye-popping Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ for irresistible warm cinnamon rolls, cheese breads, and other treats.
Independence. Hard to imagine a place as internationally chic as Still Life Cafe (135 S. Edwards St., which is U.S. 395 in town) in this high-desert hamlet, but be glad it does. Enjoy vintage jazz on the stereo as you tuck into homemade sauces and other delicious dishes with French flair.
Manzanar. Learn about a sobering time in American history, when 110,000 Japanese-Americans were detained at this compound , now a national historic site, during World War II. Fascinating exhibits, photos, and ranger programs.
Mt. Whitney. Wind your way up to Whitney Portal, the mountain-side campground and day-use area near the base of this 14,491-foot peak, the highest point in the Lower 48.
Alabama Hills. Drive along signed dirt roads to discover movie locations—from Gunga Din and cowboy flicks to Gladiator—in this maze of striking rock formations . Some films show in the annual Lone Pine Film Festival , a high-desert experience worth putting on the calendar.