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Outside Yosemite: Hidden Gems of the Eastern Sierra

Yosemite is home to some of the Sierra’s most majestic sites. But outside park boundaries, hidden gems abound!

There’s no debate—Yosemite National Park houses some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, let alone in the Sierra. But beyond Yosemite’s gates also exist hidden marvels that are well-worth exploring. If you’re planning your Yosemite visit and looking to experience some of the lesser-known surrounding attractions, we recommend heading east across Tioga Road to Highway 395, where adventure awaits in virtually every direction. Whatever tickles your fancy—be it natural hot springs, world-class rock climbing, or secluded alpine lakes—a visit to the East Side is a great way to round out your Yosemite vacation. Here are a few East Side gems that your guide might point toward during your Lasting Adventures Yosemite tour.

The twisted branches of an ancient Bristlecone Pine reach for the sky in the Eastern Sierra’s White Mountains. Photo: Matt Schilowitz

1. Visit the world’s oldest trees in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains.

Just north of the town of Big Pine off Highway 395 rests the gateway to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home to the oldest trees in the world. Nestled in the White Mountain Range of the Inyo National Forest, this enchanted forest is accessible to hikers via several self-guided trails that weave through the trees. Some of the trees are said to exceed 4,000 years of age, and feature stunning growth forms of twisted and vibrantly colored wood. The visitor center at Schulman Grove is open in summer, with interpretive programs, gifts, and information about the trees. From the Schulman Grove, a 12-mile drive up a well-maintained dirt road takes visitors to the Patricia Grove, home to the world’s largest bristlecone pine—the Patriarch Tree. This ancient forest is unlike any other landscape in the world, making it a must-see stop on the Eastern Sierra tour!

Man rock climbs on huge granite boulder in the Buttermilk area of Bishop, California with the Sierra Nevada behind

2. Travel back in time in the iconic western town of Bishop, California.

Bishop is a quaint little town in the Sierra foothills that’s as renowned for its historic “wild west” feel as it is for world-class rock climbing. Driving into Bishop, you feel like you are in a Western movie. Cute local shops like the bookstore and the Mammoth Gear Exchange line the main drag. The bookstore has new and used books of every genre, and lots of classics! The Mammoth Gear Exchange is a great place to find gently-used outdoor gear at great prices. A stone’s throw outside town, visitors enter rock climbing heaven. For California’s most concentrated sport climbing destination, visit Owens River Gorge, and for world-renowned bouldering, head to the Buttermilks!

Wild Willy’s Hot Spring Near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA

3. Soak and camp for free at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs

At Wild Willy’s Hot Spring, visitors can camp and soak free of charge! One of many lovely hot spring areas in the Eastern Sierra, Wild Willy’s offers 360-degree mountain views, the perfect place to watch the alpenglow dance across the Sierra at sunset. A guides’ favorite for primitive camping in the Eastern Sierra, visitors can camp for free at Wild Willy’s and indulge in the hot spring for no charge.  A highly-recommended place to relax after a long day of hiking!

Boats sit at dock at Lake George under the watchful eye of the Crystal Crag peak. This peak is in Mammoth Lakes in Central California, in Sierra Nevada Mountains.

4. Indulge in the mountain sanctuary of Mammoth, California.

Mammoth is an adorable ski town famous for its steep and spectacular snowy slopes, but beyond the chair lifts there’s much to do even during summer. For hikers, there are pristine trails to alpine lakes with jaw-dropping views of all the Mammoth Lakes, like Lake Mary and Lake George. These bright blue lakes also boast beaches, complete with water sport rentals, so after the hike you can hit the water for a standup paddle session or some fishing. The Minarets—a series of stupendous jagged peaks located in the Ritter Range—are also in Mammoth, but make sure you park at the lodge and take a bus in because you can not drive personal cars in. Devil’s Postpile National Monument is also a big attraction of Mammoth with its unusual rock formations of columnar basalt, another area where you also have to park and take a shuttle in. Downtown Mammoth is also a bustling and lively town, so do some shopping and find a good restaurant while you’re there!

Sign for the June Lake Loop on US 395 highway in California’s Eastern Sierra indicates that the road is open

5. Take a scenic driving tour of June Lake, California.

Drive the June Lake Loop with some good music and you will feel like you’re in your own Hollywood movie! The scenic drive takes visitors along Blood Canyon, Grant Lake, and the cozy little town of June Lake. June Lake makes for a great beach day, too, with crystal clear water and some mind-blowing mountains in the background. Spend the day kayaking and swimming, then watch sunset light up the mountains around the lake.

Convict Lake in Mammoth, CA with a boat

6. Enjoy a secluded beach day at Convict Lake, California.

This lake has a wild backstory, and is one of the bluest lakes in the Sierra! There’s even a local tour guide offering horseback rides around the perimeter of the lake. Convict Lake is another location ripe for a beach day, and it’s a little less crowded and quieter than June Lake. The 2-mile loop hike around the lake is a must-do for hiking enthusiasts!

Sunrise on Alabama Hills, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA

Bonus tip: Find your favorite FREE campsite on Eastern Sierra BLM land!

Where there’s BLM land, there’s free camping, and along Hwy 395, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is everywhere! Explore Horton Creek for sites with awesome stone picnic tables and easy access to bathrooms and water. Many of the area’s hot springs are also on BLM land, and camping near a good soak is always a great option. The fun is in the exploring. Use one of these interactive BLM maps to narrow in on your dream site, then get out there and start your adventure!

Words by former LA intern Sydney Shopp of and LA marketing manager, Michael Misselwitz

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