NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Exploring Inyo National Forest


Not unlike its neighbor to the north, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Inyo National Forest is long and narrow. It stretches for 165 miles along the California/Nevada border mostly on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains from about Mono Lake south past Mt. Whitney to the Owens Valley, almost to Death Valley. It shares another trait as well; Hwy. 395. That is the only major road in the area, but what a road it is. There's as much recreation to be had along Hwy. 395 as almost any road in northern California, our playground of choice.

Inyo (dwelling place of a great spirit) National Forest consists of over 2 million acres of land and was originally established by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1907. It's a relatively high-elevation place ranging from 3,900 feet near Owens Lake to 14,497 feet at the summit of Mt. Whitney. It is also home to what is thought to be the world's oldest tree (Methuselah), a 4,700 year-old Bristlecone Pine holding court in the White Mountains.

Things To Do


There are 9 wilderness areas and over 1,200 miles of designated trails totally or partly within forest boundaries. The wilderness areas are: Ansel Adams, John Muir, South Sierra, Boundary Peak, Golden Trout, Hoover, Inyo Mountains, White Mountains and the Owens River Headwaters. Overnight trips into the Hoover, Ansel Adams, John Muir and Golden Trout wilderness areas require a wilderness permit. All trailheads in the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness areas as well as Cottonwood Pass in the Golden Trout area are subject to daily quotas, the former from May 1-November 1 and the latter from the last Friday in June-September 15. Generally, half of the permits may be reserved in advance and the rest are issued in person on a first-come, first served basis starting at 11AM the day before a planned hike. Click this link for more information:

Wilderness Permit Office

351 Pacu Lane, Ste. 200

Bishop, CA  93514

Wilderness Info. Line: (760) 873-2485

Reservation Line: (760) 873-2483

Winter Sports
There are two downhill and one Nordic ski areas within the forest. The Mammoth Lakes Basin area features groomed cross-country ski trails, available for a fee.

There are three scenic byways and thousands of miles of roads to be explored.

Hundreds of lakes, 4 wild and scenic rivers and many less famous rivers and streams make this area an anglers paradise. Crowley and Convict Lakes are particular attractions with highly rated fisheries.

There are 92 established public (forest service) campgrounds to go along with several managed by Inyo County, BLM or one of many private campgrounds/resorts. There is always the opportunity to boondock almost anywhere in the forest (excepting wilderness areas). Outside of established campgrounds a campfire permit is required when using a stove, grill or open campfire.


Mono Basin National Scenic Area-
tufa spires, migratory birds and a very informative visitor center make this a must-do spot when exploring this area.

June Lake Loop-
Hwy. 158 just south of Mono Lake creates a loop that will take the visitor past numerous lakes and other attractions with opportunities to hike, fish, camp, swim and simply enjoy a very pretty area.

Mammoth Lakes Basin-
an area with more than 20 lakes, seven accessible by vehicle, makes this another must-see for those who like to hike, fish, camp and otherwise enjoy the outdoors.

Crowley Lake-
a highly rated and popular place set at 6,720 feet with lots of trout and Sacramento perch. Now surpassed, at one time the state record brown trout was caught here, weighing in at over 25 pounds. There is no public camping but there is a private marina. There are several public campgrounds within commute range.

Convict Lake-
another high quality destination with a great mix of good fishing and good camping.

Devil's Postpile National Monument-
unique 60 foot basalt columns mark this spot with a small campground and a few hikes of note.

Lake Sabrina & Environs-
North Lake, South Lake and Lake Sabrina provide a hat-trick of recreational opportunities.

Saddlebag Lake- the highest drive-to lake in California with fishing, camping and other recreational opportunities.


Click the links below for a detailed guide to the road trips noted.

Hwy. 395- the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway

Hwy. 120- the Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway

-The End-