The picturesque Lee Vining Canyon borders the eastern edge of Yosemite. To drive the 12-mile scenic byway into the Inyo National Forest, start at Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Entrance and head east on Highway 120. You will first pass by Tioga Lake. It’s a good chance to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and look out at the view at the roadside overlook. Then the road curves around switchbacks with canyon walls on one side, and views of multi-colored peaks jutting up from the canyon on the other.
Off the highway, there are many opportunities for hiking and fishing in this glacier-carved landscape. There are ample campgrounds in this short 12-mile stretch including Tioga Lake Campground, Ellery Lake Campground, Big Bend Campground, Aspen Campgrounds, Moraine Campground and Lower Lee Vining Campground. Find lodging at the Tioga Pass Resort with 10 rustic log cabins and 4 motel rooms. Check their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TiogaPassResort for seasonal availability.
After a leisurely 30-minutes, the byway ends at the junction of I-395. But right before you reach this intersection, turn into Vista Point Drive near a gas station. The Mono Lake Vista Point overlook with a gorgeous view of the salty lake is just a short distance. Want a quick and unique side trip? Just down the road, take the time to walk the level path at Mono Lake’s South Tufa Area with odd-looking lumpy formations, an island and nesting area for thousands of birds. Or for the more adventurous, rent a kayak at Mono Basin Kayak Rental (monobasinkayakrental.com) to explore the waters.
The Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway is closed in winter, and usually follows the road schedule of Tioga Pass in Yosemite.