First Anniversary Trip to the East Side
Day 1: The drive over to Virginia Lakes
Our wonderful friends were wed the night before we departed, so needless to say we didn’t get the earliest start to our trip. But I wouldn’t trade those hours we spent on the dance floor for anything.
We leisurely made our way to Virginia Lakes, taking a pit stop in Gardnerville for a cold brew coffee float and matcha latte. Fun fact I learned from my Spanish-descendant husband: the adorable little town of Gardnerville has a sizable Basque population.
We made it to Virginia Lakes, parking directly at the first lake at about 9000 ft elevation. We came from sea level and already had wobbly legs from the dancing, so we were feeling that elevation. We took it slow and soaked up the beautiful hike, encountering a new lake every half-mile or so. Despite the numerous opportunities, no fish were caught. The upper lake was pristine, surrounded by grassy tundra and snow still in the peaks. Lana frolicked in her happy place. You hike right past a long-abandoned cabin. Even with decades of wear, there was a mostly intact bed frame inside. I’m not sure who built this place, or why, but I get it. Who wouldn’t want to spend all their days here?
We ventured a little down the road to a free camp site where we set up for the night. Our first night camping together in the van!
Day 2: June Lake Area
After waking at our campground near Virginia Lakes, we ate chocolate granola with macadamia milk along a ridge — breakfast with a view! (Breakfast photo here)
We packed up and headed on to our next stop: June Lake. June lake is a beautiful little town with seemingly endless recreational opportunities. We parked at the first trailhead we encountered, to Fern and Yost Lakes.
We first hiked to Fern Lake by way of a consistently steep climb. It was work, but the reward was well worth it — a picturesque lake surrounded by epic mountains. There aren’t adjectives to describe this kind of beauty. The views in the Eastern Sierras do not disappoint!
We didn’t stick around long before we got the urge for adventure and decided to traverse the backcountry over to Yost Lake. The terrain was rough, with a mix of brush, loose dirt along steep hills, piles and piles of rocks, and bear caves left and right.
When we made it over to Yost Lake, we realized that Fern Lake was the more lovely of the two. The redeeming factor was we were all alone — we had the lake all to ourselves. We let the dog off leash and enjoyed our PB&H sandwiches along the shoreline.
After our hike, we made our way into town to the local brewery for a beer, and stopped by the store for a few more to go. Our next stop was Silver Lake, where we floated around, ate snacks, and had some cold drinks. It started to feel like vacation at this point.
The next question was: where to park for the night? Phill had scoped out a location along a dirt road that seemed totally campable, and promised some impressive views. We headed that way, and found ourselves on one of the gnarliest, bumpiest, narrow dirt roads up a crazy ridgeline. Pullouts were nowhere to be found and turning the beast of a van around was not possible, so we were committed to ride it out. About an eternity later, we came to the end of the road, and admittedly were both outside our comfort zone on a completely exposed, remote dirt road in the desert. But it was absolutely beautiful and the solitude was welcome. We cooked up some zucchini from our garden with some pasta and pesto and tucked in for the night, knowing we would wake to breathtaking 360 degree views.
Day 3: Mammoth
Day 3 was going to be our biggest day in terms of mileage, so we fueled up with breakfast burritos we had made previously and frozen (P.S. highly recommend doing this). After taking in the scenery, we descended the ridiculous road back to the highway and made our way to Mammoth.
I had never been to Mammoth, so we adventured throughout the town itself rather than the backcountry. Based on the crowds, we weren’t the only ones who decided to spend the holiday there. A grueling 5-mile climb led us to Lake Mary, where we made our way via an awesome bike trail right into the heart of town. Nearly everyone else on the trail was on an e-bike — why didn’t I think of that?
After exploring a good chunk of Mammoth on foot, we got dinner at a juice shop. It was basically a hipster Chipotle, with whole grains and superfoods on the ready. We took our food to go and decided to start the trek back toward home, with some stops in between.
First stop was Bodie, a ghost town about 16 miles off Highway 395 near Bridgeport. We didn’t exactly make it in time to explore, arriving right at closing time, but still got the feel for an old town that was completely abandoned and left intact. Spooky! Our next stop was Travertine Hot Springs, right outside Bridgeport, where we treated our aching bodies to some relief. It felt incredible to soak in the hot, mineral-rich waters and relax. It was even more restorative than I expected, and we left feeling great. When planning multiple days of adventure, be sure to schedule a trip to a hot spring. Your body will thank you.
We left so rejuvenated, but kind of stinky, too. After a few minutes together in the van, we could not handle each other’s sulfurous odor. We booked it to the nearest lake, washed up, and headed out to our destination for the evening: Sonora Pass.
Sonora Pass is one of the highest passes along with Sierras. It is closed off during winter, and it’s not hard to guess why. This road is brutally steep and windy. It was completely dark by the time we made it to the pass, so we pulled off and camped in a parking lot, waiting to see the beauty that surrounded us come morning.
Day 4: Sonora Pass and the Drive Home
Our fourth day on the road began with gluten-free banana pancakes and phenomenal sights. We hiked the nearest trail, a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Not a bad way to spend Independence Day.
The hike was not easy. Like most of our adventures, it was all uphill. Still, Phill and Lana mustered up enough energy to play in the snow.
We hiked up to the peak to take in the panoramic views, snap a couple selfies, and practice some yoga poses. Mountaintop bliss!
After running the downhill back, we took the scenic route back home, along Highway 108 to Sonora, and then along Highway 49 through gold country. We drove the rest of the way home in awe of our beautiful world and so grateful for our opportunity to explore it together.
Happy Anniversary, my love!