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It's a bumpy ride in, followed by a hike to reach the lonely ghost town of Bodie


Top Destinations  ·  Northern California  ·  Yosemite - Mono Lake Area

Yosemite - Mono Lake Area

© Ron Niebrugge

A visitor enjoying the view of Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park

Travel to California should include Yosemite National Park, or at least the plan to visit eventually. A vacation to Yosemite and the surrounding area can be a rustic cabin, a back county hiking trip or, instead, pamper yourself and stay in a resort or bed and breakfast inn. Accommodations inside and outside the park cater to all budgets.
This is true alpine country – some of the peaks on the eastern boundary of Yosemite are over 13,000’. If you are traveling November through May, snow is likely and some roads close or require chains. Most visitors to the Yosemite area arrive during summer vacation so plan ahead if you are traveling at this time. If Yosemite is too crowded, try the Mammoth Lakes area where many winter ski resorts and condos are available in the summer.
Some of the highlights of this vacation destination include:

Attractions: El Capitan, Vernal Falls, Half Dome, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite Valley, Devil’s Postpile

Towns: El Portal, Mariposa, Oakhurst, Wawona, Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes

Lakes and Rivers: Mono Lake, Tuolome River, Merced River, San Joaquin River

National Forests: Stanislaus National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Sierra National Forest, Toiyabe National Forest

National Parks: Yosemite National Park

State Parks: Bodie State Historic Site (ghost town)

Yosemite - Mono Lake Area Scenic Drives

Scenic Drive
Yosemite National Park
Destination Index Print/Zoom

SCENIC DRIVES: Photographer Ansel Adams immortalized the Park in his famous mid-century black and white photos. Two of the most dramatically different and unique natural environments can be experienced in this scenic trip – majestic Yosemite National Park and bizarre Mono Lake. This driving tour is best spring through fall as the higher elevations are closed by snowfall. Summer weekends are the most crowded.

Yosemite Valley is nearly a town, with services to fit an ever-changing human population, including bus tours, tent cabins and restaurants. Some of the most stunning landmarks (El Capitan, Half Dome and its ever-present hard-core rock climbers, Bridal Veil Falls, the Awahnee Hotel) are in or near the Valley. The rest of the Park is much quieter, offering true backcountry hiking, camping and climbing - in addition to lovely scenic drives.

Prices are high in Yosemite National Park for all food, supplies and gas so prepare as you approach the towns on 120, 140 and 41 before entering the park. A detailed map and description of the park is included in our National Parks section.

To start the driving tour, take 120 to the entrance to Yosemite and plan some time in the Valley. There are short hikes to falls, views of Half Dome and El Capitan, educational exhibits, and the famous Ahwahnee Hotel. Take binoculars to spot wildlife and to peer at the tiny figures of climbers clinging to vertical rock faces on Half Dome and El Capitan.

Take 41 towards Wawona and the Mariposa Grove. Don’t miss an opportunity to see 3000 year-old trees rising 300 feet above you.

Leave the park and turn onto 49 at Oakhurst for a beautiful drive to historic Mariposa and then connect to 140 to return to Yosemite. Take a left onto 120 to Tioga Road (closed in winter), access to a vast sub-alpine meadow with gorgeous wildflowers, lakes, streams, two groves of giant sequoia (Toulumne and Merced Groves) and views few places can top.  

When you leave Yosemite National Park (the first town outside is Lee Vining), Mono Lake provides a stark contrast in topography, climate and wildlife. Once threatened by dropping water levels, this protected area is a birder’s dream. Set in high desert, the super-salty inland sea is on the "other" higher, drier side of the Sierras. It is a surreal landscape of calcium carbonate deposits (tufa) and brackish water that hosts millions of migratory birds feasting on billions of insects. Visiting at dawn or dusk adds visual drama to this unique environment.

SIDETRIP: Continue north on 395 to Bodie State Historic Site – an unrestored ghost town without a touristic veneer, three miles from paved roads.  

SIDETRIP: From Lee Lining, head south on 395 to 158 for a truly scenic loop around June Lake. Continue south to the resort community/ski area of Mammoth Lakes.



© Ron Niebrugge
No other landscape matches Mono Lake's Tufa State Reserve

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