California Dreamin’: An Inland Road Trip Adventure

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Road Tripping Through Inland California

Biking through South Lake Tahoe

California: the land of beaches, palm trees, and Hollywood stars. Or is it? Instead of your typical California coastal drive, this road trip takes you to the state’s inland hotspots, passing through small towns in search of epic outdoor adventures. Beginning in South Lake Tahoe and ending in Mammoth Lakes, here’s our 140-mile, long weekend guide to these landlocked wonders.

Day 1: California’s South Lake Tahoe

Where to Stay: Hotel Azure or Basecamp Hotel

Straddling the Nevada-California state line, Lake Tahoe is North America’s largest alpine lake and is known for its stunning blue waters. Venture beyond it to find forested hiking trails, epic waterfalls, and historic sites.

Dock views at Fallen Leaf Lake.

Follow a winding dirt road west of Lake Tahoe to Fallen Leaf Lake, a natural beauty adjacent to the rushing Glen Alpine Falls. Drive right up to this roaring 65-footer fed by melting snow. Continue up the dirt road to the two-mile trail leading to an abandoned 1800s-era luxury resort, Glen Alpine Springs. Known as Tahoe’s first family resort, Glen Alpine’s buildings are preserved as a living museum with docents on hand during summer weekends to share the tales and guide tours.

Cruising at sunset with Tahoe Sailing Charters.

End the day on the lake sunset sailing with North Lake Tahoe’s Tahoe Sailing Charters. Take in the breeze and sip a few drinks on the deck of the 50-foot “Tahoe Cruz.” Offered seven days a week all summer long. Or grab a free cruiser bike at Hotel Azure (or rent one locally) and cycle to dinner on the paved lakeshore path.

Jenny Willden biking near Lake Tahoe, California

Cycling near Lake Tahoe.

Dining & Drinking: Find wine on tap and gourmet bites at the Tahoe Pourhouse near the turn for Fallen Leaf Lake. Or enjoy heartier, eclectic fare, at Blue Angel Café. (Don’t miss the coconut-crusted tofu.) Basecamp Hotel’s beer garden is a great stop for an après-adventure brew and games—even if you’re not a hotel guest.

Decaying buildings in Bodie ghost town.

Decaying buildings in Bodie ghost town.

Day 2: Bodie Ghost Town, June Lake Loop, and Mono Lake

Where to Stay: Double Eagle Resort

About 100 miles south of Lake Tahoe, turn off on a bumpy, 13-mile long dirt road to reach Bodie, America’s most authentic, still-standing ghost town. Preserved in a state of “arrested decay,” you can peep in shop windows to see dusty cans and discarded relics, or amble the streets and imagine what life was like here during the 1800s mining boom. Once called one of the wildest towns in the West, Bodie boasted a redlight district, opium dens, saloons, and gambling halls. Sign up for a mine tour or just explore on your own.

From here, drive an hour south to June Lake, both a mountain town and alpine lake surrounded by dramatic peaks, waterfalls, and towering pines. Drive the 15-mile June Lake Loop, stopping at Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and June Lake before detouring 10 miles to Mono Lake.

Sunset at Mono Lake, California

Sunset at Mono Lake.

This may seem like a lot of lakes in a day, but there’s no better sunset spot than the lunar landscapes surrounding this majestic body of salt water. Covering 70 square miles, the only saltier lake in America is Utah’s Great Salt Lake. But this ancient beauty is extra unique thanks to its tufa towers. Tufa is just everyday limestone, but forms at Mono Lake when calcium-rich spring waters mix with lakewater carbonates—resulting in dazzling towers on the shoreline.

Walk around the towers to capture brilliant sunset shots, and if you don’t mind the salt, jump in for a swim. Or book a guided kayak tour with Caldera Kayak to get up close to the tufa and see migratory birds in flight.

Dining & Drinking: A gas station may seem like a bizarre food recommendation, but Whoa Nellie Deli inside the Tioga Gas Mart is not your typical gas station. Located across from Mono Lake, try their world famous fish tacos, lobster and crab taquitos, and other chef-prepared fare. Head to June Lake Brewing for a Deer Beer Brown Ale or BucciCat Cream Ale paired with Hawaiian soul food from the Ohanas 395 food truck.

Day 3: Mammoth Lakes

Where to Stay: The Village Lodge Mammoth

Say goodbye to Mono Lake and take the U.S. Highway 395 south toward Mammoth Lakes, this road trip’s final stop. This glacial lake basin is a pristine summer wonderland boasting one of the country’s longest ski seasons! Depending on when you arrive, you can ski, bike, and fly fish in the same day.

Riding Mammoth’s Lakes Basin Trail

But our can’t-miss Mammoth adventure is biking the renowned Lakes Basin Bike Trail. It’s a long uphill climb from town, but you can skip it and enjoy just the thrilling 1,000-foot descent with the seasonal Mammoth Lakes Basin Trolley. This free service hauls you and your ride up to the top so you can cruise the 5.3 miles downhill. Whizz through the forest past the Twin Lake Vistas, Tamarack Lodge, Lake Marnie, and Horseshoe Lake before ending at Mammoth Brewing Company.

Whether you’re an expert or newbie to flyfishing, Mammoth’s Hot Creek is the place to cast a line. Find a guide at The Troutfitter, or visit Hot Creek without angling to marvel at this geologic wonder. Here hot springs mix with Hot Creek’s cool waters—creating a happy home for its thriving trout population.

Jenny Willden Reeling in a trout at Mammoth's Hot Creek.

Reeling in a trout at Mammoth’s Hot Creek.

Mammoth Lakes is a California hot spring town, and at day’s end, Wild Willy’s is the place to unwind. Found in the Long Valley Caldera south of town, follow the long boardwalk to these natural tubs to find a party crowd soaking the night away. Free to visit and accessible year-round.

Dining & Drinking: Sip cold local brews in the beer garden at Mammoth Brewing Company, a local favorite since 1995. We’re partial to the Golden Trout Kolsch, but give the sours and seasonal brews a shot too. Stop for a grab-n-go breakfast and coffee at Stellar Brew & Natural Café.

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About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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