In the past year, road trips have been growing in popularity. They’re a fun way to travel with just your family or friends in a safe, contained space. In California, some of the best and most beautiful spots in the country are best accessed by car, and while you’ve probably considered an oceanside drive down the 101, you maybe haven’t thought about taking a tour of the Eastern Sierras in the summertime. Try out our mountain-centric, activity-packed Eastern California itinerary, and enter to win The Ultimate California Road Trip.
Start Up North
Mountain Resort: Palisades Tahoe
Closest Airport: Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO)
Days You’ll Want to Spend: 2
Where To Stay: The Village at Palisades Tahoe or if you’re camping, one of the National Forest Campgrounds on Highway 89. Reservations are required for both.
- Climb Palisades Tahoe’s iconic Tram Face on the Via Ferrata route. If you’re feeling adventurous, this is a can’t-miss activity. Accompanied by a guide from Alpenglow Expeditions, you’ll be attached to the rock face 100% of the time for a safe ascent. At the top, you’ll have stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra. This is a popular activity, so you’ll definitely want to book in advance. P.S. – Ikon Pass Holders save 10% with the promo code IKON2021 at check out!
- Grab some food & explore historic Downtown Truckee. There’s no doubt that you’ll be hungry after your big climb, and Truckee is a great spot to fuel up. Some of our favorite spots include Old Town Tap and Alibi Ale Works. Truckee’s one-of-a-kind old-west architecture is a great backdrop for an evening walk, too. Enjoy the many shops while you explore. Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to have a train go by while you’re downtown!
- Take the Aerial Tram to High Camp. At 8,200 feet above sea level, this is even higher than where you were on the Via Ferrata! Plus, High Camp offers a range of fun activities — all with the remarkable vista of the mountains and Lake Tahoe in the distance. You can do an E-Mountain Bike Tour, a free Guided Hike presented by The North Face, free Roller Skating, and more once you’re at the top! Pro Tip: Want a bit more of a challenge? Hike the Shirley Canyon Trail up to High Camp and take the Aerial Tram back down for free!
- Enjoy outdoor dining on one of the many patios in The Village at Palisades Tahoe. You can choose from authentic Mexican food at Tremigo Mexican Kitchen, fresh favorites at local hangout Rocker, traditional Irish fare at the Auld Dubliner, and more!
Around The Lake Towards 395
When you leave Palisades Tahoe, you’ll head around Lake Tahoe via route 28, which means you’ll be driving around the Lake and seeing some of the most beautiful areas. Have time to spare? Rent kayaks or paddleboards and venture out into the still blue waters of Tahoe for a bit. After going down the world-famous East Shore, you’ll turn on Highway 50, which will take you to Carson City, Nevada, and then to Highway 395.
Scenic Spots & Stopping Points
- Kings Beach State Recreation Area
- Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
- Sand Harbor
Want to take a longer, even-more-scenic route?
Head down Highway 89 on the West Shore instead. You’ll pass one of the most iconic state parks in the Tahoe area, and then enter some gorgeous, dense wilderness where you definitely won’t have cell service. You can follow Highway 89 all the way south through Markleeville and then back over to Highway 395.
Scenic Spots & Stopping Points
- Emerald Bay State Park
- Fallen Leaf Lake
- Grover Hot Springs State Park
En Route To Mammoth Mountain
Highway 395 is a National Scenic Byway for a reason. Words can’t do justice to how magnificent this area is — especially the mountain views. You’ll want to have your camera ready for this portion of the trip.
Scenic Spots & Stopping Points
- Travertine Hot Springs
- Mono Lake (Pro Tip: Get lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli in the gas station here)
- June Lake
Mammoth Lakes, California
Mountain Resort: Mammoth Mountain
Days You’ll Want To Spend: 2
Where To Stay: The Mammoth Mountain Inn puts you closest to all the action. Located across from Main Lodge, you are steps away from the Mammoth Bike Park and Adventure Center which will serve as your hub for tons of summer activities. Book our Stay and Gondola package to get a free scenic ride for every adult, every night you stay.
Tip: Use your Ikon Pass holder discount or check out our latest lodging deals.
- Start your day with a round of golf on California’s highest course, Sierra Star. Serene surroundings and knowledgeable staff will get your day off to a great start.
- Not a golfer? Spend your morning paddleboarding on one of our gorgeous mountain lakes. Stop by Tamarack Lodge to grab your board on your way up to the Lakes Basin where you can choose from several scenic bodies of water including Lake Mary, Lake George, and Horseshoe Lake. *We recommended booking rentals in advance.
- Enjoy lunch on the course at The Chip Shot Café or The Lakefront back at Tamarack as you return your paddleboards. Both lunch spots offer outdoor seating for a free side of vitamin D while you dine.
- After you fuel up, head back to Mammoth’s Main Lodge for a Scenic Gondola Ride. Ascend to an altitude of 11,053 feet and get ready to snap those photos. On the way up, stop at mid-station to check out an outdoor museum of historical ski industry equipment, and at the top spend some time in the Interpretive Center learning about the majesty of the area. If time allows, take a short (or long) hike on one of our many walking trails.
- For dinner, stop by the Mountainside Bar & Grill, conveniently located inside Mammoth Mountain Inn across from Main Lodge. Or, if you’re looking to venture into town, Whitebark Restaurant & Lounge inside The Westin is the perfect setting for a fresh, sophisticated meal.
Tip: Swap your day of golf to the evening and take advantage of twilight rates or our 5 at 5 where you can golf 5 holes starting at 5PM for only $35.
- Rise and shine and get your legs pumping around town or at the Mammoth Bike Park. If you need gear, enlist the help of our experts at one of our rental shops. With a wide selection of electric bikes, you can cover more ground without gassing out. Plan to let your littles check out the all-new STACYC pump track at the Adventure Center where they can experiment with an electric bike that’s just their size. *We recommended booking rentals in advance.
- Break for lunch at the Yodler Restaurant & Bar next to the Adventure Center. Enjoy authentic Bavarian fare with a $2 local draft beer when you show your same-day bike park ticket. Kids can busy themselves with the ropes course, climbing wall, bungee, and more while you savor your well-deserved lunch break and spectate from the sun deck.
Tip: Save 20% on all activities when you book 7+ days in advance.
- Finish the Mammoth leg of your trip on an energetic note with a guided climb on the Via Ferrata. Routes range in difficulty and no climbing experience is necessary to take advantage of this exciting and scenic activity.
- Or give your legs a break and take a drive over to June Lake for the afternoon. Throw out a towel and take in the unparalleled view nestled in this quaint mountain town. Mammoth will welcome you back for the evening with shopping and dinner in The Village.
Heading To Big Bear Lake
From Mammoth Mountain, head south toward Barstow via US-395 and follow directions for CA-18 to experience Southern California’s home for year-round outdoor adventure, Big Bear Mountain Resort.
- US-395 South
- CA-58 East
- I-15 North
- CA-247 South/Barstow Road
- CA-18 to Big Bear Lake
Approximate Drive Time: 5 hours and 15 minutes
Have some time to spare on the way down?
On your way out of Mammoth, stop by the Stellar Brew & Natural Cafe (3280 Main St.) and fuel up for your trip with some locally roasted fair trade organic coffee or espresso and grab n go breakfast options before hitting the road. Looking for a lunch locale? When you pass through Bishop be sure to check out the Mountain Rambler Brewery, known for its artisan ales, or Erick Schat’s Bakkery — home or a loaf of The Original Sheepherder Bread® — then head to Keough’s Hot Springs to enjoy the benefits of a quick mineral soak before continuing your quest.
Scenic Spots & Stopping Points
- Popular town for outdoor enthusiasts heading to/from Mount Whitney, aka the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (elev. 14,505 feet).
- The former site of numerous Western films, Lone Pine is home to the Museum of Western Film History and hosts an annual film festival for cinephiles that celebrate the old west.
- Check out this eclectic art installation by Jael Hoffman
- Location: Olchana, CA (approx. 80 miles south of Bishop)
- This one-of-a-kind cafe in Lucerne Valley is known for having the best BBQ in the High Desert and all-day breakfast menu.
Big Bear Mountain Resort
Two Mountain Resorts: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit
Summer Activities: Mountain biking (DH & XC), hiking, Scenic Sky Chair, Basecamp activities (climbing wall, zip line, Euro Bungy, Grizzly Ridge Tube Park, Summit Mining Co., Quick Jump free fall), Bear Mountain Golf Course
- Big Bear Airport (4 miles / 6 km)*
- Ontario International Airport (58 miles / 93 km)
- Palm Springs International Airport (85 miles / 136 km)
- John Wayne Airport, Orange County (92 miles / 148 km)
- Palmdale Regional Airport (100 miles / 161 km)
- Lox Angeles International Airport (118 miles / 190 km)
*Private and charter aircraft only.
Days You’ll Want To Spend: 2
Where To Stay: Big Bear has a wide selection of lodging options, from full-service hotels and luxury home rentals to more budget-friendly motels and private cabins. For a full list of lodging properties, go to BigBear.com.*
Pro Tip: Lodging rates and availability are usually better Monday-Thursday and non-holiday dates.
*Big Bear Mountain Resort does not own or operate any lodging properties.
- Your trail starts here. As the mountain biking mecca of Southern California, Big Bear is a paradise for pedalers of all ages and abilities. Begin your biking adventure at Summit Bike Park to experience the thrill of 1,200 feet of downhill drop, featuring an exciting mix of trails, jumps, and man-made features, or explore over 60 miles of cross-country trails directly accessible from the base area. Be sure to mark your calendars for Sept. 23-26, when the Fox US Open of Mountain Biking is scheduled to return to the resort for the second year. Pro Tip: Summit Bike Park offers in-resort bike rentals and repairs so you can save time and get on the trails faster.
- Get above it all. Sit back and relax during a mile-long ascent through the San Bernardino National Forest on the Scenic Sky Chair before arriving at the top of Snow Summit (elev. 8,200 feet). Enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding Big Bear Valley and San Gorgonio Mountain (elev. 11,503 feet), go on a self-guided tour of the Mountain Top Loop trail (1-mile round trip), or experience Big Bear’s only mountaintop dining at the Skyline Taphouse, featuring an outdoor BBQ, kids’ favorites. Pro Tip: Bundle and save by adding lunch to your Scenic Sky Chair ticket.
- Explore more. Big Bear is home to some of Southern California’s best hiking. At Snow Summit, check out the Bobsled Trail for a top-to-bottom trek (2 miles one way), featuring breathtaking views of the valley, or take the Scenic Sky Chair to the top of the mountain and explore the Mountain Top Loop (1-mile round trip) for a more low-impact excursion. Pro Tip: Help us #CareForBear by properly disposing of trash you find and avoid disturbing wildlife you encounter during your hike. If you observe an animal that is injured/distressed, please keep your distance and report it to a resort employee immediately.
- Basecamp activities. Snow Summit also offers several base area activities that are perfect for explorers and thrill-seekers of all ages, including a 30-foot climbing wall, Euro Bungee trampoline, summer tubing, gem mining, Quick Jump free fall, zip line, and the all-new Full Throttle STACYC course for kids. Pro Tip: Grab an Adventure Day Pass to get unlimited single-day access to all Basecamp activities.
- Make time for nine. Whether you’re a scratch golfer, new to the game, or somewhere in-between, Bear Mountain Golf Course offers a unique experience for players of all skill levels. Book your tee time in advance and enjoy the benefits of playing at 7,000 feet on an idyllic 9-hole course featuring a full-service pro shop, driving range, and practice area with the San Bernardino Mountains as your backdrop. Pro Tip: Check out the Clubhouse Grill for some fairway fare before or after your round. On-course ordering is also available daily.
- Take some lake laps. During the summer, Big Bear Lake becomes a high-altitude oasis for watersports enthusiasts, with boating, fishing, and kayaking taking center stage. After you’ve had your fill of fun on the lake, stop by the Big Bear Village for some shopping, dining, live music, and more! Pro Tip: Book a lake tour on the Big Bear Queen or Big Bear Pirate Ship for a truly unique aquatic adventure.
Want to learn more about everything Big Bear has to offer?
Check out the 2021 Visitors Center Magazine.
Ready for your road trip?
If you do this road trip, we know you’ll be itching to get back on the road immediately. The good news? This is a great road trip in the wintertime, too, and we’ve partnered with LucasOil for a major giveaway: The Ultimate California Road Trip Giveaway. The grand prize winner will receive two (2) 21/22 Ikon passes, lodging at Mammoth Mountain, Palisades Tahoe, and Big Bear Lake, a GoPro, gift cards to use on your adventure, and a Lucas Oil Product Pack. All you have to do is enter before July 31, 2021, at 11:59 PM PST.
Enter LucasOil Ultimate Road Trip Sweepstakes
Is there anything else I should know before I leave?
When you’re visiting areas that have abundant wildlife and fragile ecosystems like the Eastern Sierras and surrounding mountain towns, there are a few things we ask of you, as visitors. Please be respectful and responsible, and adhere to the following:
- No fires or charcoal grills. This includes in State Parks and Campgrounds. We have had a dry winter, and with fire season upon us, it is too dangerous to have open flames. Even if you have a California campfire permit, please refrain from building fires or using charcoal grills.
- Leave No Trace. Any trash you create while out and about, please pack it out with you. Throw it out in an appropriate spot. Please know that trailhead trash cans get overloaded very easily, and it is expensive to haul this away. Consider waiting until you enter a town to dispose of your garbage.