Let me preface this post by saying that the number one things I recommend doing in the Eastern Sierras are: (1) going for a drive, (2) relaxing with a book, and (3) taking a leisurely stroll. With all the relaxing we did on our trip to the mountains, it feels a little crazy to recommend that you actually do something.
But, alas, I know that there are people out there who want to make sure they don’t miss out on the things to do in a certain place. And, since we were there for 2 weeks, we did manage to fit in a certain amount of doing things, so here are my top 5 suggestions for things to fit in around your Yosemite trip:
On your way into Yosemite from the East, you’ll drive through a tiny little town called Lee Vining. On the banks of Mono Lake, this is a cute little town perfect for grabbing a bite, an ice cream cone, or just walking through a couple of tourist shops.
I love small towns, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed more than one day just wandering around the little towns in the area, especially Lee Vining.
There’s just something to be said for small town ice cream shops, like the Mono Cone, and small town coffee shops, like the Mono Cup (just across the street, believe it or not!). We also loved Latte Da for coffee.
When you’re in Lee Vining, you can also explore Mono Lake, a saltwater lake with big islands in the middle. While you may not want to go for a swim (it’s very salty!), you can check out the visitors center and the Tufa, which are calcium deposits that leave these rock towers in the water. Definitely a site you won’t find many places!
June Lake Loop
While there are a bunch of drives you can do in the eastern Sierras, with or without a destination in mind, one of the most pleasant is the drive around the June Lake Loop.
At only 16 miles, this little horseshoe off highway 395 and back to it, is a quick jaunt off the main drag.
You’ll find a bunch of houses, vacation homes, camping spots, and a little town with everything you need to make a nice afternoon. Stop for breakfast at Silver Lake Resort.
June Lake also has a very pleasant beach, which I would recommend, but you’ll want to bring an umbrella if you’re going to hang out for a while, because the sun is very intense at elevation. If you do get warm, just wander into the water—it’s all snow runoff from the mountains, so it tends to be quite cool.
Bodie State Park
Bodie was a booming mining town during the California gold rush. But, with every boom comes a bust, and Bodie is now a historic ghost town.
In fact, the toll roads on the way out of the valley charged travelers by weight, and many Bodie residents left poorer than they arrived. That means that they left all sorts of furniture, clothing, items in shops, etc. And these historic items remain, making a walk through the town a walk through a moment frozen in time.
Bodie is now a state park, and it is kept in a state of “arrested decay,” meaning that they repair enough to keep the buildings standing, but otherwise have left everything alone.
If you’re interested in a mildly spooky historical stop, be sure to swing through Bodie—just don’t take anything with you unless you want your life to fall apart.
A resort town about 45 minutes south of Yosemite, Mammoth Lakes is a nice day trip or a lovely place to spend an extended stay. It certainly runs fancier than the other small towns in the area, with nicer hotels and rental homes, but you’ll also find a lot to do there.
Whether you’re interested in mountain biking, hiking or kayaking in the summer or skiing in the winter, Mammoth Lakes is a great location for those who are interested in being active on vacation.
Even if you’re not into the idea of a vacation workout, there are lots of shops in Mammoth Lakes, including some outlet stores, and it’s another great spot just to drive around.
Manzanar is a historical site that was used as a Japanese internment camp from 1942-1945. Now, the old auditorium serves as a exhibit and interpretive center.
Some barrack recreations exist to show you the conditions that the 10,000 Japanese Americans lived in, and the original cemetery and memorial site still stands as well.
While the 2 hour drive from Yosemite might be intimidating, this site is so worth the trip. The exhibit is really well done, showing the history of the site, the US justifications for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans, and the reparations that were eventually paid to the survivors.
Plus, in my opinion, it is always worthwhile to learn from history in order to avoid recreating it. Plus, as an American, it is especially powerful to learn more about this often-avoided piece of American history.
Round Out Your Yosemite Trip
If you need a break from hiking, camping, and exploring Yosemite, not to worry. There are plenty of great things to do in the Eastern Sierras that will keep you and yours well entertained.
But, if I may be so bold, you can also spend a day with a book—I’m not judging.
What are your favorite mountain region activities? Let me know in the comments.