We just returned from a week in the Mammoth Lakes area.
Mammoth is located in the Sierra Mountains of Eastern California at an elevation just under 8,000 feet and a population just over 8,000 people. I must admit that I am partial to the mountains, but being on the edge of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness, the scenery was stunning.
Many people think of Mammoth as a winter wonderland and skiers paradise, which of course it is. But what about the summer? Our weather was in the 70’s, beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds and absolutely no snow.
Hiking, mountain biking, and fishing are probably near the top of the list when you think of summer outside activities. There is all that, and so much more, that this place has to offer.
Here is a sampling of some of the things we did or saw or are available to experience.
1. Devil’s Postpile National Monument –
“The formation is a rare sight in the geologic world and ranks as one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. Its columns tower 60 feet high and display an unusual symmetry.” – National Park Service
An easy 0.4 mile hike one way from the parking lot, this is a great way to get your hiking boots warmed up. You can also circle up and around the top of the Postpile for a nice add-on.
We combined this simple hike with lunch at Red’s Meadow (a short drive past the trailhead) and a walk around Sotcher Lake.
The John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails join into one trail in the monument.
2. Rainbow Falls –
Rainbow Falls can be reached by continuing approximately 2 miles past Devil’s Postpile, or by taking the trailhead near Red’s Meadow, which is what we did the following morning.
From the trailhead it is about a 2.9 mile round trip to the falls. This is another easy to moderate hike to the viewpoint at the top of the falls. If you decide to go to the bottom of the falls, it requires descending some rather steep stairs.
The falls are 101 feet high, and when the sun hits just right, a rainbow can be seen in the mist.
3. Take the gondola to the top of the mountain –
The Scenic Gondola ride is $24 or $31 if you want to prepay for a lunch that includes a hot sandwich, choice of side dish and a soda fountain beverage.
This was the first time I had seen Mammoth with absolutely no snow on top. The last time I was here there was still about 12 feet of snow in July. The views are spectacular on a clear day.
The gondolas are set up to allow up to eight passengers per car. They also are used by mountain bikers to transport their bikes to the top for one heck of a thrilling bike ride back to the bottom. Helmets required!
4. Convict Lake (fishing and kayaking) –
Just 10 miles from Mammoth (near the Mammoth airport), Convict Lake turned out to be one of my favorite stops. We hiked all the way around the lake one afternoon. The pathway was gentle in most places with only a few short sections of up/down steps. I logged 2.6 miles around the lake, but I also took some detours to take pictures.
The lake and stream are best known for fishing, but there are also boats and kayaks available for rent.
We returned the next morning for some early sunrise photography and rented kayaks for two hours. The rate for two hours was $40, but since it was off-season and slow we were offered a discounted rate of $30 for the two hours.
5. Mono Lake –
About 35 miles North on Highway 395 you will find one of the most bizarre looking places I have seen. There is a visitors center with a short film and history of the lake, water feud, and how the Tufa formations are created.
The best place to photograph the Tufa is just south of the lake. Take the South Tufa exit and proceed several miles.
I was just at Mono Lake in July, but the other couple traveling with us had not been there. This time we scheduled an early morning stop, so the lighting was a bit different from my previous late afternoon visit.
Here is a link to my earlier post and more information about Mono Lake.
6. Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows –
From Mammoth, it is under 50 miles to Tuolumne Meadows, or only 20 miles from Mono Lake.
The Yosemite wildfire was still going and the western side of the park was completely closed. We were able to enter from the east side and travel through the Tuolumne Meadows area.
I was told by one of the Rangers that the best time to see this side of the park is in July when most of the wildflowers are out and this entire meadow is covered in blooms.
We had planned on doing more hiking and sightseeing in the park, but the wind shifted and the smoke from the forest fire became too dense for outdoor activity.
7. Bodie State Historical Park –
“Bodie State Historic Park is a genuine California gold-mining ghost town.”
This turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. It is truly a photographers dream destination. Located about 1 1/2 hours drive north of Mammoth (54 miles), this is a must see for anyone interested in early mining history.
After leaving the highway, the last 13 miles are dirt and washboard rough.
This is a ghost town, and is in a state of decay. It is partially being preserved and looks much the same as it did over 50 years ago when the last residents left. There are no services available.
You are free to wander through the empty town, look into windows, and imagine a time gone by. An additional $5 guided tour is offered through the mining operation site.
We wandered around for several hours and I could have easily spent longer. Click here for more information about Bodie.
8. Mammoth Lakes Basin –
“Most lakes in the basin and many of the other over 100 nearby lakes were scooped out by glaciers. There are several lakes that give the town the name, Mammoth Lakes.”
We visited several lakes in the lower basin area, including Mamie Lake, Lake Mary, McLeod, and Twin Lakes.
Our morning hike took us to and around McLeod Lake. A moderate uphill .5 mile hike from the trailhead to the lake, easy level 1 mile around the lake and .5 mile downhill back to the parking lot.
This area is crawling with hiking and bike trails and the lakes were recently restocked with trout. There were also boats and kayaks available for rent at Lake Mary.
9. Mountain Biking –
Now mountain biking is not my thing, but it is certainly popular here. The town makes it easy with their public transportation. Take a look at this bus with the long trailer it is pulling to accommodate bikes. How cool is that?
10. Exploring the Village –
There are numerous shops and restaurants in “The Village” area. There are also several outlet stores on Main Street, including Polo Ralph Lauren and Bass Shoe Outlet.
The week flew by. I would definitely recommend the Mammoth Lakes area to anyone that enjoys nature, wildlife, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, photography, stunning vistas or even golf.
The elevation is a bit on the high side (8000 feet in town, 11,000 at the top of the mountain) so if you have a problem with altitudes, please take the time to get acclimated
Many of the things we were able to do are only available in the summer months. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention – we did see a bear!