Mammoth Lakes California is one of the most beautiful regions in the western US. Known for its wealth of outdoor activities, there are so many amazing things to do in Mammoth Lakes CA regardless of what time of year you visit. This stunning town offers an abundance of hiking trails and mountain biking adventures in the summer while providing world class skiing in the winter. Well loved by Californians, but not always on the tourist maps for visitors, though it should be!
Mammoth Lakes is located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada region of Northern California. For those of you not familiar with the area, it is essentially on the other side of Yosemite National Park. Mammoth Lakes is the official name of the town, but you might also hear it called just Mammoth or Mammoth Mountain. I’m sure once you have seen the MM sticker, you will notice it all over the state!
Mammoth Lakes CA is not only a compelling destination for its outdoor adventures in both summer and winter, it is also filled with natural hot springs, massive mountains and interesting geology sites to see.
The drive to Mammoth from Los Angeles is about 5 hours, 7 hours from San Diego, and 6 hours from San Francisco. The location makes it a great getaway from pretty much anywhere in California! Lastly, for those of you who don’t want to drive, there are also flights available at the small local Mammoth Yosemite airport.
TIP: If you are driving up from the Los Angeles area, make sure to plan some time to explore Highway 395 on your way.
Tips for Visiting Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth is a serene destination, drawing tourists from all over California, the United States and from throughout the world. To help keep Mammoth Lakes beautiful, keep you safe and help you enjoy your visit to the maximum, here are some of our top tips to consider while planning your trip or while in town.
- This is bear country. Do not leave food in your car overnight or at busy bear spots. Pack your food in bear-proof bags, bear containers or at the least a cooler.
- Download trail maps before heading out as cell service is spotty on most trails. (We use AllTrails and love it).
- Pack a lunch and bring snacks with you as hikes can take much longer than you anticipate. Outside of town, there are few places to eat.
- Bring reusable water bottles, water reservoirs and snack containers to reduce trash in the area.
- Keep a water cooler in your car to refill your water bottles as you go.
- Take public transport and the free shuttles to help reduce your carbon footprint and traffic in town and tourist hot spots.
- To combat altitude sickness, drink electrolytes and plenty of water BEFORE you arrive and during your visit.
- Keep plenty of bug spray and sunscreen on hand for summer months. It is buggy and sunny!
Managing the Altitude
Mammoth Lakes the town sits at 7,880 feet in altitude, but on many of the hikes, altitudes can reach up to more than 11,000 feet. Altitude sickness does not affect everyone the same way. For many people they may only notice a bit of breathlessness when walking and hiking, for others it’s a real issue that can be debilitating. As you go higher in elevation, there is less oxygen to breathe in which impacts how your body feels.
What exactly are the symptoms of altitude sickness?
The symptoms of altitude sickness can range from mild to severe headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
For most people, symptoms of altitude sickness can begin within a few hours of getting to higher elevation. However, we have seen it happen several times that it takes a little longer to really notice or that the symptoms come and go.
While hiking in Ecuador I didn’t have any issues at high altitude until 2 days into our trek (going down in altitude even) when I began to feel nauseous. For my son, who rarely notices the altitude, he has occasionally felt extreme fatigue out of nowhere on hikes around 10,000 feet even after days in a similar altitude. As soon as we come back down on the hike, energy levels increased and he felt back to normal.
How to Prepare & Feel Your Best
In our experience, the best thing to do to prepare to go into higher altitudes is to hydrate very well. We typically drink electrolyte drinks for the 24 hours prior to visiting higher elevations. If possible continue to drink at least one electrolyte drink per day while in high altitude as well to help keep any symptoms away.
Additionally, avoid alcohol, drink a ton of water (3-4 liters a day), eat more carbs and go up in elevation slowly. If you experience symptoms that are not reducing with water, electrolytes or pain reliever medication, get down to lower elevations.
Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes in Summer
While visiting Mammoth Lakes throughout the year is a wonderful vacation, on this post we are focusing mostly on all the amazing things to do in Mammoth Lakes in the summer months. During summer, the town shuttle is running, roads are open throughout the area and there is an abundance to do for all ages.
Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center
I don’t know about you, but visitor centers are often our first stop while heading into a new area. We started this tradition after visiting many national parks and have continued on when getting to new towns. The Mammoth Lakes welcome center is a great first stop to load up on maps, transit information and trail information. The rangers can provide first hand information on what is open and closed and where you should head given your interests and fitness levels.
Hang Out in the Village
Mammoth Lakes is definitely an outdoor playground, but once the play has ceased for the day, there is no better place to visit than the Village. Located off Main Street, here you will find great options for dinner, dessert and a little shopping too. We love the BBQ at the Smokehouse followed by delicious ice cream at Hugs. The perfect treat after a long day of hiking and exploring. While not in the Village, but on the main street, the Fun Shop is a great stop off as well for ice cream and kids fun toys!
Spend the Day at Reds Meadow
If you are looking for a full day out, considering driving down (before 7 a.m.) to Reds Meadow for a day of exploration. Here you can visit Devil’s Postpile National Monument, Starkweather Lake, Sotcher Lake as well as Reds Meadow Resort which is a stop for many thru-hikers on the JMT and the PCT.
If you are up for a nice long hike, consider parking at either Devil’s Postpile or Red’s Meadow and hiking between the two for a 12 mile adventure. You can then take the bus back to your car at the end. For those looking for something a little less strenuous, head over the Sotcher Lake for the 1.5 mile loop or just to hang out by the pond.
Check out our other post focusing on some amazing hikes to do in Mammoth Lakes and Reds Meadow?
Hike & Play at Convict Lake
As you are heading into or leaving Mammoth Lakes, make sure to plan a little bit of time for exploring Convict Lake. This lake is one of our favorite destinations in summer or winter! The easy 3 mile stroll around the lake is a great way to get some wiggles out before a long car ride back home. Or better yet, spend the day here playing in the water and hiking around. You can rent kayaks, pontoon boats and more here. Go early on the weekends as the parking areas fill up by noon.
Go Ride Bikes
You will notice as soon as you get into town all the bikes everywhere you look. But, listen, you don’t have to be a mountain bike expert to ride bikes in Mammoth. There are a ton of great easy places to ride your bike, whether you brought your own or you rent one. Our number one ride for most visitors is the Lakes Basin Bike Path. This starts at the Village and heads up (yes up) into the mountains to the lakes. Once you arrive to the Lakes Basin area, you can ride around Horseshoe Lake if you have a mountain bike or continue on the concrete paths if not.
For those who want a new experience, consider renting an electric bike so that the struggle up the mountain is more of a joy! We checked into every single bike shop in town (no joke) and found that the only place with an E-bike to fit kids was at GetOutdoors365. I highly recommend them.
Otherwise, load up your regular bike on the Village Lakes Basin Trolley which leaves every 30 minutes and skip the arduous ride up. Once you are at the top, ride around the lakes before heading back down the hill. Make sure your brakes work well as you will need them!
Other bike paths to check out include: Uptown/Downtown Trail & Horseshoe Lake.
One of the best ways to explore some of the trails around Mammoth Lakes is on horseback. The Pack Station in the Lakes Basin area is the place to go for this. They offer rides for kids ages 7 and up. The older your child, the longer ride they can go on. This is a great way to explore some of the less visited trails like Heart Lake.
Explore Mammoth Lakes Basin Area
This is the top destination for most visitors to Mammoth Lakes in summer. The Lakes Basin Area is a wonderful place to base yourself for your visit if you are into camping or are lucky enough to snag one of the few cabins dotted around the area. This area is filled with summer adventures from hiking, biking and water activities like kayaking or paddle boarding. Even if you aren’t staying in this area, definitely plan on at least one day of your trip to really spend time here exploring the hundreds of trails and beautiful lakes.
There are a ton of amazing hikes to do in Mammoth Lakes when you are in town!
Learn About Mammoth’s Mining History
One unique way to explore Mammoth Lakes mining history is to take a hike in the Lakes Basin area to visit the ruins of mining here. One great hike is to visit Heart Lake with a detour to the Consolidated Mine located here. Other sites can be viewed at other hikes like Arrowhead Lake and Skelton Lake.
Take the Trolley Around Town
If your kid is anything like mine, they will love a little spin around town on the local free trolley. These are very similar to the cable cars in San Francisco, except they are on wheels. Each trolley has the ability to store 2 bikes on the front, so this makes a great option to use as transport to and from locals bike trails or if you get tired of biking around town. Hop on the trolley in the Village and hop off to go grocery shopping at Vons or eat dinner at Giovanni’s. Kids who aren’t used to public transport will love this.
Kayak /SUP on One of the Many Lakes
You cannot go to Mammoth Lakes without getting on one of the many lakes dotted around the area. For this we recommend heading up to the Lakes Basin Area where you can hop in the water on your own if you have your own boards, otherwise there are a few rental places. We checked them all out (of course!) and preferred the shop Pokonobe Marina on Lake Mary. They are open the longest hours, have a large supply and are decently priced. If they are sold out you can try across the water at the Lake Mary Marina or at Tamarack Lodge. The best bet is to go early in the morning as the lake is usually calm and the hordes of summer visitors haven’t woken up yet!
Take a Scenic Gondola Ride to Mammoth Mountain
This isn’t just for mountain bikers, anyone can take the gondola up to the top of Mammoth Mountain to look at the beautiful mountain views, have lunch in the cafe or check out the interpretive center at the top. In the winter, this is home to Mammoth Mountain Ski area, one of the most popular ski resorts in California. However, during the summer it is taken over as the Mountain Mountain Bike Park. Current rates are $49 for adults and children under 12 are free. While here you can also check out the Mammoth Adventure Center which offers a sort of day camp for kids or one off activities like rope climbs, a rock wall and more.
Visit Inyo Craters
If you have science minded interests, a visit to Inyo Craters should be on your list of things to do in Mammoth Lakes. There are two explosion craters here that have small picturesque lakes inside of them. This is a short easy hike of about .5 mile each way that is worth stopping at. This is a great stop to do as you venture along the Mammoth Scenic Loop drive mentioned below.
See A Real Earthquake Fault
Have you ever seen a real earthquake fault? We thought we had in Joshua Tree, but seeing the earthquake fault here in Mammoth Lakes blew us away! This deep crevasse in the earth was caused by an earthquake, but is also the actual site of the fault. It is interesting to look down into it to see just how far it goes. This is a short hike from the parking lot and can be visited on the way to or from the Mammoth Mountain Resort area.
Mammoth Scenic Loop Drive
Mammoth Scenic Loop Drive is the nice name for the earthquake evacuation route developed for Mammoth after a series of earthquakes in the 80s scared the local population. This is a highly seismic activity as can be evidenced by the earthquake fault, the geologic sites and of course the many hot springs dotting the area.
Located just minutes from downtown Mammoth Lakes, you can make your way up toward Mammoth Mountain, and then turn right onto the Mammoth Scenic Loop. This is a great option for hot afternoons or when a little one needs to nap! As part of the loop, stop by the earthquake fault and Inyo Craters.
June Lake Loop
If you are looking for a little down time off your legs, jump in the car and head out to June Lake. This is another outstanding drive just north of Mammoth Lakes. This loop is a beautiful drive showcasing the lake and forests around the area.
While driving around the lake, make sure to stop off at the beach on June Lake to play, frolic in the water or even rent paddle boards for on the water play. Check schedules in advance as the lake is occasionally closed due to events like triathlons.
Take Fly Fishing Lessons
If you spend any time at the various lakes in the Mammoth area, you will soon find that fly fishing is a very popular pastime. If you aren’t sure what to do or how to do it, why not take some fly fishing lessons? There are various places around town that offer these, but to help you on your search, check out Troutfitter in Mammoth. They offer great first-time beginner’s and family packages for 5 hours in a variety of locations around the area.
Visit Devil’s Postpile National Monument
One of the most remarkable geologic landmarks in the area of Mammoth Lakes is Devil’s Postpile National Monument. We have put off a visit for many years due to the need to take a shuttle in the summer months. But we finally managed to get up early enough to drive ourselves and visit. This super unique formation of basalt columns is similar to what we saw in Iceland and on the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The hike to the columns is short but worth the time.
While here, most visitors add on a hike to Rainbow Falls. This 2.5 mile hike one way is relatively flat and easy. Once you have reached the falls, you can either view from top or continue further down to play in the river below the falls.
If you aren’t up for the crowds at Rainbow Falls, check out Minaret Falls Via The Minaret Falls Trail, which is a really fun section of the PCT that leads to Minaret Falls. This hike is about 2.6 miles round trip with minimal gain.
Visit Hot Creek Geologic Site
Another cool geologic site to check out in the Mammoth area is Hot Creek Geologic Site which features boiling bubbling water, fumaroles and spontaneous geyser eruptions. While this is one that is only for observing, there are a number of great local hot springs in the area worth visiting as well if you want to have a hot soak. We have a list of the best Mammoth Hot Springs here, but you can also check out Pulkey’s Pool, Wild Willy’s and Buckeye Hot Springs.
One of the best vista points in the Mammoth Lakes area doesn’t even require a hike! Minaret Vista is located just past Mammoth Mountain as you head towards Devil’s Postpile. Here, on a clear day, you will have grand views stretching out over the horizon. It is spectacular and a must do to really get a bearing on the majestic mountains that lie just beyond the town. This is also one of the best spots for sunset in town.
Be A “Trail Angel”
During the summer Mammoth is a way station for many thru-hikers doing the JMT and the PCT. It is a place that they load up on supplies, have a rest and enjoy delicious food. However, the trail is not close to the town, which means these weary travelers often have to walk several miles to get into town. If you happen to see one walking along with their packs, offer them a ride to town or back to the trail. It will be much appreciated.
Easy Day Trips From Mammoth Lakes CA
Bodie Ghost Town
One of the best ghost towns in California is just a short hop and skip away from Mammoth Lakes. Located about 1 hour from Mammoth, Bodie State Historic Park is only open outside of the winter, making it a great thing to do in Mammoth Lakes in summer. While here you can learn about the different sites still standing and more about the history of this historic gold mining town.
Yosemite & Tuolumne Meadows
If you are in town for a bit, consider the 1 hour drive to the east entrance of Yosemite National Park. You can go for a day trip to the Tuolumne Meadows area to check out Tenaya Lake or Cathedral Lake. If you have more time, you could drive all the way to Yosemite Valley (2 hours 1-way from Mammoth) to check out the most popular Yosemite attractions.
Note for 2021, you must have advance reservations to be able to enter Yosemite National Park. These can be purchased for $2 on recreation.gov.
Mono Lake & Lee Vining
If you haven’t ever spent time exploring Highway 395, now is your chance to see a few cool stops located near to Mammoth Lakes. Mono Lake is a giant, ancient lake (one of the oldest in North America) with unique calcium-carbonate spires and knobs poking out of the lake. It is not a day long activity but is a great stop to/from Yosemite or Bodie Ghost Town. When you are in the area, stop by Mono Cone for a delicious ice cream!
Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes
One thing that is not lacking in the Mammoth Lakes area is places to stay. There are so many options for visitors from free dispersed camping spots to luxury hotels (with golf courses even!) that there is something for everyone here. By far the most abundant of any options however are camping and Airbnb stays. Below are a few options for hotels that are centrally located for your stay.
The Village Lodge – A great choice for those planning to ski in the winter as the lift is right next door!
The Westin Monache Resort – Arguably the best place to stay in town, located right in the middle of the Village.
Tamarack Lodge – Located right along Twin Lakes next to the campground, offering unique cabin options.
Reds Meadow Lodge – There are a ton of amazing Mammoth area hikes that start from this area including some on the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.
If you rather stay in your own place, Airbnbs are all over. For the most part you can’t go wrong. If you don’t want to drive much, try to get one near one of the many trolley lines that can then take you all over town easily. Our hot tip is to always try to find units that have hot tubs and/or pools available during your visit. Note that many do NOT have AC and it can get toasty in the summer.
Best Camping Options in Mammoth Lakes
As I mentioned above, there is no shortage of camping options in the Mammoth Lakes area during the spring to fall months. It would take an entire post just to list all of the options, but below we share the top spots that are great for access to town and nature.
Lake Mary Campground – Located in the Lakes Basin area and is right opposite the lake across the road. It is busy, but convenient.
Coldwater Campground – This is located above Lake Mary a bit with easy access to hikes to Emerald Lake, Ducks Pass and Heart Lake. A large, busy campground, with ample space.
Twin Lakes Campground – There are two campgrounds here that are shady and just along the Twin Lakes near the Tamarack Lodge. Easy access to the Lakes Basin Bike Path and to town or the Lakes Basin area.
Lake George Recreation Area – Located on the shores of Lake George, this is a more secluded campground, not on the trolley path, but great location.
Convict Lake – Located outside of Mammoth a bit offers more of a nature feel, less easy access to town.
June Lake – There are a handful of campgrounds around June Lake, but this is one of the more popular ones.
Silver Lake – Another campground along the June Lake Loop area.
When To Visit Mammoth Lakes
Deciding when to visit Mammoth Lakes really depends on your interests and what activities you want to do. There are so many different things to do in Mammoth Lakes year-round with every season offering unique experiences. If you are able to visit during the spring and fall seasons you will encounter beautiful cool weather and less crowds. However, the summer is really the high time to visit as all activities (other than skiing!) are on offer.
Places To Eat in Mammoth
There are many great spots to eat in Mammoth Lakes that you really can’t go wrong with whatever you are in the mood for. A few of the places we have tried or have been recommended are below.
John’s Pizza Works – Go here for hot wings!
Roberto’s Café – Delicious mexican food for the whole family and our favorite in town!
Mammoth Brewing Company – hopping brewery and pub food. Great outdoor seating area.
Schat’s Bakery (bakery and sandwiches) – This is not the same as the one in Bishop, but still delicious.
Smokehouse BBQ – Great pulled pork and fried chicken sandwiches. Located in the Village.
Giovanni’s – Hands down the best pizza in town. We love making our own with alfredo sauce and sausage.
Elixir – Great spot for fresh juices and healthy bowls.
Other posts to check out for your trip:
- Heading up from Los Angeles, consider stopping in Mojave or Death Valley National Parks
- Don’t miss these amazing Mammoth Lakes hot springs in the area
- If you are going into Yosemite National Park, don’t miss our top spots to visit
- Extend your trip further north into Carson Valley and into Carson City
Are you more of a Mammoth winter fan? Give us all the details on what you love, where you ski, cross country ski, snowmobile and more.
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