Best Bets: Family Camping in and Around Mammoth Lakes
Oct 20, 2020
My family recently returned home to Mammoth Lakes from a week-long car trip through northern California and southern Oregon. It was a pretty impromptu trip—we had a general idea of our route and places we wanted to visit, but no firm reservations. We loaded up the car with our basic camping supplies, a cooler with a few provisions and a guidebook and hit the road. The experience reaffirmed how easy, inexpensive, and fun a family camping vacation can be! We also enjoy camping closer to home and do more and more each summer; the Mammoth Lakes area has a number of easily accessible campgrounds close to a variety of activities. There are also terrific backpacking opportunities locally, and I know a lot of families venturing into the backcountry with young kids, but you don’t have to be hardcore to enjoy a Mammoth Lakes camping experience!
How to Reserve a Campground
Reserving a campsite online is easy. You can also call 877-444-6777 to reserve a campsite over the phone. Most campgrounds also have walk-in sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but reservations are strongly recommended for weekends and peak periods.
It’s always best to book as soon as possible for the best selection of sites, and rates at public campgrounds don’t fluctuate. The US Forest Service (USFS) has a complete list of campgrounds in the Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts. If you’re not familiar with the area and want to talk to an expert, head to the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center, where a USFS Ranger can show you maps and help you decide the best places for you to explore.
My family tent camps so that’s the focus of this blog, but most of the campgrounds also accept RVs and trailers and there are also private facilities available. Please review individual campground listings for details on RV accessibility and amenities.
Nightly rates at each campground range from $20-23 per site. All the campgrounds listed below have flush toilets and potable water. Many also offer interpretive programs. For a more primitive experience, there are abundant opportunities for dispersed camping throughout the region. Visit the Welcome Center or call 760-924-5500 for more detailed information about backcountry camping.
Campgrounds in Mammoth Lakes
New Shady Rest and Old Shady Rest Campgrounds are closest to town and the Welcome Center, a municipal park with a playground and fields and a half-mile paved multi-use path that connects to free public transportation, the Town Loop or family-friendly mountain biking options.
Lakes Basin campgrounds include Coldwater Campground, Lake George Campground, Lake Mary Campground, and Twin Lakes Campground. These areas are great for fishing, boating and easy access to hiking and horseback riding. Your family will also enjoy the 5.3-mile paved Lakes Basin Path as it descends 1,000 vertical feet to The Village at Mammoth. Ride the free Lakes Basin Trolley for daytime shuttle service to town or bike down and catch a ride back up. All the trolleys are equipped with bike trailers.
Campgrounds Just Outside of Mammoth Lakes
Convict Lake Campground is just ten minutes south of Mammoth Lakes but feels more remote. You can hike around the lake, boat, fish or take a guided horseback ride. Numerous trailheads are nearby and you can even indulge in a meal at Convict Lake Resort.
Oh! Ridge Campground is located on the June Lake Loop just twenty miles north of Mammoth Lakes and is a favorite spot of Mammoth Lakes locals. There are two well-maintained beaches offering some of the best lake swimming (caution: no lifeguards on duty) in the eastern Sierra, as well as kayak and paddleboard rentals right on the beach. There are also marina and boat launch facilities nearby.
Keep It Simple
You don’t need to have fancy equipment for a successful family camping experience; in fact, it’s best to keep things basic. Our family uses an inexpensive six-person Coleman pop-up tent for camping when we’re not worried about carrying anything too far. I think we’d be hard-pressed to actually camp with that many people in it, but it’s easy to set up and there’s room to spare for our family of three and our bags. Don’t forget to bring a tarp to place underneath the tent. A rubber mallet is also handy for tapping tent stakes into hard ground, and a thick or inflatable sleeping pad or air mattress will help you sleep comfortably.
Remember that it gets chilly in the mountains at night, even in summer, so bring a sleeping bag and warm clothes to sleep in. I like to have a hat or beanie, too. Your sleeping bag can be made considerably warmer by placing a blanket inside and wrapping yourself in the blanket. My biggest indulgence for this type of camping is to bring my favorite pillow from home. If you’re new to camping it will help you sleep quite comfortably! You will also need a flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries and bulb, or just bring a spare. Folding camp chairs are also nice to have for sitting outside.
All of the developed campgrounds listed above have both fire pits and bear boxes. Some also have picnic tables and charcoal grills. Under current fire restrictions due to the severe drought, you may only have a campfire in a developed campsite. I don’t know about you, but my daughter doesn’t care what we eat when we’re camping as long as there are S’Mores around the evening campfire! Outside developed sites, only camp stoves are allowed with a current permit. Please obtain firewood locally and do not transport it long distances to help prevent the spread of insects and diseases. Never leave your fire unattended and drown it with water until it is cool to the touch when you are finished.
Bears and Wildlife
Our local black bears are just part of the community in Mammoth Lakes! If you’re lucky you may spot one in its natural habitat. My all-time favorite bear sighting was on a bike ride near the Twin Lakes Campground. A bear was fishing just under the bridge! To keep bears and other wildlife from becoming a nuisance and a danger to themselves and humans, secure all food, coolers, and scented items in the bear box at your campsite and never leave food out unattended. Keep a clean camp and dispose of trash in secure receptacles. Never leave food in your car overnight.
I hope you and your family have a great time camping around Mammoth Lakes this summer. Remember to observe current fire restrictions and leave no trace principles on every family adventure.