The drive from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes does not have to be six hours of sheer boredom. If you allow yourself some extra time to have a few adventures along the way, you will find the drive fun and rewarding.
There are numerous adventures to have while driving to Mammoth Lakes from Los Angeles, but the ones I recommend are:
- Vasquez Rocks
- Blackbird Park
- The Music Road
- Apollo Regional Park
- Exotic Feline Breeding Compound
- Red Rock Canyon State Park
- Alabama Hills
- Manzanar Interment Camp
- Keough’s Hot Springs
- Mammoth Hot Springs / Hot Creek Geological Site
There are two criteria for being an excellent side adventure on your way to Mammoth Lakes from Los Angeles. The first criteria are that it must be located a short distance from the freeway. These adventures should not add much to your driving time; six hours is long enough.
The second criteria are that it must be easily assessable to both vans and RVs. Anyone in a van or RV can access these adventures and will not have to worry about getting stuck or returning to the freeway.
Both criteria will make sure you have an enjoyable experience having a side adventure on your way to Mammoth Lakes.
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is a ten-minute drive from the 14 freeway and the first place I recommend you explore. The park is 932-acre and is located in the Sierra Pelona Mountains near Agua Dulce. The rocks provide a perfect place for hiking or practicing your rock-climbing skills.
Several hikes are possible at Vasquez Rocks. The most popular hike is a half-mile exploration of Famous Rocks, the most recognizable rock formation in the park. For a longer hike, try the park loop, which traces a portion of the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT).
You can either visit the park for a quick picture or try to climb one of its iconic rocks. Either way, your time at Vasquez Rocks will provide a good side trip on the way to Mammoth Lakes.
- Visit: Vasquez Rocks
- Distance from LA: 45 Miles
- See: Vasquez Rocks
- Fee: Free
- Address: 10700 West Escondido Canyon Road, Agua Dulce, CA
Blackbird and Joe Davis Airpark
Blackbird Airpark is a must-visit for any van or RV nomad interested in aviation and has dreamed of flying some of the world’s fastest planes. The park is part of the Air Force Flight Test (AFFT) Museum at Edwards AFB and is located 5 minutes from the Freeway.
Only Open Thursdays thru Sunday
Blackbird Park is the world’s only display of a Lockheed SR-71A and its predecessor, the A-12; CIA version of the plane. There is also a D-21 drone and the only remaining U-2 “D” model in the world.
The Joe Davis Heritage Airpark is located next to the Blackbird Airpark. Visitors to the Airpark will see a collection of aircraft flown, tested, designed, produced, or modified at the United States Air Force Plant 42. The Airpark includes 21 retired military aircraft on static display, plus a 1/8 scale model of the B-2 Spirit, an AGM-28 Hound Dog Missile, a B-52, a C-46, and various aircraft components.
You can walk around the Airpark in about 30-minutes and see all the planes on display. They also have a small gift shop. Both airparks are an educational side trip on the way to Mammoth Lakes.
- Visit: Blackbird Airpark / Joe Davis Heritage Airpark
- Distance from LA: 67 Miles
- Location: 2001 E Avenue P, Palmdale, CA 93550
- Visit: Blackbird Airpark / Joe Davis Heritage Airpark
- Hours: Open Thursday thru Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
- Fee: Free
The Music Road
The Music Road is an adventure where you do not even have to leave your van or RV. It is a 10-minute total side trip and well worth the experience, especially if you are driving with kids.
The road was created for a Honda commercial in 2008 and has become a tourist attraction ever since.
The musical road plays musical notes to the finale of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.” The sounds are created as you drive over strategically placed grooves in the road.
The road is in Lancaster on Avenue G. The original road was paved over after residents complained of the noise but was relocated further away from homes.
If you wish to hear the musical road play a tune, you must stay in the far-left lane. Though many drivers have tried the road at multiple speeds, it is said that driving at the speed limit of 55mph provides the optimal sound quality.
The Music Road is the quickest adventure on this list and well worth it. You can genuinely hear music coming from the road.
- Distance from LA: 74 Miles
- Location: 3187 W Ave G, Lancaster, California, 93536
- Fee: Free
Apollo Regional Community Park
Apollo Park is located a mile from the Music Road and about 5-minutes from the freeway. It is a beautiful park that features three artificial lakes and tall trees.
The park is named after the Apollo 11 astronauts and was dedicated in 1972.
The 54-acre park hosts three fishing derbies every year, two for adults and one for youth, with prizes awarded for the biggest catch. Patrons can enjoy lunch under one of the many picnic shelters or just take a stroll on the walking paths around the beautiful lakes.
Apollo Regional Community Park is a perfect place to stopover and relax while driving to Mammoth.
- Distance from LA: 75 Miles
- Location: 4555 W. Ave. G, Lancaster, CA 93536
- Fee: Free
- Website: Apollo Regional Community Park
Exotic Feline Breeding Compound
The Exotic Feline Breeding Compound, or the Cat House as the cats like to call it, is a fun place to visit for any van or RV nomad looking to learn about exotic cats. They have a variety of cats on display to include leopards, tigers, lynx, bobcats, and many other types of cats.
The Cat House is a 7-minute drive from the freeway and is an amazing place to learn about these magnificent animals.
- Distance from LA: 86 Miles
- Location: 3718 60th Street West, Rosamond, CA 93560
- Fee: $15 Adult; $7 Child
- Visit: Exotic Feline Breeding Compound
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Red Rock Canyon State Park is located 5-minutes from the 14 Freeway and a secret jewel that most people bypass. The park makes for a great place to stop over to have lunch or go hiking.
The park is located at the Sierra Nevada mountains’ southernmost tip and the El Paso Range. You will see its beauty as you drive into the canyon on the 14 Freeway.
The park has many desert cliffs and canyons to explore. Each canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes and vivid colors. The park is well worth visiting for the scenic desert cliffs and the vivid colors during sunrise and sunset.
Located within the park is the Ricardo campground. It offers 50 primitive campsites, potable water, pit toilets, fire rings, and tables. There are no RV hook-ups or showers.
You can either visit Red Rocks for a quick lunch or spend longer hiking among its beautiful red rocks. A stopover is well worth the time spent on the road.
- Visit: Red Rock Canyon State Park
- Distance from LA: 120 Miles
- Fee: Entrance $5; Camping $10
- Address: 37749 Abbott Dr, Cantil, CA 93519
The Alabama Hills are world-renowned for their beautiful and fantastic rock formations. Located at the base of Mount Whitney in Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills is a 5-minute drive from US Highway 395 and my number one adventure when traveling to Mammoth Lakes.
The Alabama Hills offer endless hiking and rock climbing. The most accessible and popular hike is to Mobius Arch. The hike is about .6 miles long with minimal elevation gain. Halfway through the hike, you will see Mobius Arch, where you can take a picture of the Sierra Mountains thru its opening.
If you feel like spending the night, you can boondock in the hills for free. The Alabama Hills is operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), so you can camp there for up to 14-days. It is amazing waking up in the morning to see the sun shining on Mt. Whitney.
- Visit: Alabama Hills
- Distance from LA: 214 Miles
- Fee: Free Boondocking
- Address: Whitney Portal Rd, Lone Pine
Manzanar National Historic Site
Manzanar National Historic Site was an Asian-American Internment Camp located right off US Highway 395. It’s an excellent place to stop and get a sobering history lesson on how the country treated Asia Americans during World War II.
The internment camp is one of the most preserved camps in America today. There’s a visitor center that offers lessons on what went on and guided tours of the grounds.
You can also take a self-driving tour of the grounds where you do not have to leave your van or RV. The self-driving tour usually takes around 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much you stop.
Manzanar is worth the time to visit on your way to Mammoth Lakes. It will allow you to reflect on the past.
- Visit: Manzanar National Historic Site
- Distance from LA: 218 Miles
- Fee: Free
- Address: Manzanar Reward Rd, California
Keough’s Hot Springs
Keough’s Hot Springs is located about 10 minutes north of Big Pine and a 3-minute drive from US Highway 395.
Keough’s Hot Springs was established in 1919 and is the largest natural hot springs pool in the Eastern Sierra. The hot springs include lounge chairs for sunbathing, a snack bar, a picnic area, and a rock garden trail.
There are two pools. The large pool is kept at 86 – 89 degrees in the summer heat and 90 to 92 degrees in the winter chill. There is also a hot pool kept at a comforting 104 degrees year-round.
There is camping available at the hot springs. The campsites range from electricity to dry camping.
Keough’s Hot Springs is an excellent stopover on your way to Mammoth Lakes. A relaxing dip in the hot springs will relax anyone after the 5 hours you have driven so far.
- Visit: Keough’s Hot Springs
- Fee: $12 Adult
- Directions: From Big Pine, drive 7.6 miles North on US-395. Turn Left on Keough Hot Springs Road. Continue straight for .6 miles.
Mammoth Hot Springs / Hot Creek Geological Site
Congratulations, you are only 20-minutes from Mammoth Lakes. However, there is one more adventure worth having.
The Mammoth Hot Springs comprises six different hot springs located 10-minutes off US Highway 395. The hot springs include Wild Willy’s, The Crab Cooker, Hill Top, Shepherd, Hot Tub, and the Whitmore.
The hot springs are located on Benton Crossing Road off Hwy 395 before the Mammoth Airport. Benton Crossing Road is paved, but the hot springs’ dirt roads are not. The road is passable by both van and RV but take it slow.
Located in the vicinity of the Mammoth hot springs is the Hot Creek Geological Site. It’s an impressive blue and turquoise hot spring located on Hot Creek. You are not allowed to swim in these hot springs but they are worth visiting.
Hot Creek Geological Site is located 3 miles from the airport off Hot Creek Hatchery Road. There are signs to follow. The road is mostly dirt so I do not recommend large RVs.
The hot springs are located on BLM land so that you can camp for up to 14 days. However, you are not allowed to camp on dirt roads.
A stopover at Mammoth Hot Springs is a perfect adventure for any trip to Mammoth Lakes. Any swim in these natural hot pools will calm your nerves after the long drive from Los Angeles. You will be happier to know that you are only 20 minutes away from your final destination.
- Visit: Mammoth Hot Springs
- Distance from LA: 306 miles
- Fee: Free
The side adventures mentioned in this article will give you a great detour of adventures on your drive from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes. You can choose only to do one and save the others for another trip, or you can try to do them all. Either way, you will not be disappointed in either of the adventures listed here. Now you can start looking forward to the drive to Mammoth Lakes.
References and Other Adventures:
What are the top 5 boondocking locations in SoCal for van and RV lifers? The top 5 boondocking locations are: Anza Borrego Desert Joshua Tree