Local’s Guide to a Fall Getaway in Mammoth Lakes

Aug 02, 2023

Exploring the great outdoors in the fall is a must-do in the Eastern Sierra. It’s that time of year when the temperatures are just right and Mother Nature’s paintbrush highlights the landscape.

But it’s not just the warm days, cool nights and fall colors that make Mammoth Lakes special this time of year. While the locals get away 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 getaway in the Eastern Sierra, with tips from a local.

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Day 1 – Arrival & A Sunset Picnic

Getting outside to enjoy the outdoors before the sun goes down is the first order of business. Swing by your favorite dinner spot for to-go. Then head to a scenic picnic spot (Minaret Vista is a favorite easy-access spot for a picnic at 9,265 feet).

Day 2 – Hikes, Kayaking & Scenic Drives

Set Out on a Fall Color Hike

On the first full day of your trip, gear up to hit the trails for a nice fall hike. There are tons of great hiking trails to see fall colors in the region. Check out the Visit Mammoth social media pages or the weekly Mammoth Lakes fall color update to learn where to hike for the best fall color while you’re in town.

Mornings in the mountains 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.

See Fall Colors from the Water

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. In early fall, you can rent kayaks or paddleboards at local retailers or even book a pontoon boat rental at a local Marina.

READ MORE: 5 Lakes for Fall Colors Near Mammoth Lakes

The afternoon is a nice time to take a scenic fall drive and enjoy the scenery. Depending on where peak fall colors are at the time, you may want to head toward fall colors north of Mammoth Lakes or set your sights on fall colors south of Mammoth Lakes. Where ever the fall colors take you, you can expect one thing for sure — stunning mountain views for miles and miles.

Wind Down with Dinner & Drinks

Mountain casual is the usual attire for most restaurants in Mammoth Lakes, so there’s no need to clean up before dinner. Locals love going to the usual tourist hot spots during the fall when it’s quieter. Mammoth Brewing Company and The Eatery fit the bill for a bite and a locally-brewed beer. Try a pint of a seasonal ale or a tasting flight and order food from the counter. If it’s not too cold the patio seating is a great option. Or head upstairs to unwind and enjoy the mountain views before heading home to fall into bed for the night.

Day 3 – Fishing & Sightseeing

Land the Catch of the Day

Rise and shine early to make the most of another beautiful fall day in the mountains. 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 quietest, not to mention a beautiful, time to visit Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile and fish in the San Joaquin River. You’ll still be required to pay the area use fee, but it’s 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. Try to match the hatch and catch a few wild trout, or if you’re new to stocking your tackle box for fishing in the Eastern Sierra, link up with a local fishing guide.

Sightseeing Without the Crowds

The Reds Meadow area is more than just a great spot to cast a line. 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 to the post pile is short and paved, so it’s accessible for most visitors. For an added adventure, take the steep trail to the top for another perspective for the columns.

Photo courtesy of Mammoth Lakes Trails System

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 101-feet. The Sotcher Lake Loop 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 revitalized. Three days isn’t quite enough, fall is a great time to add on extra days to your trip as many hotels and lodging properties have special offers on fall accommodations on stays.

Be the first to know where the leaves are changing by signing up for the Fall Color Newsletter. Just check the box for the “Fall Colors Newsletter” and you’ll get updates every Tuesday during fall.

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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