Less than 100,000 years ago, while volcanoes were erupting and shifting to form the familiar landscape today, there was hot, basalt lava flowing down into what is now known as the Red’s Meadow Valley in the Northern Sierras. As this lava began to cool as it descended, massive cracks solidified creating these unique multi sided column formations. The lava morphed into a towering wall of rare formations now known as the Devil’s Postpile. This formation of lava meeting receding ice age glaciers is very rare and found in only a handful of places around the world.
Other columnar jointed lava walls similar to the Devil’s Postpile can be explored at Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway and Scotland’s Fingal’s Cave. But here in North America, Devil’s Postpile stands alone. And in 1911 in order to protect and preserve this geological wonder, Devil’s Postpile National Monument was established. On average over 100,000 people visit this monument every year to explore, experience, and adventure. Here is everything you need to know before you too come to see the famous Devil’s Postpile.
Devils Postpile National Monument Details
Address: Devils Postpile Access Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Hours: Open 24 hours during open season. Closed Mid October through Mid June.
Devils Postpile Brochure & Map: https://www.nps.gov/depo/learn/news/newspaper.htm
When To Go To Devil’s Postpile
Before you start to make plans to venture out to see this amazing monument yourself you need to know when exactly to go. The Devil’s Postpile Monument is only open seasonally each year when Sierra winter storms have not yet covered the area with deep snow. The Monument will typically open in mid- to late-June once roads are clear of winter ice and debris. The operating season is relatively short because come mid- to late-October, early winter storms in the High Sierra already begin to bring snow, closing the monument.
During operating season the monument is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day for your enjoyment.
A good thing to plan for when open for the season, the Devil’s Postpile Monument requires a shuttle ride to not only the Devil’s Postpile itself but to all of the trails in the picturesque Red’s Meadow Valley area. Figuring out the shuttle bus system may be a little bit confusing at first. But have no fear, here is the low down on what you need to know:
- You can park your vehicle near the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge and along the road downhill from the Main Lodge and the Adventure Center. On weekends or busy days be prepared to park pretty far away and trek up the roadway to the shuttle stop.
- The shuttle to Red’s Meadow and the Devil’s Postpile is not a free ride. There is a per person fee. Pro tip: make advance reservations online to save time and hassle!
- At the base of the mountain, which is the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center, buses run pretty frequently. Between the early morning hours of 7:30 am to 9:00 am, they are every 45 minutes. 9:00 am to 10:00 am, they run more frequently at every 30 minutes. Peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, the buses come every 20 minutes. Finally, between 4:45 pm and 6:15 pm, they are again every 45 minutes. Take note that the last shuttle bus leaves Red’s Meadow Valley at 7:00 pm. If you miss that you will be walking the road back to your car!
Now to the fun part! The adventure. Hiking here is just gorgeous. With shadows of Sierra mountains, lush meadows and lingering snow – no matter what trail you choose you will not be disappointed!
- Devil’s Postpile Loop: You absolutely can not come to the Devil’s Postpile Monument and not see the Devil’s Postpile. I mean it’s in the name! The trek there is short at just over a mile round trip with only 232 feet in elevation gain. It is an easy, family friendly walk and delivers you up close and personal to this remarkable natural phenomenon.
- Rainbow Falls via Devil’s Postpile Trail: This waterfall destination is the second most popular area in the monument. Starting at the same trail head as the Devil’s Postpile you turn off fairly quickly to make your way to the gorgeous 101-foot high Rainbow Falls. The total mileage round trip of this hike clocks in at about five miles with about 500 feet elevation loss and gain on the return trip. That means you will be going back up on the way back to the trailhead.
- John Muir Trail: For those wanderlust adventure enthusiasts who want to backpack deep into the beauty of Sierra’s backcountry; the John Muir Trail ends or begins, depending on where you start, right here in Mammoth Lakes. The trek to get to King’s Canyon is almost 84 miles and the trail continues south beyond that all the way through Sierras. If this trail is calling your name, just make sure if you plan to camp to acquire all the needed permits for this gorgeous adventure.
Devils Postpile has a 20-site campground that has been closed since 2016 for infrastructure repairs, safety needs, and the impacts of intense winters. Nearby campgrounds are located within Reds Meadow Valley. From north to south, these are: Upper Soda Springs, Pumice Flat, Pumice Flat Group, Minaret Falls, and Reds Meadow campgrounds.
Summer months are drier and experience comfortable 70°F (21°C) days with steep drops to 40°F (4°C) in the evenings. From October to May, expect 40-50°F (4°C-10°C) days with subfreezing temperatures at night.
Now Devil’s Postpile is pretty rare when it comes to National Monuments because it allows you to bring your furry friend along for the adventure. Pets are allowed in the campground, the numerous day use areas, as well as on trails throughout the monument. Just like most places, be sure your dog is on a leash and pick up after them when they deposit their business. There are even disposable plastic dog bags at the monument trailhead for your convenience! When temperatures outside rise above 70 degrees Fahrenheit make sure to not leave your pet in your car. Temperatures are hot in the summer and even hotter in a vehicle. Also be aware that bears and coyotes sometimes harass dogs. If you want to keep both your pup and the wildlife safe – just do not leave them unattended at any time.
Since visitors are required to use the shuttle system to the monument you can actually bring your dog on those buses as well. All dogs riding the shuttle buses must wear muzzles that are available for purchase at local pet stores in Mammoth Lakes and at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center located right near the shuttle bus boarding area.
When visiting Devil’s Postpile National Monument also practice Leave No Trace Principles and leave this beautiful area better than you found it. This geographical wonder is certainly worth the trip.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus