Visiting Mono Lake During the Winter

Winter is known as the “quiet season,” although you wouldn’t know if you’re stuck in rush hour traffic in LA, or find yourself at Tusks Bar in Mammoth Mountain on a Saturday afternoon.

For those who like to put the silence back into the quiet season, taking a day trip to Mono Lake should sound like a heavenly idea.

Mono Lake is just half-hour drive north from Mammoth Lakes on Scenic Highway 395. The town that overlooks the lake gets pretty quiet during the winter. Besides a couple of gas stations and the fire engine red Mono Market, the only thing in Lee Vining that’s usually open during the snowy months is the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore.

Ellen King has been working at the store for a decade after serving on the committee for 20 years before that. 

“We have the best bathrooms in town,” she jokes. Ellen is originally from the Bay Area but loves life along the sleepy shores of Mono Lake, and winter may be her favorite season. “It’s so quiet here and really, really pretty in the winter,” Ellen said. “It’s a nice break from the noisiness of place like Mammoth Lakes. It’s a nice getaway.”

Here are three options for enjoying an adventure at Mono Lake in the winter:

Sightseeing at in the Winter at Mono Lake

Scenic Highway 395 is one of the prettiest roads in the country, and one of its finest stretches runs from Mammoth Lakes just past Mono Lake. When the road is clear, it makes for a memorable winter drive. 

One of the best views of Mono Lake in the winter is from the Conway Summit Overlook.  Just a dozen miles north of Lee Vining, the overlook sits above the lake and on clear days you can see for miles. On other days, the lake will get covered by an ice fog, or the “poconip,” as Native Americans—and locals—call it. The view from Conway Summit is often above the fog, offering a rather surreal landscape. 

There are several other nice spots to take in the majesty of a lake that often glistens like stainless steel during the winter, including the Old Marina and the South Tufa Area. Winter wildlife around Mono Lake can include swans and snow geese, as well as golden and bald eagles.

To find out more about the fascinating geography and history of Mono Lake, be sure to stop by the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore in the middle of Lee Vining. They can help you make the most out of the quiet season at Mono Lake.

Cross Country Skiing in the Winter at Mono Lake

“Cross country skiing can be great. It is reasonably flat all around Mono Lake and the views are spectacular,” Ellen said.

While there are no groomed trails, most of the land surrounding the lake is open to the public for skiing. One of the best spots to ski is the Old Marina. Just a mile north of Lee Vining, The Old Marina offers great views of some of the lake’s famous tufas and its islands. There is a large parking lot and a handicapped-accessible ramp to the boardwalk, although it can be icy during the winter. Skiers heading south will find nice terrain and views.

The South Tufa Area is also a popular spot to ski. The most popular place on the lake in the summer does not get plowed in the winter, but Highway 120 is usually cleared of snow to just past the South Tufa Area. Skiers can park on the highway and start their adventures from there.

Snowshoeing in the Winter at Mono Lake

Mono Lake also offers nice options for those who prefer a more leisurely—and stable—trip through the snow. Like Nordic skiing, snowshoeing is popular at the South Tufa Area. The Mono County Park, five miles north of Lee Vining, on the northwest corner of the lake also has fun and easy terrain for snowshoeing and even walking when conditions allow. 

The Lundy Lake Canyon is about a 15-minute drive north from Lee Vining. Highway 167 is plowed up to the edge of the tree-lined canyon, and snowshoeing from where the road ends in the winter is a popular pastime with locals. 

Mike McKenna

Award-winning author and journalist Mike McKenna is the writer behind the new book Casting Around the Eastern Sierra, which was recently awarded runner-up in the Outdoor Writers Association of California's Best Outdoor Guidebook category. The book focuses on fishing in Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area, with tips and tricks from local experts.

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