Sightseeing at the Earthquake Fault

Oct 15, 2020

The split-apart rock of the Mammoth Lakes Earthquake Fault testifies to the Earth’s mighty forces, and serves as a record of a dramatic period of geologic unrest. Positioned deep in the forest on rolling foothills flanking the base of Mammoth Mountain, this incredible fissure cuts through hard volcanic rock for several hundred feet and reaches a depth of up to 60 feet. Located only minutes from downtown, this rare natural phenomenon can easily be explored by sightseers and visitors of all ages.

The fracture is believed to have formed around 600 years ago during one of the recent Inyo/Mono Craters eruptions, and probably has little to do with an actual single earthquake event. While called a fault, this massive linear fissure in the Earth’s surface is more accurately defined as a fracture, as no movement between the sides is recorded. It’s little wonder that this dramatic landform exists on the outskirts of town, as the entire region is a geologically active wonderland of fumaroles, hot springs and earthquakes. From the massive Long Valley Caldera to the bubbling geothermal springs of Hot Creek Gorge, a wide variety of the earth’s awesome and breathtaking forces are on display in Mammoth Lakes.

The Earthquake Fault interpretive area is located on public lands administered by the Inyo National Forest. At the parking area, visitors will find restrooms, picnic tables and the beginning of the self-guided interpretive trail. The short, family-friendly 0.3-mile hiking trail descends deep into the rocky bowels of the fault and winds through majestic stands of old-growth red fir, Jeffrey pine and lodgepole pine. Along the way, several interpretive signs provide information about the natural history, ecology and preservation of the area. The easily-accessible interpretive area has recently undergone a huge rehabilitation by the U.S. Forest Service and there is no charge for visitors.

Getting to the Earthquake Fault is easy and only requires a short drive from downtown Mammoth Lakes. To reach this scenic, awe-inspiring fissure, travel west on State Route 203 heading toward Mammoth Mountain’s main lodge. Drive 1.5 miles beyond the Village at Mammoth to the well-marked turnoff to the paved parking area on the right-hand side. In winter, the parking area is not maintained and access may be via snowshoes or cross country skis.

In addition to the interpretive hike, the Earthquake Fault is a fantastic outdoor playground for the young and old alike. Whether picnicking in the shade of the towering pines or setting off on a trek to the Minaret Vista on the 4-mile Mountain View Trail, the endless forests surrounding the Earthquake Fault offer a sightseeing adventure for everyone.

For additional information, drop by the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center for the most current conditions at the interpretive area. Visitors may also call the Inyo National Forest at (760) 873-2400.