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Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway

Scenic Byways or Routes
Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo National Forest – Public Domain

The Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway is located in east-central California and travels along California State Route 120 through theInyo National Forest to the Tioga Pass entrance of Yosemite National Park. At the entrance of the park, Highway 120 becomes the Tioga Road/Big Oak Flat Road National Scenic Byway.

Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway was designated a National Forest Scenic Byway February 8, 1990.

Driving Directions

The byway's western terminus is at the Tioga Pass entrance of Yosemite National Park. The eastern terminus of the byway begins south of Lee Vining at the junction of Interstate 395 and State Highway 120.

Allow 30 minutes to drive the byway. The byway is closed during the winter.

Highlights and Key Points Along the Route

Flanked by the Ansel Adamsand Hoover Wilderness Areas and Yosemite National Park, Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway takes you through glacier and volcano-created scenery; a dichotomous conflict between two primal elements. From million-year-old glacial Mono Lake to the lava flows and pumice deposits in the lunar-landscaped dreamworld of Mono Craters, fire and ice are common themes throughout the area. Tufa towers, created by fresh-water and alkaline interaction, rise out of the water like misshapen sentinels, surveying the alien landscape around them. Equally outlandish is the volcanic landscape of North America's newest mountain range. Mono Craters creates an otherworldly experience, most of which was created in the last 10,000 years or so due to hot, violent geological activity. Both spots boast an assortment of hiking and biking trails and viewpoints for photographers and artists.

Endless outdoor activities exist on Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway's twelve miles. Discover abundant fishing and rafting opportunities in the variety of cold, clean lakes that appear on both sides of the road, or hike and bike around them. Several mountain peaks tower above the terrain, beckoning summits by daring hikers. Ice climbers from around the state sink axes and crampons into frozen falls, conquering the sheer faces that have made the area famous. Wildlife enthusiasts hope for a glimpse of the elusive Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep, a federally designated endangered species, and a variety of rare coastal birds to tick off their lists.

If this seems like too much to do in a day, relax at one of the many campgrounds that reside in the vicinity. Camping areas vary dramatically in size and amenities. Backpackers find secluded campgrounds without the distractions of nearby roads, for example, while other camping sites provide RV hookups and hot showers. Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway is short enough that it can be enjoyed as a quick side trip for Yosemite Park-goers, and interesting enough to make it a destination all its own.

Length of Byway or Route

12.0 miles

Nearby Places