Summer Recreation: Mammoth Lakes, California

Every summer, outdoor enthusiasts from around the world are drawn to the Eastern Sierra’s high mountain peaks, crystal blue skies, alpine lakes and wilderness trails.

To get the most from the short, sweet summer, stay in Mammoth Lakes. The town serves as a central hub for sports, recreation, sightseeing and music festivals. The Mammoth Festival (August 17 to 19, 2012) caps the season with four days of wine, food and music. Several resort hotels have one-bedroom suites with the amenities for a family or group of friends vacationing together.


Plan your trip. This itinerary focuses on hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, stargazing and sightseeing described in California: The Sweet, Short Summer of the Eastern Sierra. For information and details about these activities and fishing and golfing, go to Visit Mammoth. Mono Lake is unsurpassed in scenic beauty. To plan a trip to Mono Lake, visit Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center website.

Learn more. The Inyo National Forest rangers lead hikes, campfire talks from July 4th weekend until Labor Day weekend. Star parties take place on June 21, July 19 and August 13. Check out the summer events. If the Bluesapalooza music festival appeals to you, schedule your trip around the weekend of August 3-5, 2012. Also check the events calendar at The Village at Mammoth. Download a trail map at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park.

DAY 1  Mammoth Lakes, California

Fly to Mammoth from Los Angeles or fly to Reno from other gateways. Drive over Hwy. 120 if coming from the San Francisco Bay Area.

You can fly from your gateway to Reno Airport or from Los Angeles to Mammoth Airport on Alaska Air. In the summer, drive through Yosemite National Park over Tioga Pass (Hwy. 120) under the shadow of 11,000-foot-high peaks. Turn south onto Hwy. 395 and continue to the Mammoth Lakes exit. Go to the California highways website to check road conditions.

California highways
209.372.0200 Yosemite road info
Getting There
Alaska Air
Check into Juniper Springs Lodge for 6 nights. Have dinner poolside.

Against the backdrop of Mammoth’s vast ski terrain, Juniper Springs Resort impresses visitors with its craftsman-style architecture and 4-star comforts. The Main Trail, a paved bike trail, leads from its doorstep. It follows the boundary of the Valentine Reserve and continues up to the Mammoth Lakes Basin. The concierge will help with directions.

You may want to call ahead with a shopping list so the staff can stock the refrigerator in your suite. The poolside patio is furnished with spacious dining tables and chairs. The Weber gas grills cook up rainbow trout, chicken, steak, or shrimp kebobs. The outdoor swimming pool is heated to 84-88 degrees. With four hot tub spas, you and your friends can have your own hot tub.

Juniper Springs Resort
4000 Meridian Blvd., Mammoth Lakes, California 93546
800.626.6684 reservations
760.934.1102 front desk

DAY 2  Welcome Center. Devil’s Postpile. Rainbow Falls. Smokeyard Restaurant.

Stop at the Welcome Center. Ride the shuttle to the Devil’s Postpile trailhead. Hike the 6.5-mile loop trail.

The rangers at the front desk can help you tweak your itinerary for the week. The rangers know the area better than anyone. Ask about campfire talks, stargazing and other highlights.

Vehicles in Reds Meadow Valley are controlled to protect natural resources. Visitors ride the shuttle ten miles to access the Reds Meadow Valley and Devil’s Postpile. Buy tickets at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center.

This is a moderate day hike, but the walk to the falls is hot, dry, and exposed. Devil’s Postpile is a sheer wall of 60-foot basalt columns, fractured and polished by glaciers. The falls are named for the rainbows that appear in the mist when the sun is at the highest point in the sky. A staircase descends to the river where you can spread a picnic and watch for rainbows.

Mammoth Ranger Station and Welcome Center
2510 Main St., Mammoth Lakes
Reds Meadow Shuttle Bus
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
Hwy. 203, Mammoth Lakes
Sports & Recreation
Devils Postpile National Monument, Rainbow Falls
Have dinner in the Village.

If everyone in your party is tired and hungry from the hike, head to the Village. Stroll the main pathway until you come to Smokeyard and the large patio under blue skies. The happy-hour deals from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. will surprise you for a resort town. On the half-price menu is the thin-crust goat cheese pizza with caramelized onions, spinach, and goat cheese. The meat pizza is topped with Tri-tip. Look to the dinner menu for Kobe meat loaf smothered in barbecue baked beans. Veal chops are also a house specialty.

Smokeyard at The Village at Mammoth
1111 Forest Trail, Mammoth Lakes

DAY 3  Mono Lake. Bodie State Park. Whoa Nellie Deli.

Paddle a canoe or kayak on Mono Lake. Have a picnic and a swim at Navy Beach.

An immense inland sea, the 70 square-mile lake fills a natural basin, 700 square-miles in size. The interaction of freshwater springs and the alkaline water formed the lake’s spectacular tufa towers: calcium-carbonate spires and knobs. More than a million birds feed and rest at Mono Lake each year. Canoe-tour hours vary. Kayak tours start at 8:30 a.m. at Navy Beach. Bring water shoes, gloves, a change of clothes and a picnic. Reserve both ahead of time. Take a quick swim after the tour. Because of Mono Lake’s saltiness, the water is denser than regular water, so you can float without treading water. Keep your swim to under 20 minutes. Prolonged exposure to the alkaline water isn’t healthy.

Sports & Recreation
Canoe tours
Lee Vining, Mono South
Sports & Recreation  
Caldera Kayaks
Mammoth Lakes

Visit Bodie State Park.

This gold-mining ghost town in the hills north of Mono Lake is a true remnant of a Gold Rush boomtown. When William Bodey discovered small amounts of gold, he sparked a gold rush. Nearly 10,000 people lived here during its heyday. Only a small part of the town survives, preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” Interiors remain as they were left and stocked with goods. Head north on Hwy. 395 for about 20 miles. Turn east onto Hwy. 270; drive 10 miles on paved road, then another 3 miles on dirt road.

Bodie State Historic Park
Hwy. 270, Bodie
Have dinner at Whoa Nellie Deli inside Tioga Gas Mart.

 The fish tacos, served with ginger coleslaw and mango salsa, keep the picnic tables crowded all summer. Other specialties are the swordfish sandwich piled high with fried red onions, and the steak salad. It’s always a good idea to come on Thursday or Sunday evening when bands play outside on the lawn. Mono Lake in the distance glows pink and magenta at sunset. Check online for the music schedule. Located 29 miles north of Mammoth Lakes. Get back on Hwy. 395 and go through Lee Vining. Turn west onto Hwy. 120; then into the Mobile parking lot.

Whoa Nellie Deli
Hwy. 120, Lee Vining

DAY 4  Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Whiskey Creek restaurant.

Rent bikes and bike down from the summit.

The Adventure Center staff will hook you up with a double-suspension mountain bike. If you haven’t ridden a bike in a few years, book a lesson with Gil Campos. He’ll teach you how to lean into the turns on the single track and riding low and back on your bike.

Anyone can ride the 5-mile Downtown trail that starts at the Main Lodge and ends in town at The Village. The trail includes a covered rest stop and the scenic viewpoint overlooking Twin Lakes. Then take the gondola to the summit and ride the 8-mile Off the Top trail. Take time to enjoy the spectacular views of the Minarets, Ritter Range, the White Mountains and the valley.

Sports & Recreation
Mammoth Mountain Bike Park
1 Minaret Road  Mammoth Lakes
Mountain Bike Lessons
800.626.6684 for lessons
Dine at Whiskey Creek during happy hour.

An all-day bike ride brings on a huge appetite. On the drive down the mountain, stop at Whiskey Creek for the half-price menu, available 5 p.m. to 6 p.m during happy hour. The seafood platter, entree salads, fish tacos, Angus steak sliders, flat iron steak are a few of the specials that satisfy. Grab a window table in the upstairs lounge.

Whiskey Creek
Lake Mary Rd At Minaret Rd., Mammoth Lakes

DAY 5  Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness areas.

Hike the Thousand Island Lake Trail.

Take the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trails to the lake. The elevation gain is not too strenuous on the 7.8-mile hike until the final climb. Tiny islands dot thousand Island Lake; white clouds and gray peaks sway on its blue surface. In the clean air, Banner Peak seems close enough to touch. Return along the River Trail, staying along the river.

For this full-day hike, leave the condo by 6:30 a.m. to get to the Minaret Vista Station before 7 a.m. Cars are allowed in the valley before 7 a.m.

Sports & Recreation
Thousand Island Lake Trail
Agnew Meadows trailhead

DAY 6  Mammoth Lakes Basin. The Village. Minaret Vista.

Visit the lakes above town.

The Lakes Basin Path is a paved, multiple-use path connecting the town with the Mammoth Lakes Basin. You can ride a bike or walk. On the way it passes Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, and Lake Mamie, and it ends at Horseshoe Lake. Stop at Tamarack Lodge at Twin Lakes. The main lodge has a beautiful stone fireplace in the sitting room.

There are short hikes in the Lakes Basin. Panorama Dome is a mile round trip. From the top you have a view of town, Owens Valley, Crowley Lake, and the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Crystal Lake and Crystal Crag is 3.5 miles round trip. Emerald Lake is 2 miles round trip.

Mammoth Lakes basin
Old Mary Road, Mammoth Lakes
Enjoy evening activities at the Village. Go to the star party at Minaret Vista.

The clear sky over Mammoth Lakes attracts astronomy clubs and stargazers. Millions of stars twinkle and more planets are visible to the naked eye. Star parties are scheduled June 21, 2012, July 19, 2012 and August 13 when the Perseid meteor shower will appear.

The Village at Mammoth
Star Party/Wonders of the Night Sky
Minaret Vista parking lot

DAY 7  Return home

Drive and/or fly home from Mammoth Lakes.
—by CT editors. Photography by Donna Peck and Mammoth Mountain.

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