Local’s Guide to a Fall Getaway in Mammoth Lakes

Exploring the great outdoors in the autumn season is a must-do in the Eastern Sierra. It is the time of year when the temperatures are just right, and Mother Nature’s paintbrush highlights the landscape golden. But it’s not just the warm days, cool nights, and fall colors that make Mammoth Lakes special this time of year. The town is quiet and the trails are serene. While the locals getaway on their vacations before the winter hits and the wild animals prepare to hibernate, you’ll enjoy the serenity of fall in the mountains. Here’s how to make the best of your fall in the Eastern Sierra.

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Day 1 – Arrival & A Sunset Picnic

Whether you’re flying or driving to Mammoth Lakes, getting outside to enjoy the outdoors before the sun goes down is the first order of business. Swing by Bleu Handcrafted Foods and pick up a dinner box full of gourmet cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and cured meat (you choose the items included). Minaret Vista is the perfect easy-access spot for a picnic at 9,265 feet. While you dig into your picnic, you’ll have a spectacular view of the sun setting being the craggy range, part of Mammoth Lakes’ signature skyline.

Day 2 – Hikes, Kayaking & Scenic Drives

Start the weekend right and hit the trails for a nice fall hike. You’ll notice the mornings are cool, but as soon as the sun hits the trail the day will warm to a nice temperature. Be sure to pack a lightweight jacket and pants, plenty of water and snacks, and a camera. There are tons of great places to hike in the fall, but you might as well start in our backyard and head up to the Mammoth Lakes Basin. The 2.2-mile round-trip hike to Heart Lake is a moderately easy route and offers some of the best fall color viewing in the area. Start from the Coldwater Trailhead near the Consolidated Gold Mine. The trail traverses above the aspen-lined creek. The heart-shaped lake reflects the hues of the changing aspen leaves and is tucked beneath the west side of the Sherwin Ridge and Pyramid Peak.

After a nice morning hike, you’ll be ready for a change of pace and the late morning is a nice time to get on the water. Head to one of the marinas on Lake Mary and rent a kayak for an hour. As you paddle around the perimeter of the lake, you’ll see Crystal Crag towering high above the Mammoth Crest, fisherman along the shore, and the south face of Mammoth Mountain. The cool water will be a nice respite from the warm sun and you’ll paddle back to the marina feeling refreshed. As you drive down the hill back to town, stop at the Twin Lakes overlook to enjoy the view, and snap a few photos.

The afternoon is a nice time to take a scenic fall drive and enjoy the scenery. Take Highway 395 north to the June Lake Loop, Highway 158. The 16-mile road passes through the town, which has some nice shops and restaurants, winds its way around the lakes, and through alpine canyons. Take your time and enjoy the scenic overlook at Oh Ridge. The 10,900-foot Carson Peak rises above June Lake and offers a rugged backdrop. Continue around the lake past Gull Lake and to Silver Lake, which is sure to offer a color spectacle in the fall. When you reach Grant Lake, look back and enjoy the mountains from a distance.

There’s no need to clean up before dinner if you head to Mammoth Brewing Company and the Eatery for a bite. Try a pint of a seasonal ale or a tasting flight and order food from the counter. Head upstairs to unwind and enjoy the mountain views before heading home to fall into bed for the night.

Day 3 – Fishing & Sightseeing

Rise and shine early to make the most of Sunday. Most anglers will tell you that fall is their favorite time of year to fish in the Eastern Sierra. The fish are active and hungry after the fall spawn, and there tend to be fewer fishermen than fish. Since the mandatory shuttle bus stops service in early September, fall is the most convenient, not to mention beautiful, time to visit Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile. You’ll still be required to pay the area use fee, but it is money well spent. Pack up food for the day and your fishing equipment, and drive the mountain road to cast a line in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin. It is a freestone river that starts in high in the alpine at Thousand Island Lake and travels through the valley where anglers access the riffles and pockets from area campgrounds. Try to match the hatch and catch a few wild trout.

The region is more than just a great spot to cast a line, so when you’ve hooked enough fish to get your fix, explore the area and enjoy the natural history of Reds Meadow. The basalt columns at Devils Postpile are a must-see and the trail is short and easy, so just about anyone can do it. Take the steep trail to the top for another perspective for the columns. If you still have the energy in the afternoon, hike to Rainbow Falls. The trail follows the San Joaquin River to the waterfall, which plunges more than 100-feet. The nature trail around Sotcher Lake is a mellow way to see more of the area and the scenery is top-notch. A large granite buttress protects the lake from wind keeping the water glassy for a beautiful reflection of fall color.

It might be time to hit the road, but after hiking, kayaking, foliage touring, fishing, and enjoying nature you’ll be heading home renewed. Before you head out of town, be sure to tip your hat to the change of seasons—and, do a little snow dance. Or, if your trip felt too short, stay a few extra days. Many hotels and lodging organizations have special offers on accommodations on weekday stays.

Know When to See the Colors

Sign up to receive fall color photos and updates every Wednesday throughout the fall (Labor Day until the first snow).


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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