Exploring Hwy 395: Convict Lake in California

While exploring Highway 395 from Bishop, CA we stopped at Convict Lake, which was just 45 minutes away. The scenic drive was amazing as snow capped mountains looked like paintings on our road trip. As soon as we turned onto the Convict Lake Road, we went up the mountain, passed Convict Lake Resort as well as a General Store, and then we were greeted by the best view while crossing a bridge. The lake with snowy mountains in the background looked majestic. Next time, we’ll go back and hike the loop trail. Keep reading to learn travel tips for visiting this location.

Travel Tips for Visiting Convict Lake

Timing is Key: Visit during the early morning or late afternoon to enjoy the best lighting for photography and to avoid crowds.

Weather Check: The weather in the Sierra Nevada mountains can change rapidly. Check the forecast before your visit and dress accordingly, especially if you plan to hike or spend a lot of time outdoors.

Pack Essentials: Bring essentials like sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of water, especially if you plan to explore the trails around the lake.

Hiking Trails: Convict Lake offers several hiking trails of varying difficulty levels. The Convict Lake Loop Trail is an easy, scenic walk around the lake suitable for all ages and abilities. For more experienced hikers, consider tackling the nearby Mount Morrison or Laurel Mountain trails for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

Fishing: Convict Lake is known for its trout fishing. Anglers can try their luck catching rainbow and brown trout. Make sure you have a valid California fishing license before casting your line.

Boating: Non-motorized boats such as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards are allowed on Convict Lake. Enjoy a peaceful paddle while taking in the breathtaking scenery. We didn’t see any during our visit in late March.

Picnicking: Pack a picnic and enjoy a meal at one of the designated picnic areas around the lake. It's a fantastic way to soak in the beauty of the surroundings while enjoying a meal with family or friends.

Wildlife Viewing: Keep an eye out for wildlife such as deer, birds, and occasionally bears in the surrounding forested areas. Remember to observe wildlife from a safe distance and never feed them.

Photography Opportunities: Convict Lake offers photographers endless opportunities to capture stunning landscapes, especially during sunrise and sunset when the light is most dramatic. Don't forget your camera or smartphone!

Respect Nature: Help preserve the natural beauty of Convict Lake by following Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash, stay on designated trails, and respect wildlife and other visitors.

How Did Convict Lake Get Its Name?

Convict Lake in Mono County got its name from a notorious incident in 1871 when a group of convicts escaped from a Nevada prison. They engaged in a shootout with a posse near the lake, resulting in several deaths. The convicts fled to the area, where they were eventually captured or killed. The lake, previously known as Monte Diablo Lake, was renamed Convict Lake in memory of the event. Today, it serves as a reminder of the drama that unfolded on its shores over a century ago.

Trip Recap

I drove my two brothers Sean and Steven to our first stop of the day, which was at Hot Creek Geological Site. As soon as we drove up, we saw snow on the ground and the wind was brisk at 38°F. I was freezing! We hiked down to the water where we were immediately hit with the smell of hard-boiled eggs, thanks to the sulfur. We saw steam rising from beneath volcanic rock and from the bubbling water in the creek. Exploring was fun and after a long tiring hike back up to the parking lot, we made our way to Convict Lake, which was just a 16 minute drive. 

Photo by Steven Buena

Photo by Steven Buena

Photo by Steven Buena

Photo by Steven Buena

Photo by Steven Buena

We drove past the resort, restaurant, and General Store. We kept driving and slowed down to 10 miles per hour as we crossed a bridge. We were lucky to find parking immediately and took so many photos with snowy mountains in the background. There was some melting snow on the ground, which caused a bit of mud but it wasn’t too bad. 

We then walked around snapping pictures of what looked like a painting. We were there with other tourists who all admired the scenery. As soon as 1pm hit, hunger kicked in so we wanted to check out the resort area to see if we could eat at the restaurant and pick up souvenirs at the General Store. Unfortunately, the restaurant opens at 5pm so we went to the General Store and then went back to Bishop, CA to eat lunch at our Airbnb. We walked around the Bishop for a bit and picked up some goodies from Schat’s Bakery including bacon, chili, and cheese sticks, mini croissants filled with fruit, cream cheese, or chocolate, and I also picked up some Stonewall strawberry jam. 

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Layered up with 1 long sleeve shirt, 2 hoodies, and a wind breaker + two pairs of pants! I was still freezing.

Convict Lake around sunset

We were the only ones here around 6pm on a Thursday in late March

Overall, day 2 of our roadtrip was fun and I highly recommend checking out the family-friendly Hot Creek Geological Site and Convict Lake.

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