Planning a ski trip this winter? If you have snow tires and a little extra time on your hands, the drive up to Mammoth Lakes is the stuff of winter road-trip dreams. Take the scenic Route 395 and you'll have a view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range for most of your drive.
Photograph: Courtesy nataliej/CC/Flickr
When you hit Big Pine, stop for a bite at Copper Top BBQ, a bright red smoke shack that serves piping-hot ribs and tri-tips. You may end up befriending some hungry alpine climbers headed to or from Mount Whitney (the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet!).
Once you're fueled up, take a small detour east to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home to the oldest trees in the world; some of these twisted and intricately-colored beauties have been around for more than 4,000 years. A tip: Rent snowshoes and throw them in the trunk in case the forest roads are closed so you can still hike in on foot.
Farther north, stop in Bishop for some fresh-baked loaves or pastries at Erick Schat's Bakery, a quaint European-style spot with monster-sized sandwiches and tasty tear-away breads. Drive up the road to Mahogany Smoked Meats, and choose some road snacks from a huge selection of gourmet beef, turkey, elk, buffalo, boar and fish jerkies, all smoke with—you guessed it—mahogany. Samples are free, if you're not ready to commit.
Photograph: Courtesy Erick Schat's Bakery
Though there's no formal address, if you're determined (or willing to ask a local), you can find a group of easily accessible hot springs right off the 395, just south of Mammoth Yosemite Airport. These natural tubs are often crowded, but it's worth stripping down for a relaxing, steamy soak overlooking the mountains you'll soon be skiing.
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