Fall Fun and Foliage for Families around Mammoth Lakes

Autumn is by far the most underappreciated season in the eastern Sierra. Generally speaking, September and early October days are still warm and sunny while nights and mornings are crisp and cool. Aspen and willow leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow and gold and the first dusting of snow appears on the high peaks, adding to the beautiful vistas and reminding us that winter is fast approaching.

While resort communities in New England are swamped with “leaf peepers,” here in Mammoth it remains relatively quiet and there are some great deals on lodging and shopping.

Local families spend their weekends bundled up for early morning soccer games followed by hiking and biking in the afternoons. As the days grow shorter, a hint of wood smoke creeps into the air in the late afternoons and evenings as people fire up their woodstoves for the first time this season.

Pack your favorite fall sweater and experience the magic of autumn in Mammoth Lakes as a family.

Fall Colors in Mammoth Lakes

Within Mammoth Lakes, some of the best foliage is right along Mammoth Creek. Pay a visit to Mammoth Creek Park off Old Mammoth Road. Look south toward the Sherwins for a stunning view of foliage cascading down the hillsides while your kids checkout the playground equipment! Or take a stroll along the paved multi-use path that’s part of the Town Loop. From the park, it parallels the creek in both directions. Better yet, take a bike ride. Start by taking the tunnel underneath Old Mammoth Road. From here the trail has a fun downhill section with great views, then loops back up into town past Trails End Park and the Volcom Brothers and Little Brothers Skate Parks and the Welcome Center. A short, relatively flat side trip brings you to Shady Rest Park. Cross Main Street by Footloose Sports and use the sidewalk along Old Mammoth Road to return to Mammoth Creek Park (you may ride a bike on the sidewalk in Mammoth Lakes, but must yield to pedestrians, of course).

Fall Colors in June Lake

The June Lake Loop is another great place to take in fall foliage. At this time of year, I like to start at the north end of the loop by following US Highway 395 20.7 miles north from Mammoth and taking a left on CA-158 South. 158 winds 15.8 miles past Grant, Silver, Gull, and June lakes before rejoining 395. The reflection of the orange and yellow aspen leaves in Silver Lake can be particularly spectacular, and this is also a good spot to get out of the car for a short stroll. My daughter loves picking up different leaves and comparing them. Active families with teens might consider biking the loop, a 22-mile ride with 900 feet of climbing.

Fall Colors in Rock Creek Canyon

A trip up Rock Creek Road is the consummate fall activity around here. Take US Highway 395 South from Mammoth for 14.9 miles, then turn right onto Rock Creek Road. Be advised that the road is currently undergoing major reconstruction and subject to (scenic!) delays of 30 minutes or more. Check here for the latest updates. Even with the delays, there are several good options for families so it’s well worth the trip to this special place. Drive 9 miles up the road into the canyon to reach Rock Creek Lake and the Rock Creek Lakes Resort. The resort café, Pie in the Sky, serves breakfast and lunch and there is also a small general store here, but the star of the show is definitely the pie. Sold by the slice starting at 11am, pie is available on a first-come, first-serve basis so arrive early for the best selection! From here you can explore Rock Creek Lake on foot, fish, and even rent a boat from the resort, which closes for the season on October 13, 2014. For a perfect family hike, continue 2 miles up Rock Creek Road to the terminus of the road at the Mosquito Flat trailhead. At an elevation of 10,300 feet, this trailhead is the highest in the Sierra and 350 feet higher than Tioga Pass! The trail follows an abandoned mine road, which makes for fairly easy hiking despite the elevation and very accessible entry to the John Muir Wilderness. At the marked junction, stay left toward Morgan Pass to reach the Little Lakes Valley. Half a mile from the trailhead, you’ll reach Mack Lake, soon followed by Marsh Lake, Heart Lake, and Box Lake. Long Lake is 2 miles from the trailhead, and from there you can continue to Chickenfoot Lake and Gem Lakes for a longer, more challenging hike. Kids really enjoy hiking in this area because it feels like there is another lake to discover around each bend in the trail, and there are plenty of boulders to climb and small wooden bridges to cross. Explore at your leisure and turn around and return via the same trail whenever you wish. Check here for an up-to-date fall color report. Here are some more fall hikes to explore. Remember that kids are often less impressed by sweeping vistas than what’s on the ground right in front of them, so be prepared for them to be more awed by leaves crunching underfoot than anything else! Have fun and enjoy the slower pace that fall brings to Mammoth Lakes. Have you visited Mammoth in the fall? I’d love to hear what activities your family most enjoyed!  

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Betsy Temple-Truax

Betsy loves living and playing in Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra with her active family and friends. A passionate advocate for community recreation, Betsy never turns down an opportunity to swim, ski, paddle, travel or let someone else cook.

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