Bridgeport sits at almost 6500′ of elevation along the 395, which is one of the most interesting and beautiful highways we’ve driven. The town is small, maybe 500 people, there’s no real grocery store and the few services offered include a couple gas stations, a couple hotels, an auto parts store, a couple restaurants, a post office, and a Mono County Sheriff’s office. Gas is ridiculously expensive and along the Bridgeport Reservoir where Paradise Shores is located, there was a cloud of flying bugs like we’ve never experienced before. At first glance, Bridgeport — and the surrounding area — is somewhere to pass through as you drive to some other destination, enjoying the view of the Eastern Sierras as you go. However, after spending four nights at Paradise Shores with zero signal from our AT&T phones (no worries — our Verizon phone & hotspot worked well), we felt we definitely could have spent more time there. According to Charlie and Kelli of Instagram’s SlowDownSeeMore, who were Work Campers at Paradise Shores for the season (which is April to October), the best time to visit the area is June, when the snow has melted, all of the roads are open, and the waterfalls, rivers, and lakes are at their best. We’d love to return to the area and experience some of the amazing hikes and hot springs that we missed out on on this visit.
Paradise Shores RV Camp
2399 Hwy 182, Bridgeport, CA 93517
- Full Hookups
- Bathrooms with Showers
- Outdoor Kitchen
- Fish Cleaning Station
- Community Fire Pit
- Access to Bridgeport Reservoir
- Propane Fill
- Trailers for Rent
- Dog Wash
Paradise Shores is by no means an RV resort. While it has all of the amenities you’d find at an RV resort, it offers them in a very laid back, kitschy, hippy kind of way. If it were a restaurant, the sign on the door would say, ‘No Shoes, No Shirt — No Problem.’ This is definitely not a big rig friendly place, and that seems to be by design. The owners seemed to have planned the park in a way that makes its visitors hang out outside, whether they’re chatting with neighbors or relaxing in the broken-in couches around the community fire pit; though, preferably when there are fewer bugs. The sites are snug, even for our 27, and there’s not a whole lot of privacy. Some people may be turned off by the overall size and coziness of the park, but it worked well for us. Honestly, when we weren’t eating, sleeping, and working, we were out exploring, so there was no need for a place that’s a little shinier and more manicured. Besides the lack of AT&T signal, which is obviously not Paradise Shores fault, the only other negative mark I would give it is there wasn’t a great option for walking Max. First, because it was small with no grass. Second, because it’s right on a highway, so the only place to walk outside the park is along the shoulder of the 182. And third, the owner’s dogs wander around off leash, and while they’re very good dogs, Max takes issue with off-leash dogs that approach him. We definitely will return to the area at some point, but may try staying about 30 miles further south down the 395 in Lee Vining due to its proximity to Yosemite and its cute, small mountain town vibe.
There are SO many things to do and see in the area, and we ran out of time for most of them, but here’s what kept us busy during our stay in Bridgeport:
Yosemite National Park
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” -John Muir
Yosemite is our country’s third national park, established in 1890. The Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center, managed by the US Forest Service and operated in partnership with the National Park Service and the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, is located in Lee Vining, about a half hour drive from Paradise Shores. The visitor center is a wealth of knowledge for how to experience the natural wonders in the area, including Yosemite. From the visitor center, it’s a 15-minute drive along the stunning Tioga Pass to the east entrance of the park. From there, it’s about another 20 minutes until you arrive in Tuolumne Meadows. All of Tioga Road is closed during winter, approximately November to May, which means you can only enter the park from the west side during that time.
We were in Bridgeport from a Saturday afternoon to a Wednesday morning and would only have Sunday to explore Yosemite, as week days = work days. Because of Max and the fact that we don’t like leaving him alone in the Airstream all day, we had to decide between staying on the east side of the park where we could go for a hike and get back home to him in a timely manner -or- bring him with and drive through the entire park, knowing we wouldn’t be able to do any hikes because dogs aren’t allowed on trails. We chose to bring him with so we could take our time driving through the park to Yosemite Valley, which is where the bulk of Yosemite’s annual five million visitors hang out. Obviously, not the ideal way to visit Yosemite, but our day trip gave us a good idea of what, where, and when for a future visit.
For those that have never been to Yosemite before, Yosemite Valley is basically a small town. There are hotels, a medical center, a museum, a visitor center, restaurants, a grocery store, a post office, and even a courthouse that handles misdemeanors that take place within the 750,000-acre park. Of course, there are also campgrounds and waterfalls and trailheads to what I’m sure are amazing hikes that we hope to experience in the future, sans dog. Yosemite is a lot like Glacier National Park, as in you CAN just drive through the park on the main road and see some great sights, but in order to really experience the park, you need to get (miles and miles) off the main road via your own two feet.
Mono Lake in Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area
From the information received at the visitor center: “One of the oldest lakes in North America, Mono Lake is at least 760,000 years old and has had many fluctuations in size. Mono Lake has no outlet. For thousands of years, streams have carried minerals into the lake and evaporation has removed fresh water from it. As a result of this process, the salinity content is over twice that of the ocean. Because of these high salt concentrations, the lake offers a delightfully buoyant swimming experience. Although no fish can live in these alkaline waters, Mono Lake is one of the most productive lakes in the world, supporting trillions of brine shrimp, alkali flies and migratory birds.”
There is a road that encircles the lake from which you can turn off to various parking areas and trails that offer views of the tufa, as well as access to the surrounding Mono Craters, a series of rhylolitic domes. We visited South Tufa, known to have the best tufa formations. There’s a .75-mile loop trail that parallels the water’s edge for a bit, and then loops back to the parking lot through the beautiful golden sagebrush. Dogs are allowed on the trails but not in the lake.
Again, from the visitor information: “The tufa (too-fah) tower formations show what nature can do with a few basic elements. The strange spires and knobs formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate-rich lake water. The combining of these waters forms calcium carbonate, a whitish limestone deposit that forms the basis of the tufa formations. Tufa is found in many alkaline lakes throughout the world.”
After we visited the tufa towers, we planned to drive the June Lake Loop Road based on the advice of SlowDownSeeMore. We made it as far as June Lake Brewing, which was also a recommendation from Charlie and Kelli, and the fantastic Mexican restaurant across the parking lot, Gordos. After we were done eating and drinking, we were tired and decided to head for home. Next time!
Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park is a 30-35 minute drive from Paradise Shores in Bridgeport. The last three miles of the road is rough and rutted, requiring a speed of 10-15 miles per hour. I would not recommend driving it with an RV of any type — we actually saw two different RV’s (one motorhome, one travel trailer) make u-turns and drive back out because of how rough it is.
Bodie is a true Wild West, gold rush ghost town, once home to 8,000 people, 30 mines, and over 60 saloons. While only about 5%, or 110, of the buildings remain from the town’s 1877-1881 boom, it’s easy to picture what life was like in this harsh climate. Bodie is at an elevation of 8,379′, which makes for hot summers and long, cold winters. The boom years were over quickly as unsuccessful mines began closing. The population dropped fast and continued to dwindle into the 1900s. Mining continued until 1942, which is also when the last residents fled. Bodie was designated a California State Park in 1962 and is now preserved in ‘arrested decay,’ which means the buildings’ roofs, windows and foundations are repaired and stabilized, not restored.
Entrance is $8 per adult and an extremely informative booklet with map is available for $2. There are restrooms, but that’s it as far as services. You may want to bring water and snacks if you plan to spend a few hours, which is definitely possible. Dogs are allowed, just not in any of the buildings.
Back in Bridgeport, there’s not a lot to see, but the beautiful courthouse, which serves Mono County, is the state’s second oldest courthouse and has been in continuous use since 1880. Around the backside of the courthouse is the old Mono County Jail. It was opened in 1883 and served Mono County until 1964. It had six cells, two washrooms, an office and a dining area. It’s very small and only takes a few minutes to explore, but it’s free, so it was worth a quick look.
Bridgeport is an interesting area that is definitely worth a stop for a few days, or a even a few weeks, though we offer these tips:
- Visit in June or late September, as it was still pretty hot during the second week of September while we were there.
- Fill your gas tank beforehand. Gas was $5/gallon when we were there and there was nowhere within reasonable driving distance where it was cheaper.
- Hit the grocery store before heading to Bridgeport. There is a little market in town, but it’s really the only store in town and is more like a grocery/hardware/pharmacy type of store. Slim pickings, for sure. We drove down to Lee Vining where the market is also small, but much better stocked, with better choices and some actual produce.
- Bring bug spray. I don’t know if it was the time of year or the fact that where we stayed was right on the reservoir, but the bugs — mosquitoes, flies, moths, and anything else that flies — were out in full force.