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    Mammoth Lakes: magnificent scenery in the Sierra Nevada mountains

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    Martí Micolau

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    There are stops in California that serve as a base for visiting other, small towns or villages especially useful for spending the night in view of visiting the US natural parks, the real destinations, those to which you can devote time and energy. The problem is that throughout the West Coast area there is such a concentration of attractions as to risk making us consider passing stages as destinations that deserve more in-depth analysis (to then discover when it is too late what we have lost); is the typical case of Mammoth Lakes, a pearl too often reduced to a mere base for visiting the nearby Yosemite National Park. What I intend to demonstrate in this article is that you would do well to devote more time to it, let's see if I can convince you ...


    • Mammoth Lakes: among the peaks of the Sierra Nevada
    • How to reach us
    • What to see in Mammoth Lakes
      • Earthquake Fault
      • Hot Creek Geological Site
      • Minaret Vista
      • Hilltop Hot Springs: the area of ​​the hot springs
      • June Lake and the other lakes of Mammoth Lakes
      • monkey lake
      • Devils Postpile National Monument e Rainbow falls
      • Crowley Lake Columns
    • Attractions in the surroundings
      • Yosemite National Park
      • Bodie ghost town
      • Lake Tahoe
      • Verso Death Valley…
    • Where sleeping in Mammoth Lakes

    Mammoth Lakes: among the peaks of the Sierra Nevada

    Lying on the imposing mount Mammoth (more than 3300 meters) and immersed in a splendid coniferous forest, Mammoth Lakes enjoys a decidedly fortunate geographical position: its proximity to the Long Valley Caldera has made the surrounding area rich in thermal springs and ancient conformations of volcanic origin (for example Inyo Craters and Obsidian Dome).

    As if that were not enough, the great forest of the Your National Forest, together with the high snow-capped peaks of the Sherwin Range, form a wonderful contrast to the area's many crystalline blue mountain lakes. This magnificent scenery makes Mammoth Lakes not only a paradise for skilled skiers, but also a veritable treasure trove of hidden treasures, all to be explored both through hiking and fascinating on the road by car.

    The town itself does not have much different from the typical American mountain towns, to make the difference above all the landscape that surrounds it and the varied fauna, on which the inevitable protagonist stands out.American black bear (not to be confused with the even more dangerous Grizzly); it is practically impossible not to notice the numerous signs warning about the correct attitude to take in case of sighting. Paying due attention, however, there are all the ingredients to make Mammoth Lakes an unforgettable stop, let's see now how to get to this paradise:

    How to reach us

    If your California tour includes a stop in Mammoth Lakes, it is basically for one reason: in your travel plan you plan to visit Yosemite National Park, whose access on the eastern side (Tioga Pass) is less than an hour from Mammoth Lakes. You can arrive in this small mountain village from the west, reasonably from San Francisco, or from Monterey on the coast (in this case I recommend you to follow this itinerary from Monterey to Yosemite). Alternatively, you could go in the opposite direction up the mountain range of the Sierra Nevada after visiting Death Valley. In both cases, I think it might be convenient for you to know the travel times:

    • Mammoth Lakes – San Francisco: 5:30 minuti
    • Mammoth Lakes – Monterey: 5:30 minuti
    • Mammoth Lakes – Yosemite National Park: 50 minuti (dal Tioga Pass)
    • Mammoth Lakes – Death Valley: 3:30 minuti
    • Mammoth Lakes – Las Vegas: 5:20 minuti

    If your trip to California takes place in winter, it is much more complicated to include this town in your itinerary, as the Tioga Road, the beautiful scenic road in Yosemite park that allows you to cross the Sierra Nevada mountain range, is closed ( usually opens from April to October) and therefore you will be forced to go around the park considerably lengthening the route. The positive side of the winter period is that Mammoth Mountain is one of the ideal destinations for those who love skiing, so if you belong to this category, plan accordingly ...

    What to see in Mammoth Lakes

    The time has come to understand what awaits us in this fascinating mountain destination, as you will discover there is a lot to spend a whole day and why not, even more. Here is a list with relative indications and distances:

    Earthquake Fault

    Let's start this roundup with the easiest attraction to reach, Earthquake Fault, a chasm dug into the ground centuries ago by the eruption of some craters, a few minutes drive from the town. For much of the year, snow is deposited there and for this reason the native populations used it to freeze food. You can decide to observe it from above or go inside for a while.

    • How to reach us: reaching it is very simple: from the town of Mammoth Lakes take State Route 203 towards West, after about 1 km you will find the sign indicating Earthquake Fault, turn right and continue for the short distance. This road in winter may not be visible as it is entirely covered by snow. After parking the walk is very short, about 300 meters.
    • Distance from the city center: about 7 minutes

    Hot Creek Geological Site

    Here is another attraction that is easy to reach and enjoyable with minimal effort. This is the point where the river Mammoth Creek it reaches the Long Valley Caldera area, transforming itself from a fresh mountain stream into an authentic bubbling, multicolored pool. The view that will appear in front of you is not very dissimilar from that of the many hot springs in Yellowstone park, so pay due attention to the water temperatures (there is no need to swim, of course).

    • How to reach us: Hot Creek Geological Site is located near theaeroporto di Mammoth Lakes and to reach it from the town you will have to take the 203 and then the 395 eastbound, turn left into Hot Creek Hatchery Road and follow it until you reach a convenient parking lot. From there there is a short path that will take you down to the site. Be careful because at some point if you go straight on Hot Creek Hatchery Road this will become School Road, if you find yourself on this road it means that you have gone too far (or maybe someone was wrong to name the roads?) And you had to turn right first to continue in the right direction.
    • Distance from the city center: about 15 minutes

    Minaret Vista

    Still on the subject of natural landscapes that can be reached with minimal effort, west of the city center, you can take the car and reach the Minaret Summit, a lookout point at 2800 meters that allows you to admire Mammoth Mountain, the Minarets, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak, the splendid peaks between 3000 and 4000 meters that embrace Mammoth Lakes.

    • How to reach us: from Mammoth Lakes Main Street take 203 (Minaret Road) towards West, pass the ski resort and after about 1km you will find the Minaret Vista Entrance Station, turn right onto Lookout Point Road and you will reach the beautiful viewpoint. Attention: the Minaret Road in the section after the ski resort closes in winter, so if you are in the surrounding area during this period you will have to give up.
    • Distance from the city center: about 15 minutes

    Hilltop Hot Springs: the area of ​​the hot springs

    There is a magnificent panorama that awaits you in the Long Valley Caldera, in a region of immense plains and hot springs framed by the striking Eastern Sierra mountain range. The best way to enjoy all this is to soak in the thermal pool Hilltop Hot Springs, enjoying the view inside the hot water. So bring your swimsuit and towel and follow the maintenance instructions left in the sign. The swimming pool is small, if you find it already occupied you can search among the other hot springs in the area (in addition to those in the immediate surroundings there are also Wild Willy's Hot Spring or Shepherd Hot Springs).

    Warning: do not confuse the Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs with the Mammoth Hot Springs, the latter are in fact very far away… they are located in Yellowstone National Park!

    • How to reach us: the site is not indicated, so I advise you to carefully follow these indications. From downtown Mammoth Lakes, head East and turn left immediately after the airport onto Benton Crossing Road, where you will find a picturesque green church of country. After about 4 km you will find a dirt road on your left (to be more sure you can enter the coordinates of "Turn to Hilltop Hot Springs" found in the map above), take it, keep to the right and after about 300 meters park. From there a small path takes you to a wooden walkway that leads to the swimming pool. The walk, immersed in the silence and beauty of nature, is wonderful.
    • Distance from the city center: about 20 minutes

    June Lake and the other lakes of Mammoth Lakes

    Mammoth Lakes (as the name implies) is filled with crystal clear water lakes topped by peaks and mountain ranges that create stunning views. One of the most beautiful and popular with bathers is June Lake, a really nice place to spend a few hours, but if you prefer to explore the surroundings, know that there is a lot to discover here too. First stop just before reaching the lake, al June Lake Overlook, the best place to take a nice photo of the lake, to observe the view and enjoy the bizarre slot machine set in the rock (it seems that in the 40s, just before a raid, managers of bars and cafes threw their slot machines into the lake, in reality many divers inspected the seabed without success, however the legend has been handed down ...).

    After the panoramic point, go down, cross the lake and the homonymous town to continue to discover the other numerous Mammoth Lakes: a June Lake loop of about 20 miles awaits you that crosses Gull Lake, Silver Lake and Grant Lake.


    • How to reach us: Exit Mammoth Lakes City Center East on 203 and take a left (Northbound) 395, turn left at June Lake Junction and continue on 158 to June Lake Overlook. From there continue on the same road to see the other lakes. Past Grant Lake, you can choose to return to June Lake Junction (and then down to Mammoth Lakes), but then you would miss the most beautiful lake, which we talk about in the next paragraph, so my advice (unless you have already visited it coming from Yosemite) is to continue north on 395, direction? Mono Lake, of course.
    • Distance from the city center: about 25 minutes

    monkey lake

    On this site we have talked to you several times about this implausible lake at the gates of Yosemite: the tuff conformations that protrude from the surface make it one of the most unique lakes in the world, to be explored even with canoe trips (many rocky conformations are however well also visible from the mainland). I do not dwell too much on the subject because all the information to visit this lake can be found in our guide on how to visit Mono Lake.

    • How to reach us: Instead of ending the lakes loop, once past Grant Lake, continue on 395 North to Lee Vining. If you don't want to tour the lakes, just don't turn off at June Lake Junction. However, it is very likely that when you arrive in Mammoth Lakes you have already had the opportunity to stop and visit the lake: in fact, if you come from Yosemite off the Tioga Road, you will find the monkey lake waiting for you after about twenty km.
    • Distance from city center: approx. 35 minutes (without lake loop)

    Devils Postpile National Monument e Rainbow falls

    Devils Postpile National Monument
    Rainbow Falls

    Here are 2 of Mammoth Lakes most popular attractions: Devils Postpile National Monument is an unusual rock formation made of basalt columns that closely resembles the imposing Devils Tower of Wyoming. The strange shape of this natural monument was produced by the action of the volcanic lava and once arrived on the spot it is possible to admire it both from below and climbing above (just go up a staircase).

    Rainbow Falls instead they are splendid 31 meters high waterfalls whose name derives from the fact that in the sunny days of the summer months it is very easy to spot the rainbow. You can decide whether to reach the falls from shuttle stop 9 (along a path of about 1,5 miles one way) or get there directly from the Devils Postpile National Monument, walking 2,5 miles one way.

    • How to reach us: unlike the other attractions, you cannot arrive by car, but you will have to use the paid shuttle service that leaves from the Adventure Center in Mammoth Lakes. The shuttle stops near both attractions and there is also a free shuttle that runs from downtown to the Adventure Center. For information on timetables, departures and prices you can take a look on the official website.
    • Distance from city center: 15 minutes (Adventure Center).

    Crowley Lake Columns

    Here we are at the most difficult attraction to reach and, as often happens, the most remote areas are the most unmissable ones. Along the eastern bank of the Crawley Lake there are a series of rock colonnades that seem wisely chiseled by human hands and yet it was Mother Nature who made this little masterpiece. The Berkeley researchers have been beating our heads for a long time and apparently managed to identify the trigger in a 760000-year-old volcanic eruption.

    The erosion of the waters of the lake has gradually exposed these columns to the human eye, there are 5000 of them waiting for you, even if not all are clearly visible, and you can freely walk inside them as if on a real porch. Before adding them to your itinerary, however, read the instructions below carefully.

    • How to reach us: getting to the Columns is quite challenging and you will need a 4 × 4 car (to rent a car of this type you can use the online car rental portals indicated in our guide on how to rent a car in the USA). Do you remember the now familiar Benton Crossing Road, the road with all the hot springs? Well, take it from the usual 395 turning at the aforementioned green country church, continue straight, crossing the spa area, after about 18 km memorize a dirt road on the right (Layton Springs Road), from this point on, reset the odometer and be careful: about two miles (3,2 km) after this point you will find another small dirt road on the right (here are the coordinates: 37.641038, -118.685265), it should be plotted on your GPS, alternatively you can use a 'apps like Google Maps with satellite view (in case take a look at our tips for having internet in the USA); from here on you will need the drive wheels. You have to turn right, then take the second right and take the dirt road for about 15 minutes to the beach. 3 km of caves and colonnades await you on the shore of the lake. There are probably other ways to get there, for example by taking the Owens Gorge Road (which you will find 2 km after the dirt road), but the stretch of dirt road to be tackled will be longer.
    • Distance from the city center: about 40 minutes

    Attractions in the surroundings

    Here is a number of natural beauties outside the Mammoth Lakes area, which can easily fit into a larger itinerary:

    Yosemite National Park


    Granite monoliths, crystal clear lakes, thundering waterfalls and towering peaks await you in one of California's most spectacular parks. The park is so huge and full of attractions that we have dedicated an entire section to it. For advice on planning a visit, see our section on Yosemite National Park.

    •  Distance from city center: 50 minutes (Tioga Pass Entrance)

    Bodie ghost town

    If you are a lover of Sergio Leone's films or an old West enthusiast, you cannot miss this real gem: an authentic western town and perfectly preserved, easily accessible and explored in complete freedom. Do you want to know more? Check out our Bodie Ghost Town guide.

    • Distance from the city center: 1 hour and a half.

    Lake Tahoe


    The emerald waters framed by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the green woods that surround the beaches make this lake on the border between Nevada and California one of the most beautiful in the entire United States. Its location is a little off the beaten path but the spectacle that awaits you is well worth a detour (in case it may be convenient to visit it after Yosemite and then descend south to Mammoth Lakes). Again we have written a guide to explore it thoroughly: what to see in Lake Tahoe.

    • Distance from the city center: 2 hours 45.

    Verso Death Valley…


    As mentioned, Mammoth Lakes can be an excellent stop over from Yosemite e Death Valley. From the latter, Mammoth Lakes is about 3:30 am and the way down the Sierra Nevada is truly spectacular. In the organization ofdaily itinerary also take into account the fact that Death Valley can be visited by car, which will further extend the time spent driving. Also, unless you have found accommodation inside the Death Valley, you will have to drive further to reach your accommodation. If you want to sleep directly in Las Vegas it will be a bit of a trek because the city is about 2 hours away, but luckily there are much closer towns: for all the solutions inside and outside the park, read our guide on where to sleep in Death Valley.

    Where sleeping in Mammoth Lakes

    I don't know if I managed to convince you but whether you want to use Mammoth Lakes as a mere stop over or dedicate more time to visit it, you will surely understand that sleeping here is an excellent solution in every sense. In my article on where to sleep in Yosemite National Park you will also find all the towns around Mammoth Lakes to take into consideration. By clicking on the button below, you can see all the facilities available to sleep in this corner of paradise in the mountains:

    All Mammoth Lakes accommodations

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