Enjoying the Mammoth Trails System in Winter

With an average annual snowfall of 400 inches of snow per year, Mammoth Mountain is the focal point of a winter vacation to Mammoth Lakes. But all that snow doesn’t fall just on the ski area. The surrounding peaks and valleys, trails and summer roads are blanketed with equally as much snow creating a winter wonderland and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure. If you want to get outside this winter and enjoy the trails in our backyard you’ll want to do a little research on where to go and what to do. This is your Insider’s Guide to the Mammoth Trail System in Winter.

Featured Winter Trailheads

Lake Mary Road Closure You’ll find parking at the top of Lake Mary Road near Lower Twin Lakes at the winter road closure. This trailhead is your main portal for exploring the Mammoth Lakes Basin in the winter. Overflow parking is available at Lower Twin Lakes. The Winter Access Corridor is the main trail in the Lakes Basin and is free access for non-motorized travel. It’s a popular spot for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, as well as on-leash dog walking. As you approach the Panorama Dome, the public access corridor joins the Tamarack Ski Center’s fee-based groomed trail system. Stay to the left side of the road and enjoy the free public access corridor.

Shady Rest Park – The snow-capped pine forest at Shady Rest Park is great place for winter adventure. Parking and public access is located at the Mammoth Welcome Center and Ranger Station. When the snow falls, the groomed trails are the best place for an introduction to Nordic skiing. And best of all, the trails are entirely free, open to the public and shared by a variety users including cross-country skiers, dog walkers, and snowshoers. Snowmobilers also use Shady Rest Park as a launch spot to access the Winter Grooming Snowmobile System for over-snow vehicles.

Borrow Pit – Located on Sherwin Creek Road, the Borrow Pit is a launching spot for a variety of users including snowmobilers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and backcountry skiers and snowboarders. The newly paved road and parking area will be snowplowed regularly offering and access point to the Sherwin Ridge, and Sherwin Meadow.

Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge – Though the parking area at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is mostly used to access the fee-based chair lifts, Main Lodge is also the trailhead for accessing the Minaret Vista and Ansel Adams Wilderness. The trailhead has plenty of free public parking and limited fee-based VIP parking, but can also be reached by a free shuttle from the Village. The trailhead is open to multi-use travelers including snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers. Stay to the far right of the Sesame Street to avoid downhill skiers as you head out of the ski area and follow the summer road through a quiet forest.

Featured Winter Activities

Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding – The Mammoth backcountry is a playground for skiers and snowboarders who prefer to earn their turns. From the Sherwin Ridge to Bardini Peak, and the Tele Bowls, there are a number of peaks and ridges easily accessible from Town that are ideal for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Backcountry travel is considered inherently dangerous and all participants should be well trained in avalanche safety.

Cross Country Skiing – Bring your own cross country skis or rent a set-up from one of many ski shops in Mammoth Lakes and get out and explore the Trails System this winter. From the groomed public access trails at in town at Shady Rest Park to the high altitude Mammoth Lakes Basin and scenic Minaret Vista, cross country skiers will find dozens of miles of trails in Mammoth Lakes. Beyond the groomed trails are routes for exploring off-piste.

Snowmobiling – Hundreds of snow-covered roads provide endless opportunities for snowmobile exploration in Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra. A few trailheads in Mammoth’s backyard are the portal to an expansive over snow vehicle (OSV) network of trails that travel east and north of town. You’ll find scenic trail riding for beginners and families, and mountain climbing and powder riding for advanced snowmobilers looking for an adventure.

Snowshoeing – Just about anywhere you want to go is open to snowshoers, except the fee-based ski areas. With a pair of snowshoes strapped to your feet, the possibilities for adventure are limitless. Bring your own snowshoes or rent your gear, and set out on the Mammoth Lakes Trail System’s free public access groomed trails. Or blaze your own route through the meadows, and forests to see what you can see. 

Featured Locations for Winter Activities

Cross Country Ski at Shady Rest Park – Once there is an 18-inch base of snow, Mammoth Nordic will regularly groom the public access and multi-use ski trails at Shady Rest Park. Cross Country Skiing at Shady Rest is a fun way to learn how to Nordic ski, as well as a fantastic way to get acclimated to the high elevation trails in Mammoth Lakes. Set out from the Mammoth Welcome Center and cross-country ski on the easy 1.8-mile loop.

Ski or Snowboard the Tele Bowls – Named for the telemark skiers that love the wide-open powder-filled bowls, the Tele Bowls are found on the lower flank of Punta Bardini. And can be seen from the Old Mammoth side of town. Accessed from the Borrow Pit, skiers and snowboarders across the flatlands of the Sherwin Meadow before climbing the forested ridgeline of the bowls. Take a few laps before heading out.

Snowmobile to Bald Mountain – From Shady Rest Park in town, riders can snowmobile to Bald Mountain, a scenic overlook in Long Valley with expansive and unobstructed views. The A Trail is a popular OSV route that connects with a number of side trails allowing riders to travel hundreds of miles in the Mammoth Lakes Trail System. The trail travels from Shady Rest Park through a dense Jeffrey Pine forest to Bald Mountain Road where riders take the D Trail to the summit.

Snowshoe to Minaret Vista – The lookout point at Minaret Vista point is a popular sightseeing destination in the summer, but to get there in the winter, you’ll have to travel over snow. Snowshoeing to the Minaret Vista from Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge is a 2.5-mile trek climbing nearly 400 feet in elevation, but you’ll be rewarded with unobstructed views of snowcapped mountains. From Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge stay right as you snowshoe past the ski lifts and continue up the summer road until you reach the Reds Meadow Entrance Station. Climb up the spur trail to the lookout point and enjoy the view.

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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