A Road Trip through the Eastern Sierra Mountain Range

By Michelle Stelly

For most of my life, I lived in Texas, so I never really experienced a true autumn season as a kid. Last year, I went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When I saw the vibrant yellow and orange leaves covering the trees, I knew I needed to see more of the fall foliage in years to come.

Now, in 2020, living in Seattle, a trip to the Eastern Sierra Mountain Range was in order. Not only did I want to witness the gorgeous fall-scapes, but I wanted to ensure I’d see lakes and other tourist attractions. Gearing up for the ultimate week-long road trip, my husband and I planned to visit Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake, Bishop, and Alabama Hills. There was going to be a lot of driving, but we were ready for it.

After taking my dip, I dried off and watched the sunset with Jameson. Lake Tahoe really is a dreamy spot.

Mammoth Lakes and June Lake Loop

After chasing the fall colors the year before, I thought I knew what to expect, but nothing prepared me for what Mammoth Lakes and June Lake offered. The trees were speckled with gold no matter where we looked. It was difficult not to stop every ten minutes to take a picture of the yellow trees.

The first thing we did was the June Lake Loop, a road lined with lakes and trees. We got there early in the morning to explore uninterrupted. Our favorites ended up being Silver Lake and Gull Lake. Gull Lake had a hill we could climb for a beautiful overlook of the yellow trees. There were also numerous creeks lined with fishermen.

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In the afternoon, we headed to the Hot Creek Geological Site. This area provides a stunning view of the blue-green steaming hot water and geysers. It’s best to look but not touch, as the water in this area is dangerously hot.

Afterward, we took a dip in the wildly popular hot spring, Wild Willy’s. We went on a weekday so it wasn’t too crowded. The water was so warm we had to get out multiple times just to cool off. Jameson and I relaxed in the springs, enjoying the view of the mountains in the distance. It was a perfect way to end the day.

My favorite area near Mammoth Lakes was Convict Lake. The tall yellow trees surrounded the whole lake. I strongly recommend this location because the more you walk along the path, the more fantastically golden your surroundings become. My only regret is I wish we had walked the lake at sunrise instead of sunset; the sun was behind the mountain most of the time, which made it difficult to take pictures. Regardless, it was breathtaking.

Our last stop in the Mammoth Lakes area was Lundy Canyon. We were supposed to do this on the first day, but we got side-tracked on the June Lake Loop. We almost cut out Lundy Canyon entirely, but I’m glad we didn’t because the canyon was a sight to behold.


We added Bishop to our itinerary since a friend relayed that the fall colors were exceptional. And she was right—the area is breathtaking!

We stayed at Cardinal Village Resort. Built in 1905, it was a cabin for gold miners but eventually converted into a resort. There was even a short hike to an abandoned gold mine that we, of course, had to see. The hike was pretty easy and had even more bright yellow autumn leaves.

Bishop had a few lakes that we wanted to visit. North Lake was the first one, and we decided to catch the sunrise on our venture there. The lake was so still it reflected the jaw-dropping mountains and trees. There were many people there waiting to watch the first morning light hit the mountain peaks. It was such a lovely morning—chilly, but lovely.

Next, we decided to hit Lake Sabrina. We hiked to one of the peninsulas and watched the fishermen in the distance rowing their boats and catching fish. This lake is immense!

On the way to the last lake (South Lake), we spotted a waterfall from the road, which we had to stop and take pictures of. The waterfall was surrounded by golden leaves and being from Texas, I had never seen anything quite like it. To say I was giddy would be an understatement.

Alabama Hills

The last stop on our week-long road trip was in Alabama Hills. This Instagram-famous spot was something I was excited to finally see, and it did not disappoint! The mountains in the distance were jagged, tall, harsh, and craggy. The rounded, scattered boulders throughout the landscape made you feel like you were on a different planet.

It felt like an adult’s playground in which we could drive around dirt roads and climb different-sized boulders. Jameson loved driving our 4Runner on the sketchy dirt roads. I was so glad I added this to our road trip. Even though it was out of the way from Bishop, it was a great conclusion to one of the best road trips I’ve ever experienced. Eastern California really is a fantastic place for a road trip, especially when the leaves are turning.

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