A Beginner’s Guide to Camping in Mammoth Lakes

Oct 20, 2020

So you are heading to Mammoth Lakes to spend some time mountains. There is no better way to experience the great outdoors than pitching a tent and sleeping under the stars. If you’ve never been camping before, or if you haven’t gone since last summer and need some reminders, here are some tips for camping in Mammoth Lakes.

Where to Go Camping in Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra have so many options for campgrounds that deciding where to go camping can be the hardest part about planning a camping trip in Mammoth Lakes. Whether you’re looking for a campground with convenient access to town or tucked away in the woods by a lake, you’ll find something for every preference.

First-time campers may enjoy the additional amenities (think: options for cabins and access to showers) provided at Camp High Sierra (operated by Mammoth Mountain). For more rustic camping — tent camping with access to public bathrooms — book a spot at one of the many U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in Mammoth Lakes.

What to Pack for Camping in Mammoth Lakes

Acquiring all of the gear you need for camping can be an expensive endeavor. Most long-time campers spend years testing and purchasing gear to round out their set up. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have all the cool camping gear and gadgets for your first camping trip. Many basic camping items can be subbed out for things around your house. Or you can rent most camping gear from Mammoth Mountaineering Supply in Mammoth Lakes. 

Here is a basic checklist of things you need:

  • Tent or tarps
  • Sleeping bag or bedding
  • Sleeping pad or soft blankets to sleep on
  • Pillow
  • Warm jacket and pants
  • Camping chairs
  • Portable camping stove
  • Ice chest
  • Pots and pans
  • Cooking utensils
  • Lantern
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • First aid kit


Setting Up Your Campsite

Once you are packed up and have arrived at your campsite in Mammoth Lakes, you’ll need to set up camp. If it’s your first time setting up camp, try to arrive at your campsite while it’s still light out so you have plenty of daylight for setting up your tent and making dinner.

Choosing a Campsite

Some campgrounds in Mammoth Lakes have first-come, first-served campsites, which means you’ll select your spot when you arrive. However, most campgrounds require you to reserve a specific site upon booking. Whether you’re choosing a campsite day-of or when you book be sure to notice the proximity to the bathrooms. Campsites that are close to the bathrooms can be more convenient, but you’ll also have more foot traffic near your campsite.

Pitching Your Tent

When you’re ready to pitch your tent, look for a flat area. If the ground is not completely level, make sure to have your heads on the uphill side of the tent. A little shade is nice so you don’t wake up to a hot sun blazing down on your tent. Be sure to stake the tent firmly into the ground before setting up your bedding in the tent.

Setting Up Other Camping Gear

Put your camp chairs out by the fire ring and set up your camping kitchen on the picnic table. Don’t forget your food and ice chest should always be left in a locked bear box when you’re not actively cooking. And always dispose of trash in a proper receptacle. Never leave a trash bag out at your campsite as it will attract bears and other wildlife.

Mammoth Lakes Campground Etiquette 

Being a respectful campground neighbor can make your first camping trip so much more enjoyable.

Neighbors who stay up late drinking by the campfire while playing loud music are probably the biggest complaint among campers, so be sure to know your campgrounds quiet hours and follow the rules. Even during the day, keep your noise levels down so you don’t overpower the sounds of nature and ruin the enjoyment for others.

Respect your campground neighbors by sticking to the paths in the campground instead of cutting through other visitors’ campsites. The same advice goes for driving in campgrounds — stay on the designated roads. And if you have more cars than the campsite allows, ask the camp host where you can park an extra car. Don’t park at another site, obstruct the driveway or park off-road.

Keep your site tidy, so trash doesn’t get blown away or broken into by animals. 

Learn more about campground etiquette here.

Tips for Wildlife & Bugs in Campgrounds

Keeping Wildlife Wild While Camping in Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes is home to many species of wildlife. While most wildlife will give you no reason to be afraid of them, remember that animals are wild and should not be treated as pets (read: no feeding, petting or interacting beyond observing).

Protect the animals you encounter on your camping trip by keeping them wild. Never feed wildlife, and make sure to keep your food and trash locked and out of reach for animals especially when you are away from your camp and at night. 

Bears will tear your car apart looking for a granola bar wrapper, so locking dumpsters and keeping food in bear-proof storage boxes (provided by the campgrounds) is imperative.

Learn more about bear safety here.

Managing Bugs While Camping in Mammoth Lakes

Unfortunately, wilderness environments are also home to mosquitos, no-see-ums, and other biting bugs. Depending on the time of year and how much snow fell the previous winter, Mammoth Lakes’ mosquito population can vary greatly.

Natural bug spray works well if the bugs aren’t too intense. Look for a spray or cream that has lavender. (You can find natural bug repellent at stores in Mammoth Lakes.) Bug repellant clothing is also a nice option so you don’t have to spray your skin. Or wear long sleeves shirts and pants to minimize the amount of exposed skin.

Mosquito coils, citronella candles and mosquito repellant lanterns can help to keep the bugs away from your campsite. A smoky campfire can work too.

If all else fails, DEET products will keep bugs from biting, though the repellants are toxic and should be used sparingly. Make sure to keep bug sprays out of your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Breaking Down Camp

Every time we visit forest and wilderness land, we should strive to have minimal impact. Be sure to take everything home with you and dispose of trash properly. “Leave No Trace” is a core set of principals that sets the standard for outdoor enthusiasts about how to reduce impact when they are enjoying the great outdoors.

A few things to remember when enjoying this beautiful land:

  • Dispose of waste and trash properly.
  • Leave what you find (read: no collecting rocks, pinecones, etc.)
  • Minimize campfire impacts by keeping fires contained to approved fire rings and following fire restrictions. 
  • Respect wildlife and don’t feed the animals.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces in designated campsites only.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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