Mammoth Lakes is an adventurer’s dream, with endless trails for hiking and mountain biking, pristine alpine lakes jumping with fish and a spectacular backdrop of jagged peaks. Located on the east side of the Sierra at 7,880 feet, just a few miles from Yosemite’s back door, Mammoth is an active mountain town that welcomes visitors both summer and winter. When the mountains are blanketed with snow Mammoth Mountain, one of the largest ski resorts in the country, draws skiers and snowboarders to its legendary snowpack, which can exceed 400 inches per year.
Summers at Mammoth are all about abundant sunshine, wildflowers and outdoor recreation. At the end of a refreshing day on the trails a bevy of cafes, bakeries, restaurants and a brewery are available to quench thirst and refuel. Boutique shops, galleries and outdoor stores entice shoppers at the centrally located Village and other locations scattered around town.
Three summer days is enough to get an overview of the area but be warned that for many, it’s not enough. Mammoth Lakes has a way of luring people back, over and over.
Day 1-Hike to Devil’s Postpile, Rainbow Falls and Reds Meadow Resort
- Minaret Vista-Drive to the top of Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort but before parking take ten minutes to visit Minaret Vista, located just before the road begins its descent to Red’s Meadow. The vista point features stunning views of the Minarets, Ritter Range and major peaks all the way to Yosemite.
- Devil’s Postpile-After parking at the ski resort, take the $7 shuttle (mandatory in summer) down to Red’s Meadow. Get off at Stop #6 and take a short walk (0.4 mi one way) to the Devil’s Postpile, a unique geologic formation of giant hexagonal columns of compressed basalt.
- Rainbow Falls-Continue walking past the Devil’s Postpile to Rainbow Falls (2.7 mi one way) to observe the falls plummeting 101 feet. The falls are dramatic and have plenty of water, even in drought years.
- Reds Meadow Resort and Pack Station-Follow the signs from Rainbow Falls to Reds Meadow Resort (1.5 mi one way) and enjoy lunch or a milkshake at the Mule House Café. Many hikers doing the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail can be observed picking up their resupply packages at the nearby store. The shuttle can be accessed directly from Reds Meadow Resort (Stop #10) to return to the ski resort at the top.
- Happy Hour at Mammoth Brewery-Thirst can be quenched at the Mammoth Brewery Company, located adjacent to the Village on the corner of Main Street and Lake Mary Road. A flight of seven beers can be sampled and growlers can be filled.
- Dinner at the Village at Mammoth-A variety of dining options can be found at the Village, including Toomey’s, which offers an eclectic menu, and Gomez’s, a popular Mexican restaurant. Outdoor music and festivals are often held at the Village at Mammoth during summer weekends.
Day 2-Hike to Duck Pass
- Duck Pass-a hike to Duck Pass can be modified to suit hiker’s tastes, ranging from short hikes to a string of lakes (Arrowhead, Skelton and Barney Lakes) along the way, to the full 4.5 miles (one way) to the pass at 10,800 feet. Views of the large, high alpine Duck Lake are the reward from the top. The trail continues down below the lake to a junction with the John Muir Trail, if an extension is desired.
- Visit Lake Mary and Horseshoe Lake-A short drive after the Duck Pass hike includes open views of Lake Mary and, a little further, Horseshoe Lake. An interesting phenomenon is occurring near Horseshoe Lake, where carbon dioxide from hot magma under the surface of the earth is killing tree roots. Visitors are advised not to linger in this area due to the dangers of elevated carbon dioxide in the air, though most of the danger is from digging in the dirt and having one’s face close to the ground.
- Dinner at Tamarack Lodge-Elegant dining in the rustic setting of the historic Tamarack Lodge, the Lakefront Restaurant offers seasonal, local food with views of charming Twin Lakes. Reservations are recommended as the intimate dining room holds only ten tables.
Day 3-Hike and paddle around Lake Mary
- Hike to Crystal Lake-A short hike (0.3 mi one way) to Crystal Lake offers a panoramic view of the Mammoth Lakes Basin and the Duck Pass Trail, starting from Lake Mary.
- Lake Mary-After the hike, kayaks, peddle boats and standup paddleboards can be rented at the Pokonobe Resort on the shores of Lake Mary. Fishing rods can also be rented.
- Dinner at Slocums Grill and Bar-A perennial favorite, Slocums offers large portions of traditional fare and a bar with an extensive beer wine and cocktail list in a comfortable setting full of leather, brass and dark wood.
Where to stay
Mammoth Lakes has a large variety of accommodations that runs the gamut of campgrounds, hostels, condos, and upscale hotels. During the summer many homes are available for rent through Mammoth Accommodations, VRBO and Airbnb. The following is a sampling of places to stay:
- Westin Monache Resort ($224/night)
- High Sierra Hotel-Best Western Plus ($185/night)
- Tamarack Lodge ($185/night)
- Moderne Hostel ($45-90/night)
- Coldwater Campground ($20/night)
Mammoth Lakes is a giant playground for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of activities on the slopes of the Eastern Sierra. A wide of range of dining, shopping and accommodations makes it the ideal place for a weekend or more.
- Mammoth Lakes
- Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort
- Mammoth Trails
- Devil’s Postpile National Monument
- Inyo National Forest Welcome Center
To reach Mammoth Lakes from San Francisco by car (approximately 5.5 hours, depending on traffic and weather):
- Head east on a series of highways: 580 through the East Bay, to 205 through Tracy, to 120 through Yosemite National Park ($30 to enter park). Alternate routes include going over the Sonora Pass on Highway 108 or Lake Tahoe on Highway 50.
- Once over the Sierra, go south on Highway 395
- Exit Highway 395 at Mammoth Lakes
See Google map for route