The Ultimate Guide To Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers!
Sculpted by volcanic eruptions and glacial activities, majestic in scale and know for its natural beauty, is the year-round adventure land, Mammoth Lakes!
Mammoth Lakes is a picturesque mountain town nestled at the base of the Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra region of California. Mammoth Lakes is often referred to as the Mammoth Village or just Mammoth Mountain.
Mammoth Mountain is a dormant volcano formed by a series of eruptions several thousand years ago. The Mammoth Lakes region is still geologically active and fascinating with several hot creeks and a fault-line that passes through the Mammoth Lakes region.
There are several beautiful lakes and stunning rock formations in Mammoth Lakes formed by the glacial activities that occurred in the past.
Breathtaking views, crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, majestic mountain ranges, hot springs, a ghost town, and several winter recreational activities make Mammoth Lakes a must-see in California!
There’re several things to see and do in Mammoth Lakes throughout the year! Summer is the peak season for sightseeing, hiking, mountain biking, and camping in Mammoth Lakes. In winter, Mammoth Lakes is a popular ski destination and a hub of several winter recreational activities, including snowboarding, ice skating, tubing, snowshoeing, and more.
Here is my ultimate guide to Mammoth Lakes, featuring major attractions and things to do in Mammoth Lakes, along with a suggested itinerary and recommendations on Mammoth Lakes hotels and restaurants.
Getting To Mammoth Lakes
There are several options to get to Mammoth Lakes. You can fly, drive, or take a train and a connecting bus to Mammoth Lakes.
I recommend flying into one of California’s major airports and then either taking a connecting flight to Mammoth Yosemite Airport or renting a car and driving to Mammoth Lakes.
You could fly into one of the following International or Domestic Airports close to the Mammoth Lakes, rent a car at the airport, and then drive to Mammoth Lakes.
Domestic/Local Airports Near Mammoth Lakes: Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH), Mammoth Lakes, CA, is just 8 miles from Mammoth Lakes and about 10 minutes drive. Major California airports, including LAX and SFO, offer service to Mammoth Yosemite Airport.
International Airports Near Mammoth Lakes: Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), Reno, NV, 170 miles from Mammoth Lakes, and about 3 hours drive to Mammoth Lakes. Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), Fresno, CA, 189 miles from Mammoth Lakes, but please check driving conditions in winter. Sacramento International Airport (SMF), Sacramento, CA, 255 miles from Mammoth Lakes, and about 4 hours 30 minutes drive.
You can also fly into other major airports in California, including LAX, SFO, OAK, and LAS. However, it will significantly increase the driving distance to Mammoth Lakes.
Driving to Mammoth Lakes from Southern Califonia: Mammoth Lakes is 320 miles from Los Angeles and takes about 5 – 6 hours depending on the weather and road conditions. You must have an all-wheel-drive vehicle or use chains if you’re driving to Mammoth Lakes in winter.
Driving to Mammoth Lakes from Northern California: The drive from SFO or any other city in Northern California to Mammoth Lakes is very scenic. However, driving conditions and route choices changes based on the time of the year. In the summer months, many high-alpine passes crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains open for travel, providing an opportunity to drive through several scenic routes, including Tioga Pass and Sonora Pass. During winter, the only option is to take California Highway 50 to South Lake Tahoe and then Highway 395 in Carson City, NV, to reach Mammoth Lakes. Please check road and weather conditions before planning your drive to Mammoth Lakes, and in winters, you must-have an all-wheel-drive vehicle or use chains.
If driving is not an option, you can still get to Mammoth Lakes using trains and connecting bus services. There’re no direct train or bus services to Mammoth Lakes. However, you will easily find Amtrak train/bus service to Reno, NV (RNO), and from Reno, there’s a year-round coach bus service on weekdays to Mammoth Lakes, operated by Eastern Sierra Transit. You can find the Reno to Mammoth Lakes bus schedule on the Eastern Sierra Transit Website.
Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes
No matter what time of the year, you will find a ton of things to do and see in Mammoth Lakes!
Summer is the best time to explore the natural beauty of Mammoth Lakes and perfect for sightseeing, hiking, and camping. In winter Mammoth Lakes turns into a winter wonderland offering several winter sports and recreational activities, including skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, snow tubing, and so much more.
Top Sights & Attractions In Mammoth Lakes
While there’s a lot to see in Mammoth Lakes, but there are a few attractions near Mammoth Lakes within driving distance that you must-visit on your trip to Mammoth Lakes.
In this section, I have listed all the attractions within Mammoth Lakes and have a separate section for the must-see places near Mammoth Lakes – Attractions Near Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth Village Gondola
You must ride the scenic gondola ride up to Mammoth Mountain. The panoramic gondola rides are open throughout the year and will take you all the way up to the summit, located about 11,000 ft above sea level.
The summit offers some of the best panoramic views of the Sierra Mountains, Mono Lake, and even the peaks of Yosemite. Mammoth Village Gondola Address: 60 Hillside Dr, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546.
Gorgeous Lakes In Mammoth Lakes Basin
There are five gorgeous lakes within the town of Mammoth Lakes and several other lakes in the nearby area!
There are five gorgeous glacier-carved pristine lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, including Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, Lake George, and Horseshoe Lake. The views of crystal clear water and the surrounding mountains are simply breathtaking and picturesque.
These lakes are easily accessible, all within a short drive from the town, and are all located along Lake Mary Road. You will find marinas and boat rentals at Lake Mary and Lake George.
Horseshoe Lake is also known for the dead and dying trees found in that area, a geological phenomenon caused due to excessive carbon-dioxide gas found in the soil.
These lakes are accessible only during the summer months and are a must-see in Mammoth Lakes!
There are several other lakes in the area that accessible via moderately strenuous hikes. There are hiking trails at almost all the lakes in Mammoth Basin, offering some spectacular views of the lakes and the surrounding wilderness.
Hiking Trails in Mammoth Lakes Basin: There are several hiking trails in the Mammoth Basin that allows you to go beyond the viewing platforms of the above mentioned easily accessible lakes in the Mammoth Lakes town. Some of these trails even lead to a few other pristine lakes in the area.
Lake Mary: Lake Mary is the largest lake in the Mammoth Basin, and the hike around Lake Mary is flat and very easy. There is no marked hiking trail, and you just need to follow the road along the lake, which is about 2 miles roundtrip.
Lake George: The hiking trail around Lake George is around 1.5 miles roundtrip and is moderately strenuous. The Lake George trail offers some great views of the lake with a backdrop of Crystal Crag peak.
Horseshoe Lake: The hike around Horseshoe Lake is 1.8 miles roundtrip and is flat and easy. The Horseshoe trailhead starts along the lake and is clearly marked. The Horseshoe trail passed by several wooden bridges and creeks, and along the course, you will spot several dead trees and see the beautiful Twin Lakes from the top.
Crystal Lake: This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Mammoth Basin. The trail starts at the parking lot of Lake George, is 3 miles roundtrip, and is quite a strenuous hike. However, the beautiful scenery at Crystal Lake and the spectacular views of Lake Mary and Lake George from the top are very rewarding!
Lake Barrett & TJ Lake: This is an easy 1.5 miles hiking trail, starting at the parking lot of Lake George, which leads to two beautiful small lakes – Lake Barrett and TJ Lake.
Devils Postpile in Mammoth Lakes is a unique rock formation, formed several thousand years ago when lava erupted in the valley followed by glacial actions that carried away one side of the hill, exposing a wall made of several columns.
Devils Postpile is accessible via a short and easy hike, one-mile roundtrip, and takes around 45 minutes. However, a lot of people visiting Devils Postpile extend their hike to the Rainbow Falls, which is the next attraction on my list, and I have more details about the Rainbow Falls hike in the next section.
It’s mandatory to use the shuttle bus service in the summer months to access the Devils Postpile trailhead. The shuttles depart from the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, where you can park your car and purchase the shuttle tickets. Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge Address: 10001 Minaret Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546.
Rainbow Falls is a lovely 101-foot waterfall, located around 2-miles from Devils Postpile, where the San Joaquin River plunges over a 101-foot drop, producing several water droplets that form beautiful rainbows. If you are up for a hike, Rainbow Falls is a lovely place to see in Mammoth Lakes.
The hike to Rainbow Falls is moderately strenuous and is about 5 miles roundtrip from the Devils Postpile trailhead. However, there’re a couple of options to shorten your hike to the Rainbow Falls (1) Use the Rainow Falls trailhead, located near Reds Meadow Resort, 2.6 miles roundtrip. (2) Start at the Devils Postpile trailhead, go till the Rainbow Falls, and take the shorter trail to the main Rainbow Falls trailhead, around 3.8 miles in total.
In the summer months, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls trailheads are accessible only via shuttle buses departing from the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge.
Located in the Inyo National Forest, just three-miles from Mammoth Lakes, is the Earthquake Fault. The Earthquake Fault, a natural phenomenon, is a fracture/gap formed on the earth’s surface due to the tectonic pressures in the earth’s crust.
The Earthquake Fault is about 10 feet wide and 60 feet deep. There is a short 0.3-mile walking trail around the Earthquake Fault, providing an opportunity to explore the Earthquake Fault from all sides. Earthquake Fault Address: 7 Minaret Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546.
Spring through Fall is the peak camping season in Mammoth Lakes, and there are several campgrounds in Mammoth Lakes, each offering a unique experience.
Campgrounds near Mammoth Lakes Basin: These campgrounds offer easy access to the hiking trails and the gorgeous lakes. There are quite a few campgrounds near the Mammoth Basin, including Lake Mary Campground, Twin Lakes campground, and Lake George campground.
Campgrounds near Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls: There’s even an option to stay close to the hiking trails with easy access to Devils Postpile National Monument and Rainbow Falls. There are several campgrounds in the Reds Meadow, including Reds Meadow campground, Pumice Flat campground, Upper Soda Springs campground, and Minaret Falls campground.
Campgrounds in Mammoth Lakes Town: There are a few campgrounds even within the town with easy access to the stores, restaurants, and other amenities. The Mammoth Lakes town campgrounds include Camp High Sierra campground, New Shady Rest campground, Old Shady Rest campground, and Mammoth Mountain RV Park.
These campgrounds can be reserved online on the recreation.gov website. The only exception is the Camp High Sierra campground, a private campground operated by Mammoth Mountains and can be booked online on their website Mammoth Mountains.
Top Sights & Attractions Near Mammoth Lakes
There are a few incredible sights located close to Mammoth Lakes that you must-see on your trip to Mammoth Lakes. These attractions are located a few miles East and North of Mammoth Lakes and are accessible only during the summer months.
To the East of Mammoth Lakes is the Hot Creek Geologic Site and the Convict Lake, and few miles North of Mammoth Lakes are the picturesque Mono Lake and the Bodie State Historic Park.
Hot Creek Geologic Site
Hot Creek is a true wonderland of naturally occurring hot springs and gas vents!
Hot Creek, located about 8 miles from Mammoth Lakes, is an active geological site where you can see steaming hot and bubbling water gushing up from the ground due to the magma that lies below the earth’s surface.
It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to see the turquoise pools, wondrous rock formations, and the boiling water at Hot Creek. I would recommend using the GPS Address for Hot Creek: GPS Lat: 37.661411, Long: -118.827078. It’s open daily from 8 AM to 7 PM.
The sights at Hot Creek are best viewed from a distance, as it’s dangerous and illegal to get close to the Hot Creek.
This is a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains located 11 miles from Mammoth Lakes. The views of the glacier-carved lake with crystal clear water and a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada and Mount Morrison are breathtaking.
The beautiful Convict Lake got its name from an incident dated back to 1871 when few convicts escaped from a Nevada prison and took shelter in that area. They were later found and captured by a search team led by Sheriff Robert Morrison, but sadly, Morrison was killed during the encounter. Mount Morrison was named after the fallen hero, and the lake became known as the Convict Lake.
The stunning views of Convict Lake are best explored via a 3-mile scenic hiking loop around the rim of Convict Lake. Convict Lake GPS Address: GPS Lat: 37.588893, Long: -118.858480.
Besides beautiful scenery, Convict Lake also offers various activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, dining, and lodging.
Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America and the most beautiful lake I have ever seen!
Mono Lake, located 30 miles north of Mammoth Lakes, is an ancient alkaline lake formed several hundred thousand years ago. Mono Lake is famous for its tufa towers, which are basically limestone formations rising from the lake’s bed formed by the calcium carbonate found in the water.
The water in Mono Lake is highly alkaline and extremely salty, due to which fishes can’t survive in Mono Lake. However, Mono Lake has quite a diverse ecosystem that includes alkaline flies, brine shrimps, and several migrating birds.
The breathtaking views of the lake and the tufas can be enjoyed via a self-guided tour trail starting at the parking lot. Mono Lake is also an excellent place for birdwatching and kayaking. Caldera Kayak offers guided kayak tours of Mono Lake, and if you have time, I definitely recommend the guided kayak tours.
Mono Lake is accessible year-round with an admission fee of $3 per adult that you can deposit at the self-pay box located at the parking lot. Mono Lake Address: GPS Lat: 37.988559, Long: -118.985341.
Bodie State Historic Park
The town of Bodie, a gold-mining ghost town!
Bodie was one of the finest gold mining locations in California that drew several settlers to the town. The town was named after Waterman S. Body, who was the first person to find gold in the area.
The gold mining in Bodie started in 1877 and lasted through 1942. The town that once had a population of ten thousand people was wholly abandoned when the mining stopped. The strangest of all, people left, leaving all their belonging in the town, as if they were to come back.
Bodie is now a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park, letting people explore remnants of a gold mining town. There’s a lot to see and explore in Bodie, including Miner’s Union Hall, Methodist Church, a couple of hotels, a warehouse, a general store, a gas station, a firehouse, schools, and much more.
Bodie State Historic Park is open throughout the year, but it’s accessible only via snowmobiles in winter. Bodie State Historic Park Address: GPS Lat: 38.208538, Long: -119.013780, Winter Hours: 9 AM to 4 PM; Summer Hours: 9 AM to 6 PM
Winter Activities In Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes is a winter wonderland with an array of activities for winter sports enthusiasts and families!
Mammoth Lakes has the most extended ski season in the US, starting in early November and lasting through early July. This gives us an idea about the amount of snowfall in Mammoth Lakes. There are very limited sightseeing opportunities in Mammoth Lakes in winter as most of the trails and roads are closed for the season. However, you will still find a ton of fun outdoor activities in Mammoth Lakes in winter.
Skiing & Snowboarding: Mammoth Mountains is one of the best and largest ski resorts in the US. It offers 3500 acres of ski terrain suitable for all age groups and abilities. There are chairlifts and gondola rides that take skiers to the summit, and you can buy chairlift tickets, rent equipment, and even book ski & snowboard lessons online on the Mammoth Mountain Website.
You can also enjoy skiing and snowboarding at June Mountain, which is known to be more family-friendly and easy-going and offers 1500 acres of ski terrain. You can check current conditions, buy chairlift tickets and lessons online on the June Mountain Website.
Mammoth Village Gondola: Even if you’re not into skiing and snowboarding, it’s worth riding the scenic gondola up to Mammoth Mountain for the stunning panoramic views from the summit.
Snow Tubing: Woolly’s Tube Park in Mammoth Lakes offers snow tubing and a snow play area and is a lot of fun for all age groups. You take a lift to the top and then come down sliding on a snow tube. Woolly’s Tube Park & Snow Play Address: 9000 Minaret Rd # 200, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546.
Ice Skating: Mammoth Ice Rink, an outdoor ice-skating rink located next to the Mammoth Lakes Library, offers skate rental and is a fun place for the entire family. Mammoth Ice Rink Address: 416 Sierra Park Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546.
Snowmobiling: The primitive mode of snow transportation is now transforming into a leisure sport, and Mammoth Snowmobile Adventures offers guided snowmobile tours in Mammoth Lakes.
Snowcat Tours: Enjoy a one-of-a-kind ride up to Mammoth Mountain, all at the comfort of a luxury snowcat. There are several tour options offered by Snowcat Tours departing from the Mammoth Mountain Inn. If you’re planning to do the Snowcat tour, I highly recommend making your reservations in advance.
Lodging & Dining In Mammoth Lakes
There are plenty of resorts and hotels in Mammoth Lakes. However, I highly recommend planning and making your Mammoth Lakes lodging reservations in advance.
Here are my favorite resorts and hotels in Mammoth Lakes, which I prefer and recommend due to their location, the views, and easy access to the main attractions!
The Village Lodge: This is my favorite place to stay in Mammoth Lakes and sits on the top of my list due to the beautiful mountain views and the direct access to the gondola and the ski lift. The resort offers some exceptional amenities, including hot tubs, gyms, equipment lockers, and some great dining options. You can find more details and book online on their website – The Village Lodge.
The Westin Monache Resort: This is another great option to stay close to the Mammoth Mountain Center with easy access to the gondola and ski chairlifts. The resort offers a fitness studio, outdoor pools, several dining options, and in-room spa and massage services. The resort is part Marriott chain of hotels, and you can make your reservations online – The Westin Monache Resort.
Juniper Springs Resort: Located within a short distance from the main attractions and hiking trailheads, the Juniper Springs Resort is yet another excellent lodging option in Mammoth Lakes.
The Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa: Less than two miles from the Mammoth Mountain center, The Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa is a luxury resort offering three onsite restaurants, an outdoor miniature golf course, and spa and massage services.
There are several dining options in Mammoth Lakes, including big banner chain restaurants, onsite dining options offered at several resorts, and numerous places to grab a quick bite.
However, there’re a few popular restaurants you can try in Mammoth Lakes, including Roberto’s Cafe serving Mexican food, fine dining at Nevado’s, flavorful American cuisine at Burgers Restaurant, and the best pizza in town at John’s Pizza Works.
Mammoth Lakes Trip Itinerary
With so many things to do in Mammoth Lakes, especially during summer, it becomes quite challenging to decide and plan all the activities for your trip to Mammoth Lakes.
To help you plan your perfect trip to Mammoth Lakes, I have compiled a sample three day Mammoth Lakes summer trip itinerary!
I highly recommend spending at least three days in Mammoth Lakes. I have covered all major attractions within Mammoth Lakes and the nearby attractions that are a must-see on your trip to Mammoth Lakes. I have grouped these attractions based on their locations and driving distance from the town.
The itinerary contains suggested attractions and activities in Mammoth Lakes for three days, allowing sufficient time to drive and hike as relevant.
- Mammoth Village Gondola – Start your Mammoth Lakes adventure by riding the gondola to the summit to enjoy some breathtaking views of the area.
- Gorgeous Lakes in Mammoth Basin – Drive to Mammoth Basin to see five beautiful lakes, including Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, Lake George, and Horseshoe Lake, all located along the Lake Mary Road. There are hiking trails along these lakes, but I haven’t allocated time for hiking in this itinerary. You will need an additional day to hike the trails along the lakes at Mammoth Basin.
- Hot Creek – Drive to Hot Creek Geologic Site located about 8 miles from Mammoth Lakes to see some wondrous rock formations, turquoise pools, and the boiling water gushing up from the ground.
- Convict Lake – Visit the gorgeous Convict Lake, located just a few miles from Hot Creek.
- Earthquake Fault – Start your day at the Earthquake Fault; explore the area by walking around the short 0.3-mile walking trail.
- Devils Postpile National Monument – I highly recommend taking the shuttle bus, if available, to get to the Devils Postpile trailhead. Hike 0.5 miles to get to the Devils Postpile National Monument. Once you’re at Devils Postpile, you have two options (1) You head back to the trailhead and go back to Mammoth Lakes (2) You continue the hike to see Rainbow Falls.
- Rainbow Falls – The hike to Rainbow Falls is moderately strenuous and is about 5 miles roundtrip from the Devils Postpile trailhead. However, there’re a couple of options to shorten your hike to the Rainbow Falls (1) Use the Rainow Falls trailhead, located near Reds Meadow Resort, 2.6 miles roundtrip. (2) Start at the Devils Postpile trailhead, go to the Rainbow Falls, and take the shorter trail to the main Rainbow Falls trailhead, around 3.8 miles in total.
- Bodie State Historic Park – Drive to Bodie State Historic Park located 54 miles north of Mammoth Lakes to see the gold-mining ghost town.
- Mono Lake – On your way back to Mammoth Lakes, stop at Mono Lake, which is about 24 miles from Bodie State Historic Park, and explore the gorgeous Mono Lake and the famous tufa towers.
Important: There are many bears in Mammoth Lakes, and it’s quite likely, you will spot one on your hike. Please be extremely cautious, hike in groups, carry bear deterrents, carry bear/smell proof bags and containers, and thoroughly read and follow these Bear Safety Practices outlined by the National Park services.
Other California Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Mammoth Lakes, and I hope you will find it useful for planning your trip to the Mammoth Lakes.
Happy feeding your soul!
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