Mammoth Lakes Featured Day Trip: Lee Vining and Mono Lake

Jul 14, 2021

Mammoth Lakes is not only a great destination for outdoor adventures, but the town is also a great base camp for exploring the Eastern Sierra and Mono County. Just thirty minutes north, Lee Vining offers a variety of different adventures, restaurants, and a scenic landscape.



You’ll want to get going early so you can enjoy an entire day in the Lee Vining region of the Eastern Sierra. Grab a cup of coffee, get in your car and drive north on Highway 395. Don’t worry about making breakfast, or packing a lunch — there are plenty of great food options once you arrive. Head into the Mono Market and pick up a breakfast burrito. They are not only big enough to fuel you for a day of adventure, but they are so tasty too. If that’s not enough, grab some snacks for the day.

Morning Hike

From Lee Vining, take Highway 120 west toward Tioga Pass and turn off at Saddlebag Lake. Yes, you are going hiking in the high country. But first, hop on the Saddlebag Lake boat taxi at the resort. You’ll cruise for ten minutes to the west shore of the lake where the Twenty Lakes Basin hike begins. It is as fantastic as it sounds.

From the boat dock, the hike is a 5.5-mile loop that climbs gradually past numerous alpine lakes. It is one of the more stunning hikes in the Eastern Sierra, and a local favorite to alpine lakes. Take your time, bring plenty of water, and enjoy the view and the altitude.

Be sure to schedule a return trip on the boat taxi, but don’t worry if you are early or late, the boat drivers do their best to accommodate you when there are extra seats.

Lunch and Scenic Drive

When you get back to the resort, the true dilemma of the day begins. Eat a piece of homemade pie while sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the lake, or head back to Lee Vining for a soft serve ice cream, double bacon cheeseburger and fries at Mono Cone. Tough choice, but you must decide.

Either way, you’ll eventually head back down Highway 120. Give your brakes a rest and stop at a pullout on the descent, enjoy the alpine views and take some photos. Mountains don’t get too much more stunning than the Dana Plateau and from Tioga Pass. Can you imagine, people ski on those slopes!

Afternoon Exploring the Lake

Once you are back in Lee Vining, head down to Mono Lake for a mellow walk along the shore. The state calcium carbonate tufa formations are truly unlike anything you’ve seen before. Start your tour of the alkaline lake at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center. A variety of exhibits will help you understand what you are about to see. Check the schedule and join an interpretive program or bird walk offered at the Mono Lake County Park or South Lake Tufa Reserve.

An even better way to experience Mono Lake is to get on the water. If you have the energy after your hike (or even before) take a guided kayak tour with Caldera Kayaks and get up close and personal with the tufas.

Early Evening Hatch

Hiking, tufa walking, and kayaking might be all the adventure one can squeeze in, but if you happened to bring a fly rod, it is worth a casting a dry fly in Lee Vining Creek or Rush Creek.

Dinner and Sunset

But the adventure is not entirely over. Before you head home to Mammoth, stop by the Mobil Station for dinner and a sunset. Yes, gourmet food at the gas station. The Whoa Nellie Deli serves fish tacos, buffalo meatloaf, and steak or salmon salads. If you are lucky, there will be a band performing on the outdoor stage (Thursdays and Sundays).


Mono Market 51303 Hwy. 395, Lee Vining (760) 647-1010
Saddlebag Lake Resort Saddlebag Lake Rd, Lee Vining (209) 545-0946
Mono Cone 51508 Highway 395m Lee Vining (760) 647-6606
Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve (760) 647-6331
Mono Basin Visitor Center Highway 395 & Third Street (760) 647-6595
Caldera Kayaks (760) 934-1691
The Mobil Station 22 Vista Point Drive, Lee Vining (760) 647-1088

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 and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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