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3 Reasons to Visit the Eastern Sierra

Updated: May 2, 2020

Alpine View of Temple Crag at Big Pine Lakes
Big Pine Lake (Lake 2)

MacBook users, do you remember that stunning, slightly ice-capped mountain landscape on macOS Sierra? Yup- that's in California and as Apple hints to its MacBook users, it's located in the Eastern Sierra.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the Eastern Sierra, it is a region that lines the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. It stretches between Lone Pine and the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. This extensive terrain is often recognized by its snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes, and ample pine forests. However, these are only a few of what the Eastern Sierra has to fully offer. US Highway 395 will take you directly through the Eastern Sierra and provides entry to some of the most jaw-dropping places you may not have known to exist in California.

This past June, my friends and I embarked on a weekend road trip to explore a few parts of the Eastern Sierra. We stayed at a charming Airbnb in Lone Pine, and it was the perfect size for the 4 of us. Although there are numerous Airbnb options along the Eastern Sierra, I recommend booking your home in advance as reservations become quickly filled. I also suggest renting a car for your trip- preferably a 4WD as you may encounter rough terrains if you're planning to visit locations like Alabama Hills. Additionally, 5-7 days should be sufficient enough to stop by the popular areas whilst making time to take in the incredible scenery. However, since the Eastern Sierra comprises of a seemingly endless amount of sights and activities, it'd probably take multiple, separate trips to fully experience the expansive region. Here are a few reasons you should plan your next trip to the Eastern Sierra:

North Fork Trail to Big Pine Lakes

There are ample hiking, camping, and backpacking opportunities to witness unreal scenery in the Sierras.

Big Pine Lakes is one of the most popular backpacking areas in the Inyo National Forest as it contains some of California's (few) glacial lakes and alpine scenery. You do need a permit in order to stay overnight; however, it's unnecessary if you're planning a day trip. Big Pine Lakes consists of two trails: the more popular North Fork Trail and the South Fork Trail. The North Fork Trail will take you directly to Lakes 1-7, and to the Palisade Glacier if you're planning on camping overnight. Lakes 1-3 are the most popular as you can view the towering Temple Crag sitting behind a glacial lake- the perfect spot for a photo op!

My friends and I found a day hike to be completely doable. Keep in mind we are beginner hikers. We were able to reach Lakes 1 and 2 within 3 hours and 30 minutes; however, more advanced hikers can complete Lakes 1-7 in a full day. The hike to Lakes 1 and 2 was relatively easy, including some switchbacks and incline. I would rate the level to be moderate. After finding ourselves a bit lost during the beginning of our hike, the total distance was approximately 12-13 miles roundtrip. The entire trail itself was stunning, with no shortage of spectacular sights- pine forests, creeks, open valleys, and some lingering snow on the surrounding mountains.

Alpine Scenery at North Fork Trail in Big Pine
North Fork Trail

Lake 1 at Big Pine
Lake 1

Exploring Highway 395 is an adventure in itself.

US Highway 395 is not only the gateway to the Eastern Sierra, but it’s also lined with several neat spots that you wouldn’t believe are just a few hours away from your backyard. A few locations include Manzanar National Historic Site, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Mono Lake, and Devil Postpile National Monument.

My friends and I visited Manzanar National Historic Site after our day hike in Big Pine. Located in Independence, this museum (previously an internment camp) pays tribute to more than 110,000 Japanese-American citizens who were incarcerated during World War II. Men, women, and children were violently displaced and forced into brutal lives at the Manzanar War Relocation Center. The museum was excellent; it was filled with extensive exhibits that provided a ton of information and history. We also went on the short driving tour, which I highly recommend. The path takes you through the old grounds and to the cemetery. The cemetery itself was incredible, and extremely eerie- a shrine sits in the cemetery with the Sierra Nevada mountains lying behind.

Cemetery at Manzanar National Historic Site
Manzanar National Historic Site

You can witness Mount Whitney in all its glory.

Alabama Hills is an extraordinary, out-of-this-world (it literally feels like you've landed on Mars) recreation area near Lone Pine. There is no doubt as to why this area has been used as a film location for decades. Alabama Hills is a range of unique rock formations, and is distinguished by its dramatic backdrop of Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Nevada mountains. One day is sufficient enough to explore the entire area, but if you're limited on time, 2-3 hours will work as well. As I mentioned previously, a 4WD is ideal for the rough roads in this area, but our small sedan was fortunately able to get by.

The best way to experience Alabama Hills is by driving along Movie Road, which parallels numerous rock formations and film locations. There are several arches and strange rock formations such as Boot Arch, Cyclops Double Arch, and Gene Autry Rock. Perhaps the most popular arch formation is Mobius Arch. After a short 10-minute hike, you will be presented with a natural arch that perfectly frames Mt. Whitney. Photographers from all over the United States visit for this photo op and with good reason- its views are incredible!

Alabama Hills in Lone Pine
Alabama Hills

Mobius Arch at Alabama Hills in Lone Pine
Mobius Arch

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