Visit Mammoth Lakes, California
After living in the Netherlands for nearly eight years, I came to miss the mountains and nature of California more than I had ever expected. I realized there were so many parts of California I’d never experienced. Parts that had always been there, of course, but were unknown to me. So when I was invited to go camping in Mammoth Lakes, I jumped at the opportunity… and then I returned again one month later because I loved it so much!
Mammoth California is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, which makes it even more mind-boggling to me to imagine why I had never visited until nearly my third decade on this earth. In Mammoth, you’ll find jagged peaks cutting into the sky, sparkling alpine lakes waiting for you to jump in after a sweaty hike, and adventure waiting for you around every corner.
If you are planning a California road trip, or are just a Californian looking for a beautiful weekend away, in this visit Mammoth Lakes guide, you’ll find 10 reasons you need to visit Mammoth in the summer and things to do in Mammoth Lakes.
Looking for more amazing places to visit in California? Check out these posts:
- Cheap and free things to do in San Francisco
- The best hipster things to do in Sacramento
- Your ultimate Southern California road trip itinerary
- The definitive California bucket list: cool things to do in California
- Visit Pinnacles National Park, America’s newest national park
- Hike Northern California: Castle Crags State Park
- Camping at Lake Tahoe’s secret Sierra Buttes
But first, a brief intro into Mammoth lakes
Where is Mammoth Lakes, California?
Mammoth Lakes is located in the Eastern Sierras nestled right between Yosemite National Park and the Nevada border. It is approximately equidistant from both San Francisco and Los Angeles – about a 5.5 hour drive from each. If you’re driving from Sacramento like me, congratulations, you’ll save an hour and will only need 4.5 hours to reach it — and you can choose to drive through Yosemite, or through South Lake Tahoe, so your entire drive to and from Mammoth Lakes will be epic. A Mammoth Lakes summer visit is the beautiful, even down to the drive there.
Mammoth Lakes is a small town that has grocery stores, outdoor stores, restaurants, shops, etc – so don’t worry about bringing all your food with you! You can easily stock up in Mammoth. Gas however, is very expensive in Mammoth, so try to fuel up before reaching it, if you can.
Mammoth Lakes Altitude
Mammoth Lakes sits at 7,880 feet, and if you’re driving through Yosemite, you’ll need to cross the highest pass in California to reach it – the Tioga Pass. Since the Mammoth Lakes altitude is so high, you might experience some altitude sickness, especially if you go skiing or go on hikes where you’ll be at an even higher elevation. Be sure to drink lots of water if you feel sick, and go to lower elevation if you have any symptoms of altitude sickness.
Wildlife in Mammoth Lakes
There is a pretty good size population of black bears living in and around Mammoth Lakes. Nothing that should scare you away from visiting Mammoth Lakes, but you need to be aware that you should NEVER leave any food or cosmetics in your car or your tent as bears can and will break in. That means you need to remove all food wrappers, chapsticks, lost McDonalds french fries, or whatever might be floating around in your car. Be sure to lock all of these items away in a bear box (yes that includes shampoo, lotion, sunblock, toothpaste, etc). If you visit Mammoth Lakes, keep in mind there is tons of wildlife around and you are coming into their territory.
Once bears have eaten human food they become less afraid of humans which makes them more likely to be aggressive toward humans. Do your part to keep the bears away by locking up your food.
When we stayed in Mammoth my friends actually accidentally ran into a bear in the parking garage of our apartment (luckily it ran out and seemed scared), but that just goes to show how likely it could be to have a bear encounter.
For more information on bear safety check out this page from the Mammoth Visitor Center
Ok, now that we’ve got the basics down, here are 10 reasons you need to visit Mammoth
1. Mammoth Lakes Hiking
I’m a huge hiking fan, and Mammoth Lakes has some of the most gorgeous hiking trails I’ve seen anywhere. I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to hiking in and around Mammoth, but here are two awesome hikes that you shouldn’t miss if you visit Mammoth and love hiking as much as I do. Both of these hikes are fairly long, and will take you at least 4 hours round trip, so plan accordingly! It can be warm, so make sure when you plan for your Mammoth Lakes summer trip that you plan your hikes accordingly.
Little Lakes Valley to Gem Lakes: 11.6km (7.2 miles), 303m (1000ft) elevation gain
This out and back hike is so picturesque and captures the beauty of the area perfectly. Along this moderate hike you’ll pass by scene alpine lake after scene alpine lake, with the trickling of Rock Creek as the background music to this hike. The hike is dog and kid friendly – there aren’t any really steep or difficult parts to this one. Be sure to arrive early or else you’ll likely have to park fairly far away, but hey, that can add some extra distance on to your hike.
Duck Lake Trail: 15.3km (9.5miles), 650m (2130ft) elevation gain
Duck Lake Trail is located at the Coldwater campground and is a pretty significant hike in terms of elevation gain. Along this hike you’ll also pass by several alpine lakes, but the real doozy with this hike is that you’ll literally climb a mountain! Well, you’ll take switchbacks up a pass til you reach Duck Lake, which is probably the most challenging part of this hike, but also the most rewarding.
There are tons of other hikes in the area, so head to AllTrails, or better yet, download the app, to find more great areas to stretch your legs.
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Sometimes accidental photos are the best. I didn't really mean to take this pic as we changed poses at Duck Lake but this ended up being the best one we took! Duck Lake was a pretty awesome hike on our girls trip to Mammoth Lakes . . . . . . . #optoutside #doyoutravel #traveldeeper #travelblogger #mytinyatlas #wonderfulplaces #beautifuldestinations #norcal #lonelyplanet #lpfanphoto #roamtheplanet #mtnchicks #girlswhohike #getoutside #wildernessculture #rei #westcoastexposures #yourshotphotographer #adventureenthusiasts #abmlifeisbeautiful #cntraveler #igers_california #alltrails #visitmammoth
If you plan to hike in Mammoth Lakes, check out this list of the best outdoor gear to bring with you.
2. Visiting the Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls
If you’ve never visited the Devil’s Postpile National Monument, you’ve gotta put this one on your list when you visit Mammoth Lakes. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to whip out your National Parks Passport book to get it stamped along the way!
The Devil’s Postpile is a rock formation of basalt columns that have cooled in a hexagonal pattern, very reminiscent of the basalt columns you’ll find in Iceland.
To reach the Devil’s Postpile, head to the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center which you can reach by bus or by car. There you will need to purchase a ticket for $8 roundtrip for the bus that will take you down to the Devil’s Postpile. You can’t park down there yourself since space is limited and cars aren’t allowed to park there anymore. The drive down will take about 25 minutes, and from there you can hop out and walk to the Devil’s Postpile, which is a small hike in itself.
After reaching the Devil’s Postpile, keep walking about 2 miles until you reach Rainbow Falls, a 101 foot waterfall where the San Joaquin River tumbles over the ledge which creates a mist where you can catch glimpses of rainbows forming. If you visit Mammoth Lake, you need to make it to the Devil’s Postpile!
At the time we visited, the bottom of Rainbow Falls we closed off to visitors, but it is usually open for you to go and take a swim!
3. Mountain biking in Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Mountain has 80+ miles of mountain bike tracks, and virtually everywhere you go in the town of Mammoth Lakes, you’ll come across dozens of mountain bikers all over the place. Mammoth Mountain has tracks for all levels of mountain bikers, whether you’re a badass, experienced biker, or whether you’re like me and just want to mix it up after a few days of hiking.
There are bike rental shops all over Mammoth Lakes, but the best known terrain is on Mammoth Mountain, where you can visit the Adventure Center (same place you’ll go for the Devil’s Postpile) to arrange a bike rental and pass.
4. Visit Mono Lake
No trip to the Eastern Sierras would be complete without a trip to Mono Lake. This eery lake is best visited at sunset or sundown, but if you can’t make it during those time periods, at least make sure to swing by during the day. You’ll catch a glimpse of Mono Lake if you drive to Mammoth Lakes driving over the Tioga Pass.
Mono Lake is a 750,000 year old saline lake and is home to brine shrimp and visiting migratory birds. What Mono Lake is more famous for though, is its tufa formations – limestone towers that have sprouted out of the lake.
The most impressive tufas are seen at the South Tufa Area, reached via highway 120.
If you don’t have an America the Beautiful pass, be sure to bring some cash with you to pay for parking. Last time I visited it was $3. If you visit Mammoth, you’ve gotta make it to Mono Lake.
5. Mammoth Lakes Brewing
A trip only becomes a vacation once you head to the local brewery. Thankfully Mammoth Lakes has you covered with the locals brews at Mammoth Lakes Brewing. If the weather is nice, sit outside or challenge other beer lovers to a game of cornhole.
My personal favorite is the Saison beer, and they’ve got a restaurant there to dish up some grub if you’ve worked up an appetite with all the fun you’re having in Mammoth. Be sure to check out their merch section, they’ve got some pretty cool shirts, beanies and doggie leashes for sale as a sweet souvenir.
18 Lake Mary Road
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
6. Schat’s Bakery Mammoth Lakes
Schat’s Bakery is almost reason in itself to visit Mammoth Lakes. This old school, German style bakery has something for everyone – seriously. Donuts, baklava, cookies, croissants, freshly baked bread, bon-bons, this place has it all and has my mouth watering just thinking about it.
Fuel up pre-hike or post-hike and give your taste buds a treat.
7. Minaret Vista
Unfortunately when I was on my second trip to Mammoth Lakes we didn’t get to do see the Minaret Vista since there were so many wildfires at the time, but my loss might be your gain! And it gives me a good reason to return to Mammoth Lakes.
Minaret Vista offers views of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness areas below, and from there you’ll see the peaks of Mount Ritter and Banner Peak. Apparently there are also star gazing parties up there as well, which seems like a pretty amazing place to enjoy the stars.
Minaret Vista is located just 2 miles up the road from the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center.
Lookout Point Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
8. June Lake
June Lake is a year-round resort, located about 20 minutes from the Mammoth Lakes town center. June Lake is the perfect place to spread out under the sun for a picnic, or jump in the lake on a hot day to cool down.
If you head to June Lake, be sure to check out June Lake Brewing, located in the small town of June Lake (can you tell I like breweries?).
9. Heat up in the hot springs
The Eastern Sierras are dotted with hot springs, most hidden away from the main roads, but always occupied with someone, or many people soaking in the hot water. Both times I visited Mammoth Lakes, we hit up Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, located about 25 minutes from the center of Mammoth Lakes. Wild Willy’s is located on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), and you’ll need to drive on some dirt roads to reach it, but you won’t be sorry.
Be sure to bring a headlamp with you to light the way to the hot springs, wear a swimsuit – or go in in your birthday suit if you’re into that kind of thing, and hop in the hot spring and marvel at the night sky above you. If it’s a clear night, you’ll get a clear view of the milky way, with virtually no light pollution. Relax your muscles and look up above you, you’ll probably spot more than one falling star. This is truly the best way to unwind after an active day.
10. Kayak or SUP on the many lakes around Mammoth
If you’re into kayaking, don’t miss the opportunity to kayak when you visit Mono Lake. From your kayak you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the tufas, and have an even better chance of seeing those migratory birds. Your best bet is to rent kayaks in the morning, as the weather can change by afternoon time, and kayaking might not be guaranteed. Taking a trip to Mammoth Lakes in summer allows you to take advantage of the best activities. Check out Mono Basin Kayak Rentals for more info.
For those of you who like to stand up on the board, head to Horseshoe Lake which is a favorite of paddleboarders. If you don’t have your own gear you can head to Footloose Sports (conveniently located right by Schat’s Bakery 😉 ).
Whichever water sport you choose, don’t forget the sunblock. You’re at a high altitude and the sunburns can come fast and furious around here!
What to bring to Mammoth Lakes
Chances are, if you’re headed to Mammoth, you’re likely planning on being outdoorsy while you’re there. Here are a few items you shouldn’t forget when you pack for your trip to Mammoth Lakes:
- good day pack: I love my Osprey daypack with a built in water reservoir. This has space for 2 liters of water, and you still have room for lunch and a light jacket. Not only that, but this daypack rests on your hips, so it takes a huge burden off of your shoulders on a long hike.
- Hiking boots: You’ll definitely want a good pair of hiking boots like the pair just like these from Columbia – they are my go-to hiking shoes!
- Hiking socks: Not the sexiest item, but you’ll be happy when you don’t have blisters after a long hike. Trust me!
- A headlamp: having your hands free will come in really handy if you’re camping or heading out to some of those hot springs. If its not a full moon, you’re definitely going to need a headlamp!
Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes
Luckily there is no shortage of places to stay around Mammoth Lakes, you can find loads of campsites, apartments, hotels, and even some BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land where you can camp for free.
Campsites in Mammoth Lakes
- Sherwin Creek: This is the first place I stayed in Mammoth Lakes. It’s a family friendly campground located a very short drive to the town center. The campground is located next to Sherwin Creek, so try to get a spot close to the creek to let the water lull you to sleep. There are no showers here. And watch out for bears
- Coldwater Campground: This campground is located at the start of the hike to Duck Lake. No showers.
- Lake Mary: One of Mammoth’s largest campgrounds. Lake Mary is famous for fishing.
Hotels in Mammoth Lakes
There are loads of hotels available in Mammoth ranging from motels to more luxe options. Here are just a few of the highest rated:
Located at the heart of the Mammoth Mountain village, walking distance from restaurants and shopping, not to mention the gondola up the mountain.
Apartments in Mammoth Lakes
I personally love staying in apartments since it gives you the freedom to cook your own meals, so we did just that on our girls trip to Mammoth. We stayed in an apartment in Aspen Creek, just 4 minutes drive from the center of Mammoth. We had a great stay there with a complete kitchen, parking, Netflix… everything you could want!
Did this post help you plan your trip to Mammoth Lakes? Let me know in the comments below!
Looking for more places to stay in Mammoth Lakes? Check out the deals below:
Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.