The best things to do in Mammoth Lakes to see some of the most beautiful spots around the Sierra Nevada region.
Mammoth Lakes, CA is a true gem among Sierra Nevada towns.
It’s hands down one of my favorite summer (or winter) destinations. Think South Lake Tahoe in terms of natural beauty, but smaller and less touristy.
And the great news about Mammoth is that it has a lot more going for it than just beauty. There are endless outdoor activities as well as numerous places to eat and relax.
Perched at 7,800 feet on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this geologically active area has skiing and mountain biking galore.
There are winding hiking trails that head into the fresh air of the surrounding mountains, plus geothermal hot springs to take the edge off your sore muscles at the end of the day.
Mammoth Lakes is about an hour from the entrance to Yosemite National Park and three hours from Tahoe/Reno, so it’s also a great basecamp to plan day trips in the area.
Not only do I visit Mammoth Lakes regularly, but I really dug deep in terms of my research to make this a comprehensive list of everything to do in and around Mammoth Lakes.
This is truly the ultimate guide to Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding region. So, if you’re ready to experience the gorgeous mountain peaks of Mammoth Lakes, read on for my top picks!
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
Map of Things to do in Mammoth Lakes
Top Things to do in Mammoth Lakes
Get Oriented at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center
Located in Inyo National Forest, the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center is a great first stop as you head into the town of Mammoth Lakes.
The center is staffed by a member of the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, and Mammoth Lakes Tourism, so any questions you have can be answered.
This is also a great place to pick up some books about the area if you’re into that kind of thing, or simply pick up some handy maps and brochures.
Mountain Bike (or Ski) at Mammoth Mountain
Hands down, one of the biggest Mammoth Lakes attractions is the Mammoth Mountain bike park and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
In the winter, the runs and lifts are like any normal ski area. In the summer, however, they outfit the lifts with bike racks so you can travel to the top of the hill with your bike before riding down.
The Mammoth Mountain bike park offers mountain biking rentals and has runs for all levels.
The trails are well marked and if you’re new to mountain biking, you can even take lessons just like you would for skiing.
The whole town of Mammoth Lakes is specially designed for mountain biking, it seems.
You can ride your bike into town from Mammoth Mountain, grab a beer, and then hop on a shuttle bus with a bike rack to get a ride back to the mountain. It’s a lot of fun!
Be Awed by Geologic History at Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument is a small national park unit next to Mammoth Lakes.
It was established to preserve striking columnar basalt formations, as well as surrounding mountain vistas and Rainbow Falls, a popular local hike.
Visiting Devils Postpile is one of the top things to do in Mammoth Lakes in summer as the National Park Service doesn’t keep the monument open in the winter.
Enjoy Nature at Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls is one of the most popular places to visit in Mammoth Lakes, which is why I’m giving it its own section.
Rainbow Falls is on the San Joaquin River and is a staggering 101 feet high. It’s named “Rainbow Falls” because the mist catching the light often forms rainbows.
The Rainbow Falls trail is located in Devils Postpile National Monument and is a heavily trafficked out and back 4.9-mile trail.
There isn’t much elevation gain here; just 515 feet, which is probably part of why this is such a popular trail. The Rainbow Falls trailhead is located near the Devils Postpile ranger station.
Breathe Fresh Mountain Air on a Hike
The eastern Sierra Nevada is famous for gorgeous scenery, and Mammoth Lakes is no different.
There are over 50 miles of hiking trails in the Mammoth Lakes Basin alone (which is the area southeast of the town of Mammoth Lakes).
You can explore more of Mammoth Lakes’ trails at mammothtrails.org, but here are a few of my favorites:
- TJ Lake Loop: The TJ Lake Loop is a short 0.3-mile loop that gives you an amazing view of TJ Lake. It starts at the Coldwater-Lake George Trail.
- Crystal Lake Trail: The Crystal Lake Trail is very popular. It’s very short, just 0.3 miles, and gives you views of the entire Mammoth Lakes Basin. The trailhead is at the Lake George day-use area. Be warned though, even though it’s short, it’s pretty steep!
- Duck Pass Trail: The Duck Pass Trail is a moderate to difficult 5.5-mile trail that starts at the southeastern end of the Coldwater Campground. This trail takes you past gorgeous alpine lakes and into the John Muir Wilderness.
- Lakes Basin Path: The Lakes Basin Path is a paved multi-use (aka it’s mountain biking friendly) 5.3-mile trail that goes from the North Village to Horseshoe Lake. Along the way, you’ll pass popular areas like Twin Lakes Vista.
- Emerald Lake – Skelton Lake Trail: The Emerald Lake – Skelton Lake Trail shares the trailhead with the Duck Pass Trail in the Coldwater Campground and is just 1.2 miles long. It gives more spectacular views of the gorgeous mountain lakes in the area.
Learn to Rock Climb
The unique geology and numerous granite peaks in the Mammoth Lakes area make it a great spot for rock climbing in the summer.
Novice climbers will find plenty of easy routes and guide services, and experienced climbers have access to more challenging routes.
“Via Ferrata” literally means “iron path.” It’s rock climbing but you have big iron handlebars that have been drilled into the rock to hold onto.
Take a Ride on the Mammoth Mountain Gondola
The Mammoth Mountain gondola ride takes you to the top of Mammoth Mountain with an elevation gain of 11,053 ft.
Enjoy panoramic views of the Mammoth Lakes area and the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.
At the end of the gondola ride, you’ll be dropped off at the Eleven53 Cafe and interpretive center. The gondola ride requires a ticket but kids under two years old ride free.
In the summer, you can do a self-guided geology and natural history walk, or you can choose to hike down the mountain on one of the numerous hiking trails.
Kayak or Paddleboard in a Lake
Getting out on the water is one of the best activities to enjoy in Mammoth Lakes.
This is the place to appreciate the splendor of an alpine lake in one of the many large bodies of water in the region.
There are plenty of rental services in Mammoth Lakes if you don’t already own a watercraft. You can also rent larger boats like pontoons and pedalboats.
Some of the popular lakes in the area include:
If these aren’t enough to keep you occupied, there are plenty of nearby lakes including June Lake, Mono Lake, Iceberg Lake, Silver Lake, and Gull Lake.
Having spent a fair bit of time in the Mammoth Lakes area, I can say that it’s one beautiful lake after another. You really can’t go wrong, there’s no such thing as a bad lake in the Mammoth region.
Read our full guide to the best budget kayaks.
Mammoth Lakes has amazing trout fishing due to the wide diversity of water body types, including alpine lakes, streams, and reservoirs.
Rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, and native golden trout can be found around Mammoth. You can check here for the latest fishing regulations in Mono County.
Backpack in the Wilderness
With such proximity to designated wilderness areas like the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, and the John Muir Trail, backpacking is huge in the Mammoth Lakes area.
The John Muir Trail (which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail) skirts right next to Mammoth Lakes.
Some backpacking routes require permits, so always be sure to research your route before you head out.
Backpacking is one of the best summer activities in Mammoth Lakes. Some of the most popular backpacking routes out of Mammoth Lakes include:
- Devils Postpile to Minaret Lake: This is a 14-mile trek starting at Devils Postpile National Monument and ending at Minaret Lake.
- Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows: This route is very popular. The hiking trail is 28 miles and takes most people 2-3 days. You start on the High Trail from Agnew Meadows and end up in the high country of Yosemite National Park.
- McGee Creek to Reds Meadow: This is a 40-mile trek that begins at the McGee Pass Trail and follows the biggest tributary of the San Joaquin River (Fish Creek). The trail ends near Rainbow Falls and Red’s Meadow Resort.
- Agnew Meadows to Garnet Lake: Garnet Lake is a beautiful lake on the John Muir Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The lake is framed by the massive Banner Peak and is 8.55 miles from the trailhead at Agnew Meadows. The mileage is 17.1 miles roundtrip.
Learn more about popular backpacking routes around Mammoth Lakes, CA.
Sample Craft Beers and Cocktails
Once you’re done wearing yourself out on the trails, head into town to sample some local brews and liquor. Some of my favorite local breweries and distilleries include:
Get in a Few Rounds of Golf
If hitting the green with gorgeous mountains as the backdrop is appealing to you, check out Snowcreek Golf Course or Sierra Star Golf Course.
Snowcreek Golf Course is a 9-hole public golf course, par 35, that was designed by Ted Robinson (a famous golf course architect).
Sierra Star is operated by Mammoth Mountain and is an 18-hole championship course, par 70, that is open to the public.
Tire the Kids Out at Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play (Winter Only)
If you have kids and are looking for fun things to do in Mammoth Lakes in the winter, check out Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play.
The tubing park has groomed lanes that you can tube down, plus a lift so you don’t have to climb up the hill.
Free Things to do in Mammoth Lakes
Photograph Minaret Vista
Minaret Vista is part of Mammoth Lakes’ skyline and is composed of jagged spires of granite rock.
The spires are part of the Ritter Range (a subrange of mountains within the Sierra Nevada) and include Mt. Ritter and Mt. Banner as well as the Minarets.
The Minaret Vista Trail is part of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area but is open to the public for free. The trail starts behind the Mammoth Mountain Inn.
See the Milky Way
The eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains is a great place to reconnect with nature of all types.
Due to the lack of large cities, the night sky here is fantastic for stargazing. Minaret Vista is an especially popular place for stargazing as the sky around you is clear of trees.
Get Some Exercise and Hike Mammoth Mountain
In addition to the trails in the surrounding area, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is home to many miles of hiking trails as well.
One of the benefits of hiking on Mammoth Mountain is that you can ride the lift to the top and only hike down. Here are a few of my favorite hikes that start on the mountain:
- Discovery Nature Trail: This one-mile moderate hike starts across the street from the Mammoth Adventure Center. The trail has lots of interpretive signs to learn about local flora and fauna.
- Main Lodge Trail: The Main Lodge Trail is a two-mile, moderate hike that starts halfway up Mammoth Mountain at the McCoy Station stop.
- The Dragon’s Back/Twin Lakes Trail: This is a three-mile strenuous hike that begins at the top of Mammoth Mountain and takes you past the “Bottomless Pit,” which is a natural arch near Twin Lakes.
- Mammoth Mountain Trail: This strenuous five-mile (one way) hiking trail starts at the top of Mammoth Mountain behind the Eleven53 Interpretive Center. From the trailhead, you’ll meander down the mountain, gaining stunning views of peaks and the San Joaquin River Valley.
Relax in Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
If you’re looking for more hot springs in the area, a quick Google search will show you all the hot springs in Mammoth Lakes.
These hot springs are popular, so aside from following Leave No Trace principles (you know I gotta make a plug for the environment), make sure you get at your chosen hot spring early. Weekdays are the best time to visit, rather than weekends.
Also, most of these hot springs are quite small, and as with any hot spring in the wilderness, you’ll invariably get an occasional naked person.
See the Sunrise at Convict Lake
Framed by Mount Morrison in the background, Convict Lake is one of the most stunning lakes in the region and is incredibly easy to get to.
You can drive to Convict Lake–it’s just a few miles off Highway 395–and it’s a great place to see the sunrise.
The lake is glacially carved, so while there aren’t any glaciers left today, it’s very deep (140 feet in some places).
This is also a great fishing spot and there’s a three-mile trail around the perimeter if you’re interested in an easy walk.
The lake was named after a band of convicts who escaped from Carson City, Nevada in the late 1800s and ended up being surrounded at the lake.
The peaks around the lake (like Mount Morrison) were named after the convicts in the band.
Learn Local History at the Mammoth Museum
Learn about Mammoth’s three-year gold rush that began in 1879 at the Mammoth Museum.
Housed in the Hayden Cabin, the building and the displays inside help paint a picture of life for European and American settlers in the late 1800s.
The Mammoth Museum also hosts live music events on the porch and is a scenic spot to host wedding receptions.
Over 300 species of birds pass through the Mammoth Lakes area every year, so there are ample opportunities for both novice and experienced birders to see something spectacular.
And with so much public land surrounding the town, it’s easy to find a great birding spot (just don’t forget your binoculars).
Some common birds in Mammoth Lakes, CA include:
- Peregrine Falcon
- Prairie Falcon
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Yellow-Rumped Warbler
- Great Blue Heron
- Stellar’s Jay
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Mountain Bluebird
- Western Tanager
And some popular places to go birdwatching include:
Hike Along Obsidian Dome
Obsidian Dome is a little closer to June Lake (25 minutes north of Mammoth Lakes) than Mammoth Lakes but is certainly close enough for a day trip. The trail to Obsidian Dome is 0.9 miles of easy hiking.
Obsidian Dome is a great place to see wildflowers in the spring or it can be a good snowshoe hike in the winter.
Obsidian is a type of volcanic glass. It forms when magma cools very quickly and the same is true of Obsidian Dome.
It formed around 600 years ago when a volcanic eruption hit a layer of groundwater on its way to the surface. The water cooled the magma instantly and turned it into fields of obsidian boulders.
Enjoy the Wildflowers in the Spring and Early Summer
Spring and early summer are the best time to view wildflowers in Mammoth Lakes.
If you visit Mammoth Lakes in mid-summer and want to peep some colors, head up high! Flowers bloom later in the summer the higher in elevation they are.
Some popular places to view wildflowers in Mammoth Lakes, CA include:
- Snowcreek Meadow
- Sky Meadows Trail
- Mammoth Mountain Trail
- Mountain View Trail
- Starkweather Trail
- Agnew Wildflower Loop
See Gorgeous Fall Colors at McGee Creek Canyon
McGee Creek Canyon is located in Inyo National Forest in the John Muir Wilderness and is an amazing place to soak in fall colors due to all the aspen trees.
Even better, due to the wide elevation differences inside the canyon, you’ll likely see trees in multiple stages of fall colors at once.
I’d recommend tackling the McGee Creek Trail for some of the best fall colors, which is 6.6 miles long with 1,210 feet of elevation gain and is considered a moderate hike.
McGee Creek Canyon is located between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, CA, and is easy to get to by car.
To get there, just take the McGee Creek turnoff from Highway 395. The trailhead is located just past the McGee Creek Pack Station near the parking area.
Unique Things to do in Mammoth Lakes
Hike to the Inyo Craters
Among the more unusual things to do in Mammoth Lakes is hiking to the Inyo Craters.
The Inyo Craters are three craters that were formed by volcanic steam explosions (phreatic explosions for the geology nerds).
They’re located on what is now called Deer Mountain and are several hundred feet deep and contain small lakes.
These craters were formed about 600 years ago, during the same period of volcanic activity that formed Obsidian Dome.
Shop at the Village at Mammoth
The Village at Mammoth is the center of town and is the nicest shopping area in Mammoth Lakes.
Not only can you grab a bite to eat and drink here, but Mammoth Village acts as an event space. Mammoth Mountain’s mascot, Woolly, has dance parties here for families with kids once a week.
Mammoth Village also has some big-name live music throughout the year, as well as outdoor movie nights in the summer.
Practice Photography at Hot Creek Geologic Site
Hot Creek Geologic Site is a hot spring area (no bathing allowed though!) complete with fumaroles and an occasional geyser eruption.
This geothermal activity is due to a chamber of magma three miles below the surface.
Hot Creek Geologic Site was formed when the surface water sunk below ground and entered a complicated chamber of natural pipes.
The water eventually went deep enough to be heated by the magma and was then forced back to the surface due to rising steam. Geologists think the whole process took about 1,000 years to complete!
The Sierra Nevada is a tectonically active area and new earthquakes have been known to cause geyser eruptions.
Drive the Mammoth Scenic Loop
The Mammoth Scenic Loop is a relaxed way to take in the sights around Mammoth, starting just north of downtown, off Highway 203.
It takes about 30 minutes to get to the loop junction with Highway 395, and the road takes you right by the Inyo Craters.
Visit the Crowley Lake Columns
The Crowley Lake Columns are a unique geological formation that formed on the edge of Crowley Lake. You can visit the strange features by hiking a moderately difficult 4.2-mile trail.
Note that there is a dirt road that leads to the trailhead and you need 4WD to drive it. Also, the trail is rocky and doesn’t have shade so be sure to bring water.
The best time to see the columns is June through October. To navigate to the columns, I recommend downloading the AllTrails link I provided above.
Strengthen Family Bonds on a Ropes Course
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area has a ropes course that’s designed for kids, as well as a bungee trampoline, an outdoor climbing wall, and a zip line. Basically, everything that seems mildly dangerous and super fun to kids.
You can purchase a two-hour or all-day pass (but let’s be real, who would only spend two hours on those things?).
Go Horseback Riding
Make a furry friend and enjoy a trail ride with one of the many horseback riding outfitters in Mammoth Lakes, CA.
Horseback riding is one of those quintessential summer-campy things. Not only do these outfitters provide day tours on horseback, but you can also purchase multi-day pack services for backpacking trips, fishing trips, and hunting trips.
They also have services for resupply drops for those hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or John Muir Trail, and you can even book a wrangler or a backcountry cook to go with you on your trip.
Unwind with a Massage
One of the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes after all that extreme physical activity is getting a massage!
There are a few spas in Mammoth Lakes that offer full services, including massages, facials, aromatherapy, and more. Here are a few of the most popular ones:
Enjoy Live Music at Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza
The Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza includes more than just blues artists; there’s R&B, Soul, and Rock n’ Roll.
In 2023, the festival will be between August 3-6. The lineup hasn’t been announced yet, but even if you’re not into the music scene, the beer scene is off the charts.
In 2021, there were almost 80 breweries present from all over the West Coast.
Have a Picnic at the Earthquake Fault
Ok, technically this isn’t a real earthquake fault because there hasn’t been movement on either side. It’s more of a fissure–but it’s still a neat thing to go see!
The Earthquake Fault is 10 feet wide and 60 feet deep and was formed due to stretching in the earth’s crust that is typical in the Basin and Range region (eastern California and Nevada).
The earthquake fault naturally holds snow at the bottom of it far into the summer, and for this reason, was used by indigenous people to store food during the summer.
The fault is also surrounded by Jeffrey pine forests, which make this a lovely picnic spot.
Discover Local Artists
Mammoth’s vibe is a mix between earthy hippies and ski bros. Embrace the hippy side and check out the art scene in Mammoth at one of the local galleries.
In addition to the local galleries, Mammoth hosts Arts on the 4th, where local artists as well as artists from all over the country visit to showcase their work.
Here are a couple of the galleries I’d recommend visiting:
Partake in a Snowshoe Tour (Dec-March)
Do an Alpenglow Snowshoe Tour with Mammoth Mountain staff! If you’re not into skiing or cross country skiing, snowshoeing is one of the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes in winter. Plus, it burns a ton of calories.
If you want to design your own snowshoe hike, you can simply rent snowshoes from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
Get Centered at the Mammoth Yoga Festival
The Mammoth Yoga Festival features live music, workshops, meditation, and educational classes, as well as artisanal food vendors.
2021 guests included Athleta as well as several well-known experts in yoga and meditation.
Things to do Near Mammoth Lakes
While Mammoth Lakes has plenty to keep you occupied, its location is also great for launching day trips to the surrounding area. These are a few things you shouldn’t miss if you have longer in the area.
Experience the Awe at Yosemite National Park
Home to Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park is about two and a half hours from Mammoth Lakes. From the entrance of Yosemite, it takes an additional hour and a half to reach Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite has been experimenting with different permit systems to enter the park in the last few years. Check the park website to get the latest on permitting in the summer.
Float on the Oldest Lake in the Western Hemisphere
Mono Lake is the oldest lake in the western hemisphere. This giant donut-shaped lake is famous for its salty water, which allows visitors to easily float on the surface.
The water is home to a thriving population of brine shrimp, which in turn provide food for millions of migratory birds every year.
The lake is also famous for the oddly-shaped tufa towers, which are mineral columns created by the residue of freshwater springs that once bubbled through the water column.
Feel the Spirits at Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park preserves a true Wild West gold-mining ghost town. The town is named for an American pioneer who discovered the first gold there.
At one time, the town was home to 10,000 people and, according to the park’s website, is visited by “tourists, howling winds and an occasional ghost.”
Visit Rock Creek Canyon
Rock Creek Canyon is a beautiful 20-mile valley between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop.
The canyon offers all kinds of recreation opportunities, like hiking and fishing, and is best known for Little Lakes Basin, which is a series of alpine lakes connected by hiking trails.
Explore June Lake
Just north of Mammoth Lakes is the smaller town of June Lake.
No less beautiful, and only 25 minutes from Mammoth Lakes, this is another great spot for lakeside picnics and hiking. June Lake Brewing is my favorite spot to grab a drink at the end of the day.
June Lake also has a skiing area. The June Mountain Ski Area is a good option for kids and beginners.
You can also drive the June Lake Loop, a 14-mile scenic drive, and pass by four sparkling mountain lakes. It’s especially beautiful in the fall when colorful foliage is at its peak.
These lakes include June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake. Fishing is fabulous on these lakes and you can do all the typical water sports activities like renting boats.
Spend Time with Earth’s Oldest Trees at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is south of Mammoth Lakes and just north of Big Pine, CA, off Highway 395.
This is a summer activity only as the road to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center isn’t open year-round.
There are two groves to explore here; the Schulman Grove and the Patriarch Grove, each of which have trees that are upwards of 4,500 years old!
Soak in Travertine Hot Springs
Travertine Hot Springs, outside Bridgeport, CA, is about an hour from Mammoth Lakes on the east side of Highway 395. The pools are located a few miles down a dirt road just after the Forest Service Office.
There are several pools here, all varying in temperature. As with all hot springs on Forest Service land, it’s up to you to leave the area clean and respect nature here.
Travertine is a type of limestone that makes beautiful formations around the hot springs. In addition to the beautiful geology, this site looks out over the Sawtooth Ridge of peaks.
Bag Some Peaks
There are other terrific mountain hikes that aren’t in the Sierra Nevada proper.
North and south of Mammoth Lakes, you’ll find less traveled hikes where you can better enjoy the solitude of nature. Here are a few mountain climbs that are well worth the trek:
- White Mountain Peak: This is one of the more popular non-Sierra peaks as it’s the third tallest peak in California. The dirt road leading to the peak is very rough (only attempt with 4WD) and the trail itself is 15.2 miles total.
- Mount Patterson: Mount Patterson is located northeast of Sonora Junction and is 11,673 feet high. It’s part of the Sweetwater Range, which is composed of lots of multi-colored rocks. As this peak is close to the Nevada border, expect the hike to be dry and warm at lower elevations.
- Potato Peak: I have to mention Potato Peak, which is southeast of Bridgeport. The reviews online talk at length about the mountains of potatoes that can be found there. This is a prank. It’s still a lovely hike but don’t expect free potatoes.
Indulge at Erick Schat’s Bakkery
Erick Schatz’s Bakkery in both Bishop, CA and Mammoth Lakes, CA is a European-style bakery that is an experience unto itself. The original bakery is in Bishop, CA, just down Highway 395 from Mammoth Lakes.
Picture heaps of sweetbreads, hand-formed loaves of savory bread, cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries.
Everything at this bakery looks amazing, and more importantly, it tastes amazing too. They also have a day-old section that makes my inner bargain shopper very happy.
Where to Eat & Drink in Mammoth Lakes
- Black Velvet Coffee is a specialty coffee roaster with expresso, craft beer, and wine.
- Looney Bean offers all the standard coffee drinks plus fresh baked goods. I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere when I was there last summer.
- The Stove Restaurant is a beloved Mammoth tradition that serves hearty American fare. If you go, their prime rib hash is a favorite.
- Good Life Cafe is a casual dining option with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free alternatives.
- Roberto’s Cafe is the best Mexican food in town. They have happy hour as well as vegetarian options.
- Toomey’s offers fine dining options including filet mignon and lobster taquitos.
- Burgers Restaurant is an affordable family restaurant that prides itself on freshly ground beef every day.
- Skadi is a great fine dining option in Mammoth. Picture small portion sizes arranged in fantastic presentations.
Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes
Best Hotels in Mammoth Lakes
- Tamarack Lodge is a historic lodge built in 1924 that offers guests mountain bike lessons, as well as guided hikes and fly fishing classes. Each room comes equipped with a kitchen and fireplace.
- Village Lodge is situated in north Mammoth Lakes and provides direct access to the gondola at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
- Westin Monache Resort offers a fireplace, sofa bed, and kitchenette in all rooms and is also very close to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.
Best Vacation Rentals in Mammoth Lakes
- Spacious Condo with Fireplace is a three-bedroom condo with three bathrooms that sleeps six people. The condo also has access to a pool, spa, and sauna!
- Ski-in/Ski-Out Condo at Canyon Lodge has a 4.9 rating on Vrbo, sleeps eight, and is as close as you can get to Canyon Lodge and the Mammoth Ski School location.
Camping Near Mammoth Lakes
Camping in Mammoth Lakes fills up quickly, so you should plan to book six months out if you can.
Keep in mind that Mammoth Lakes is a very active black bear area so always follow the food storage rules in any camping area.
Here are some of the best campgrounds in Mammoth Lakes, California:
- Twin Lakes Campground: 92 campsites, some next to the lake. This campground is situated in a pine forest and provides picnic tables, fire rings, and a bear box (a bear-proof food storage locker), at every site.
- Lake Mary Campground: Lake Mary is the most developed lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. This campground has 48 sites and is about 10 minutes from the town of Mammoth Lakes.
- Old Shady Rest Campground: 47 campsites and within walking distance of Mammoth Lakes.
- Sherwin Creek Campground: Located in Inyo National Forest and near a motocross track, making it a good spot for people who like off-road recreation.
Best Time to Visit Mammoth Lakes
Summer: Summer is my personal favorite time to visit Mammoth Lakes. I like the summer activities like mountain biking and hiking, plus all the fun places to eat outside. Even though summer is the busiest time of year in Mammoth, it’s still much quieter than towns on the west side of the Sierra Nevada.
Winter: Winter is a good time to visit Mammoth Lakes if you want to ski or snowshoe. Keep in mind that in the winter (~Nov-April) Tioga Pass through Yosemite is closed. This means that the only way to reach Mammoth is to go all the way around the mountains, either south through Bishop or north through Lake Tahoe.
Spring: Spring is a great time for wildflower viewing in Mammoth Lakes. Since Mammoth Lakes sits at about 7,800 feet, spring comes pretty late in the year here. Think April/May for springtime temperatures.
Fall: With aspen colors popping, fall can be a great time to visit Mammoth Lakes. Unfortunately, fall in California has also gained a reputation as being prime fire season. So, if you visit at this time of year, smoke may impact the air quality and active fires may close certain parts of the forest. It’s still a great time to be in Mammoth, but you’ll want to check conditions and the possibility of nearby fires regularly.
How Long Does it Take to Drive from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite?
Driving from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Valley takes about 2.5 hours.
You can reach the entrance station to Yosemite in about an hour, but you still have a long way to go before you reach the valley (which is where most people want to go).
Don’t forget that Yosemite isn’t the only national park unit in the area. There are two other national parks in the Mammoth area: Devils Postpile National Monument and Manzanar National Historic Site (just south of Mono County).
Devils Postpile is just outside of Mammoth Lakes and Manzanar National Historic Site is just south of Mono County, about an hour from Mammoth Lakes. Both destinations are well worth the visit!
Tips for Visiting Mammoth Lakes
Prepare for High Elevation
Mammoth Lakes, CA sits at 7,800 feet of elevation which is enough to make some visitors from the coast feel unwell when they visit.
The best way to acclimate to high elevation is to give yourself a buffer day or two to let your body adjust. You’ll also want to drink plenty of water since being hydrated helps too.
In addition to the effects on the human body, this elevation will be cooler in temperature than the surrounding lowlands. Plan to bring extra clothing layers, even in summer.
Rent Your Gear Ahead of Time
If you’re heading to Mammoth to ski or mountain bike, the lines at the gear rental shop at Mammoth Mountain can be horrendous first thing in the morning.
If possible, pick up your gear ahead of time or rent gear from the rental place in Mammoth Village. The lines are much shorter there.
Be Bear Aware
Mammoth Lakes has had notoriously bad bear problems in the past few years.
In reality, there aren’t as many “bad” bears as there are careless people who don’t know how to act in bear country.
Never, ever get closer than half a football field from a bear. When bears lose their fear of approaching humans, they often have to be killed.
If you’re camping, make it a priority to keep anything with a scent (yes, that means dish soap, deodorant, etc) in a bear-proof container (provided by the campground) at all times unless you are actively using it.
Know Which Roads Are Open
Getting to Mammoth Lakes in the summer from the east side of the Sierra Nevadas is much easier than in the winter.
With that said, there aren’t very many roads that cross the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Tioga Road (Highway 120) is the closest pass through the mountains. It goes through Yosemite National Park and is closed from late fall to late spring every year.
Use the Free Public Transportation
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, in conjunction with the town of Mammoth Lakes, operates a free shuttle system all year round, and it’s great.
There are numerous stops all over town that take you to and from the ski area and different points in town. The buses are equipped to handle ski gear as well as mountain bikes.
What to Pack for Mammoth Lakes
Summer Packing List for Mammoth Lakes:
- Tent – read our guides for the best 4-person tent, 6-person tent, 8-person tent, 10-person tent, 12-person tent, instant tent, pop up tent, winter tent, tent with a stove jack, large family tent, 3-room tent, inflatable tent, tunnel tent, canvas tent, waterproof tent, insulated tent, winter tent, and cabin tent.
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Bear-proof cooler and locks
- Bug spray
- Layers of clothing for nighttime – read our guide to the best hiking clothes for women (that can work for camping too)
- Bathing suit
- Hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes
- Lightweight camp shoes
- Sun hat
- Camp food and camping mess kit
- Daypack with hydration bladder
- Reusable water bottle
- Water (if not available at your campground)
- Solar charger or portable battery-powered charger
- Personal toiletries and medications
- Comfy camping chairs
- Outdoor watch (like a Garmin watch) or a handheld GPS device if you plan to hike in the backcountry
- Screen house for bug-free nights
- A durable phone case and downloaded hiking apps
- Summer fun equipment: mountain bike, helmets, padded shorts
- Travel insurance
Winter Packing List for Mammoth Lakes, CA:
- Bug spray
- Layers of clothing for nighttime
- Winter jacket
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Rain pants or insulated snow pants
- Insulated hiking boots
- Wool socks
- Disposable hand warmers or heated gloves
- Reusable water bottle
- Portable battery-powered charger
- Personal toiletries and medications
- Snow chains for vehicle
- Ice scraper for windshield
- Snowboarding or skiing gear
- Travel insurance
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
Looking for more California travel inspiration? Check out our related posts below!
Pin this image for future reference
- Christmas in California: 17 BEST Places to Go in 2023 - November 29, 2023
- Top 20 Travel Essentials For Women You Haven’t Thought Of - November 25, 2023
- 30+ BEST California Gifts for 2023 [Themed & Souvenirs] - November 22, 2023