This Mountainous California Gem Deserves A Spot On Your Small-Town Bucket List

A trip to California ignites the imagination with images of iconic cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, or endless stretches of beautiful coastlines with rugged cliffs and sandy beaches. However, outside of the major tourist areas, there's an entirely different side of California. It's full of small towns, gorgeous mountains, and natural scenery that resemble the Old American West. These pockets of California can make you feel as though you've stepped back in time to live our your own personal Wild West fantasy.

If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination that is unlike anything you'll experience along the coast, head to Lone Pine. Located in the eastern Sierras, this underrated small California town is a great spot for outdoor adventures. It brings to mind quiet nights spent around a fire, swapping stories, and gazing at the stars. It's a relaxing and picturesque place to spend your vacation away from the hustle and bustle. Outdoor enthusiasts will be particularly delighted with plentiful opportunities to hike, bike, and climb nearby. Movie lovers and history buffs will also find plenty to keep them busy in the area. Connect with nature and your loved ones by planning a visit to Lone Pine. It makes an excellent stop on a West Coast road trip or a relaxing destination all on its own.

Step into the Wild West on a visit to Lone Pine, California

Lone Pine is a tiny town that time seems to have forgotten. It is located in Inyo County and has a year-round population of fewer than 2,000 people. Originally, Indigenous people from the Mono Tribe called the area home. The town of Lone Pine was established in the 1860s by gold miners as a place to get supplies. Later, farmers and ranchers began moving to the area. It was named in honor of a single pine tree that stood at the nearby canyon.

In the 1920s, Lone Pine was discovered by Hollywood. A silent film called "The Roundup" was filmed in the Alabama Hills nearby, and the area soon grew into a popular place to film classic Westerns. You may recognize the stunning natural formations from any of the 400 movies or 100 TV episodes that used it as a filming location, including "Gladiator" and "Iron Man." Some of the biggest stars in Hollywood have set up shop in Lone Pine, including icons like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Mel Gibson, and Robert Downey Jr.

The quaint little village is about an hour from Death Valley National Park and close to other nature preserves that draw various outdoor enthusiasts to the area. The nearby Mount Whitney is the largest mountain peak in the United States outside of Alaska, at 14,505 feet. On a trip to Lone Pine, you can visit both the lowest and highest elevations in the lower 48 states in about an hour's drive.

Outdoor adventures in Lone Pine

If you're under the impression that small towns are boring — think again! Lone Pine is jam-packed with plenty of things to do. Despite its size, there are many places to stay, including casual chain hotels and relaxed motels. You can easily find a room for around $100 per night. Campgrounds offering tent and RV sites are plentiful in the area. For dining options, you'll be able to choose between cozy grills, casual pizza joints, cafés, bakeries, and some of the typical fast food chains you'll find across the U.S. There is also a local market if you prefer to cook during your stay.

Mount Whitney is one of the most popular attractions for hikers and mountain climbers looking for the ultimate challenge in the United States. It was first summited by three locals, followed by John Muir in 1873. It's a challenging hike, and only about a third of the people who attempt it actually make it to the top, but it is possible to complete the climb in a single day. 

Even if you're not ready to make the summit, there are plenty of amazing hikes around Lone Pine that offer all levels of experience and fitness. Rock climbing, especially in the Alabama Hills National Scenic Areas, is another popular activity, along with horseback riding, mountain biking, and even hang gliding! When you're not enjoying the great outdoors, check out some of the historical sites, like local ghost towns, the Manzanar National Historic Site, the Movie Room, and more.