Best Bets: An Introduction to Family Hiking Around Mammoth Lakes
Hiking is a favorite family pastime in Mammoth Lakes for locals and visitors! It’s a great way to get out and experience our amazing landscape. There are countless hiking opportunities available in the area for all abilities. Here are some perfect introductory trails, safety tips, and resources to get you and your family out for a walk in the woods.
Family-Friendly Hiking Trails in Mammoth Lakes
With an elevation gain of only 300 feet, the hike to McLeod Lake is one of the easiest and most rewarding hikes in the area and well-suited to young children. Look for the trailhead at Horseshoe Lake and note the tree kill areas. (If you have a budding geologist in your party, they will be interested to learn that the trees are evidence of our active geological area here in the Long Valley Caldera as their demise has been attributed to carbon dioxide and other volcanic gases in the soil.)
Stay to the left and in about ¼ mile you’ll reach the lake’s pleasant, sandy beach. Linger to splash in the water and enjoy a snack, then return via the same route. You might also choose to explore the Horseshoe Loop trail around Horseshoe Lake, a distance of 1.7 miles over relatively flat terrain.
Convict Lake Loop
Convict Lake is another trail that offers a great reward for little effort, perfect for getting kids hooked on hiking! From Mammoth Lakes, take Hwy. 395 4.5 miles south to Convict Lake Road. Continue past Convict Lake Resort and take the paved road that forks left; the trail begins at the end of the road.
The trail is a gentle 2-mile loop that can be hiked in either direction. Heading counter-clockwise, you start on the more exposed north shore through open sagebrush with expansive views of Mount Morrison and Laurel Mountain. The south shore is more wooded and shady. At the far end of the lake is a boardwalk over the lake’s inlet streams, a lovely area among aspens and cottonwood trees that’s perfect for picnicking. The lower elevation of this trail combined with limited vertical climbing makes it a good choice for when you’ve recently arrived and are still acclimating to the altitude.
At 2.7 miles round trip with almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain, the hike to Crystal Lake is more challenging but well worth the effort. Because it climbs steeply up a number of switchbacks and has some steps up to 14 inches tall, it’s probably best suited to kids at least 7 and up.
Access the trailhead on the north side of the parking lot at Lake George in the Lakes Basin. As you climb higher you’ll have views of Lake George and Lake Mary that provide good places to take a break, just be wary of the steep ledges. At the junction where the main trail continues to the Mammoth Crest (a great but strenuous hike), bear left to head down the trail to Crystal Lake. Plan to spend some time exploring the area around the lake and relaxing on the boulders near the shore while you take in views of Crystal Crag.
Retrace your steps to return to the trailhead. If Crystal Lake feels too ambitious, the hike to T.J. and Barrett Lakes is shorter and easier at under two miles round-trip with far less elevation gain and also starts at Lake George.
What to Pack for Family-Friendly Hiking
If your kids have hiking boots, great! But all of the above hikes are doable in well-fitting sneakers with socks. Save flip-flops for relaxing by the pool or at the campground! The sun’s rays easily penetrate the atmosphere at our elevation, so a hat and sunscreen are essential. Weather can change rapidly in the mountains so it’s best to dress in layers and carry a lightweight rain jacket. Bring insect repellant so you’ll have it available if it’s buggy.
You’ll also need plenty of water and snacks; for hikes this short bring your own water and do not drink untreated water from lakes or streams because of the threat of gastrointestinal illness from giardia. Start training your kids to carry their own supplies from a young age! Start with an appropriate-sized water bottle holder and maybe move on to a small Camelbak® or backpack as they grow.
Family-Friendly Hiking Safety Tips
Hiking is generally quite a safe activity, but hiking with kids does require a few special considerations. Choose terrain suited to their ability and make it a fun adventure together!
Impress upon kids the importance of staying with the group and on the trail when hiking. While the above trails are well-delineated and well-used, kids can get excited and distracted and are more prone to wandering off-trail than adults. Remind kids that if they should find themselves separated from you, it’s best to stay in one place rather than wandering around and getting more lost. You may want to give them a whistle to use only in case of an emergency.
Always bring a basic first aid kit so you’ll be prepared to deal with minor scrapes, cuts, etc. Emphasize the importance of enjoying viewing wildlife in their natural habitat but never feeding or approaching them. Finally, even for a short hike it’s a good idea to tell someone where you are headed and when you expect to return.