Driving to Mammoth Lakes from Northern California

Apr 22, 2021

With so many ways to get to Mammoth Lakes from San Francisco and other parts of Northern California, there is no excuse for not visiting this amazing destination. From the dizzying heights of California’s highest ski resort at 11,053 feet in elevation to the area’s vast expanses of pristine wilderness, Mammoth Lakes is a great place to vacation while avoiding the crowds of Lake Tahoe. Scroll down for detailed directions for your next trip and points of interest along the way.


Exhilarating mountain highways loaded with scenic viewpoints are part of the adventure of driving from Northern California to Mammoth Lakes. But traveling over mountain passes to this quaint mountain town changes drastically from summer to winter due to snow, so be sure to check road conditions and closures before you plan your drive. 

Driving from Northern California to Mammoth Lakes in the Summer

Once the winter’s snow melts in late May to early June (although sometimes as late as July), many of the high-alpine passes that cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains open for travel. Each route has its own distinct natural beauty that begs to be explored. With several options on hand, you may want to consider taking a different route home so you can see more of the area.

Driving to Mammoth Lakes via Hwy. 120

California Hwy. 120 (Tioga Pass) through Yosemite National Park is the quickest and arguably the most scenic route connecting Northern California to Mammoth Lakes. This highway links the awe-inspiring Yosemite National Park with the Eastern Sierra region via Tioga Pass, which is the highest highway pass in California. Along the way, Hwy. 120 skirts majestic mountains of light-colored granite. Once it merges with Hwy. 395 on the east side, travelers are greeted with the serene waters of the ecologically unique Mono Lake. With dozens of educational and interpretive stops, this is an unforgettable route for a family adventure.  On average and depending on traffic, you should expect this trip to take around six hours from San Francisco. Many services are available, although amenities are limited in Yosemite National Park. Once in the Eastern Sierra, the small hamlet of Lee Vining at the base of Tioga Pass has a wide variety of eateries and from here, Mammoth Lakes is less than 30 minutes away.    

Driving to Mammoth Lakes via Hwy. 108

California Hwy. 108 (Sonora Pass) connects Northern California with Mammoth Lakes via a smooth and gently winding road that climbs through enchanting forests and descends within a broad, glacially-carved valley. During the fall, the eastern portion of this highway explodes in a dazzling array of golden yellows as thousands of quaking aspens begin shedding their leaves in preparation for winter. Trout fishermen will find some of the best fishing in the state along SR 108, as this is the headwaters of the famous Walker River and home to some unbelievably large fish.   Limited services are available over Sonora Pass and the often-forgotten highway is a great choice during busy weekends. This is an easy drive in the summer, taking around six and a half hours to get to Mammoth Lakes from the San Francisco.  

Driving from Northern California to Mammoth Lakes in the Winter

In the winter, many of the trans-Sierra routes close due to excessive snowfall, high avalanche danger, and unimaginably deep snow packs. These closures generally take effect in early November and can extend into June. During this time, the best option for reaching Mammoth Lakes is to take California Hwy. 50 to South Lake Tahoe and then head south on Hwy. 395 in Carson City, NV. As a major commerce route, Hwy. 395 is impeccably maintained even during snowy weather.   Expect the trip to take six and a half to seven hours from San Francisco to Mammoth Lakes, depending on the weather. For current highway conditions, consult the CalTrans and Nevada DOT websites.  


On the way to Mammoth Lakes, you’ll pass these iconic Eastern Sierra landmarks and scenic areas. 
  • Yosemite National Park (summer-only)
  • Bodie State Historic Park (summer-only)
  • Mono Lake



For those who don’t have access to a vehicle or prefer to skip driving, year-round train and bus service is available to Mammoth Lakes. This option is perfect for budget-conscious travelers.

Summer Travel to Mammoth Lakes by Bus or Train

In summer months when Tioga Pass (Hwy. 120) is clear of snow and open to vehicular traffic, travelers can take the Yosemite Regional Transit System (YARTS) to Mammoth Lakes. From the Bay Area, take a train to Merced, where you can catch YARTS through Yosemite National Park to Mammoth Lakes. Daily bus service on YARTS is available during peak summer months (July and August). Weekend service is available during shoulder months (June and September).

Winter Travel to Mammoth Lakes by Bus or Train

During the winter, you can ride the historic California Zephyr rail line to Reno from the Bay Area, crossing over Donner Pass on the original transcontinental route. This line serves Reno’s well-maintained train station and from the nearby bus terminal, Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ESTA) operates a bus service to Mammoth Lakes. Then catch the Lone Pine to Reno ESTA route (with stops in Mammoth Lakes), which runs once a day Monday-Friday. Check the ESTA website for the most up-to-date schedule. Tickets can be purchased directly from the driver. Plan to have exact change if you’re paying in cash. Credit cards are accepted for this bus route.

Jason Abplanalp

Jason Abplanalp first discovered the Eastern Sierra lifestyle six years ago and after brief tenures in Colorado and Idaho, Jason returned to the mountain town he truly loves, Mammoth Lakes, CA. As an avid skier, mountain biker, hiker, and fisherman, Jason believes there is no better place for his family to call home. Jason has…

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