Mammoth Lakes is a small mountain town with big mountain adventures.
In the era of European exploration in the year of 1877, four prospectors staked a claim on a dense forest they discovered and named Mineral Hill. Only a year later Mammoth Mining Company was formed and thus began a massive gold rush with the success of the mine.
A large mining camp with 1500 people quickly formed called Mammoth City. But the gold quickly ran out and after just two years the Mammoth Mining Company shut down and the population of the camp dwindled to just 10 inhabitants.
That was not the end however for this mountain city. Logging of the lush surroundings and tourism of the outdoor wilderness areas kept bringing people back. Those 10 residents grew and by the early 1900s, the town of Mammoth was informally established near Mammoth Creek.
Today Mammoth Lakes has a population of around 8,000 who call it their full time home. Although when you are there it hardly feels like a small town. Anything but in fact. It is estimated by the visitation center that the Town of Mammoth Lakes receives 1.3 million visitors in the winter and 1.5 million in the summer. That means that small population of 8,000 folks surged to an annual average of 2.8 million people! The epic beauty, numerous activities and world class ski destination draws visitors all over the world to this mountain town.
Where should you go and what should you do during your visit to Mammoth? Here is your complete guide to all the adventures, where to call home, and what to fuel yourself with during your trip to the lovely Mammoth Lakes.
At the heart of Mammoth Lakes is the impressive Mammoth Mountain. This world class ski resort is a favorite for professional athletes and ski lovers alike. The high altitude and heavy snow terrain makes it an ideal training location for Olympic hopefuls and the numerous green routes and tubing activities means it is fun for all ages. Want to hit the slopes? Here is all you need to know.
Things to Do at Mammoth Mountain
This ski destination is the home of the highest lift-served summit in California at 11,053 feet. Also because of the location Mammoth Mountain has a long season which typically starts early November and can span all the way to early May. Founded in 1953, the ski resort has grown to over more than 3,500 acres to ski with 28 ski lifts. There are wide ranges of expert level routes to beginning greens for those just learning.
For those looking to cross country or back country ski Mammoth Lakes provides many opportunities. The groomed Lakes Basin Winter Public Access Corridor is the main location to explore. The corridor begins at the winter closure parking area at the end of Lake Mary Road and runs along the left side of the fee-based nordic track all the way to Horseshoe Lake. The first mile takes you along the edge of Lake Mary, where you can take in views of Crystal Crag and the Mammoth Crest. You can also opt to continue from Lake Mary to Horseshoe Lake which is easy rolling.
Other Snow Activities
Not interested in skiing? Check out Woolly’s Tube Park. This Snow Tube Hill is with a large snow play area complete with a heated deck with snack bar offering hot cocoa and adult beverages. You can skip hiking up the hill via the lift to then tube down groomed fast lanes. Other unique features is the tube ride on Woolly’s Merry-Go-Round.
One especially neat part of Mammoth Lakes is how bike friendly it is. After all the snow melts off of Mammoth Mountain, those ski routes become the best mountain bike tracks. The city itself has a paved bike path that connects you from your vacation front door to shops and eateries. Plus there are numerous forest roads that provide picturesque views for all level riders. Here are the best bike roads to check out:
- Red’s Meadow Ride: This is a difficult, 28-mile ride designed for those who really love thrill seeking. The ride starts in town at Minaret Road/Highway203. You continue past Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge and come to the Minaret Vista which is the highest point of the steep and winding road. The trip does not stop here as you must descend into Red Meadows to then again climb almost 3000 feet in elevation out to the Red Meadow Resort.
- Mammoth Scenic Loop: This bike ride is a short and sweet one at about 18 miles in total. One of the classic routes, it is a great introduction to mountain biking and can be extended or simply out and back. The ride starts at Village at Mammoth and takes the Mammoth Scenic Loop all the way to highway 395.
- June Lake Loop: If you are looking for a scenic road that is moderate in difficulty then this 22 mile loop is perfect. The trail begins at June Lake Beach as it circles around June Lake Loop. Along the ride you will get to enjoy views of Grant Lake and Silver Lake as the loop winds through the mountains and aspen groves eventually ending back up right where you started.
Gateway To The Sierras
Mammoth Lakes is the place for outdoor adventures that will bring you right into the beauty of Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The U.S. Forest Service’s Mammoth Lakes Trail System maintains and provides over 300 miles of trails in the Mammoth Lakes area. Because of the town’s location on the edge of what is known as Long Valley Caldera, it is very geologically active with hot springs and 1000 year old lava domes. Hikers will get to climb to high elevations with sweeping views of the John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness. Or you can explore an ancient obsidian dome and towering rock formations. There are so many great hikes in this area and here are some you must explore:
- Devil’s Postpile: You can not miss this short, less than 2 mile hike to a geographical wonder. It is an easy trek to see massive walls of unique rock formations. The trail is best to do in summer since the entrance road is closed during snow months. However you can snowshoe the extra 8 miles in if you want a long, winter adventure.
- Mammoth Rock Trail: This moderately difficult trail is about 5 miles in length. The wonderful views are throughout the trail as you hike to the base of the dominant Mammoth Rock formation. This trail is pup friendly as well!
- Duck Pass and Pika Lake Trail: One of the most incredible hikes in the area, many opt to backpack this about-10-mile hike. Pika Lake is a crystal clear alpine lake nestled at the base of towering mountains. You will be rewarded on this challenging hike with breathtaking views at Duck Pass. Feeling more adventurous? You can continue your backpacking right to the Pacific Crest Trail which connects here.
- Convict Lake: This 2-mile loop is around one of the most breathtaking lakes in California. Beautiful, crisp blue waters that you can even boat in make up this alpine gem. The trail is dog and kid friendly.
- Rock Tub: This hot spring really looks just like a hot tub made of rocks. Located right off of Benton Crossing Road, it is a short distance to the pools.
Eat, Sleep, And Be Merry
Mammoth Lakes is an ideal place to vacation (and celebrate Christmas). The town was created with visitors in mind and had numerous hotels, cabins, and campgrounds available. Although it can be quite expensive during winter and summer peak seasons, you can usually find highly discounted rooms available if you visit Mammoth Lakes in fall or spring. The main town strip is a bustling area with local restaurants and patio eateries. Here are some great places to stay as well as delightful noms to try around town.
Places To stay
- The Village Lodge: This upscale resort is self described as being ‘The Heart of Mammoth’. Rooms begin with studios and span to large three bedroom apartments complete with dens to lounge in. Amenities include child care, a fitness room, a game room, a pool and hot tub plus storage rentals for all of your gear.
- Vacation Rentals: A wide range of accommodations can be found through privately owned vacation rentals. Many are nestled right in resort style complexes and have various sizes and amenities. If you are staying longer these homes are really ideal since they often have kitchens and laundries. Check out popular sites such as VRBO and Airbnb for listings.
- Campgrounds: Wanting to sleep under the stars? There are many campground opportunities around Mammoth Lakes. Devils Postpile Campground has 21 spots and is one of a few campgrounds located in Reds Meadow Valley and is RV friendly. Old Shady Rest and it’s next door New Shady Rest is popular for its proximity to town. Both of them combined have 151 campsites to choose from. Twin Lakes campground is set on the shores of Twin Lakes, which is a great fishing area. The campgrounds have water and flush toilets!
Places To Eat
- Mammoth Tavern: This gastronomy slash pub boasts a very lively happy hour. The menu is vast with items such as fondue, burgers with smoky bacon and blackened ahi tuna. There is no surprise why it is so popular.
- SKADI: This restaurant is a wonderful reflection of clean and bright Norwegian heritage. No surprise since the chef and owner is Chef Ian Algerøen who got his start learning in the Swiss Alps. The menu has items such as Canadian duck breast, seared scallops, savory crepes and sweet creme brûlée.
- El Charro Taqueria: This small eatery is a great stop for delish fish tacos and burritos. It is also an ideal place to grab take out to bring home to your vacation rental.
Mammoth Lakes may have had a short start for gold mining but lives on as a place of so many memories worth more than gold. From skiing snowy slopes to hiking crystal clear lakes to biking around the quaint town, Mammoth Lakes will steal your heart.
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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