Sightseeing in Mammoth Lakes

Mar 02, 2022

Discover the incredible natural beauty of the Mammoth Lakes area during your visit. From unbelievable rock formations to stunning alpine lakes and national parks to ghost towns, you’ll find a little something for everyone during your trip. Here are a few must-see places around the area.

Devils Postpile National Monument

The formation of Devils Postpile began when basalt lava erupted in the valley of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. As lava flowed from the vent, it filled the valley near the Postpile to a depth of 400 feet. Recent radiometric dating of rocks thought to correlate with the basalt of Devils Postpile suggest an age of less than 100,000 years old. Approximately 10,000 years ago, glaciers flowed down the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. This moving ice easily overrode the fractured mass of lava and quarried away one side of the Postpile, exposing a sheer wall of columns 60 feet high. Many fallen columns now lie fragmented on the talus slope below. A hike to the top of the Postpile reveals not only a cross-section of the posts, but the most interesting effect of the ice—polished tops on the basalt columns. The column ends are exposed like a tiled floor and exhibit parallel striations where the glacier dragged rocks across them.

Rainbow Falls

Two miles downstream from Devils Postpile, the San Joaquin River tumbles over an abrupt 101-foot drop, sending rainbows of color into the mist. After the easy 1.5-mile walk to Rainbow Falls from the Reds Meadow area, the roar of the falls and the refreshing mists invite you to stay awhile and enjoy a picnic lunch. Be sure to bring your camera—midday, when the sun is highest, is the best time to capture rainbows in the mist. Devils Postpile National Monument and Rainbow Falls / Reds Meadow is located 10 miles past Mammoth Mountain Ski Area‘s Main Lodge on State Highway 203. A mandatory shuttle bus is required during the busy summer months and departs from the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge area.

Mono Lake

This inland sea is known for its bird population, scenic value and delicate tufa formations. The lake is located off U.S. Highway 395, 30 miles north of Mammoth Lakes. The Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve offers interpretive tours of the shoreline, nature walks, slideshows and other activities. You can find more info about visiting Mono Lake, capturing the perfect photo of the tufas, or kayaking and canoeing on the lake.

Bodie State Historic Park

A gold mining town from the late 1800s, Bodie’s silent streets and vacant structures offer guests a glimpse into the past of one of the wildest mining camps of the Eastern Sierra. Bodie is located 35 miles north of Mammoth Lakes and 13 miles east on Highway 270. A nominal fee is charged to enter the park. Bring water and a picnic lunch, as no food services are available. You can find more information about the history of Bodie and tips on visiting here.

Yosemite National Park / Tioga Pass

The entrance to Yosemite National Park is approximately 45 minutes from Mammoth Lakes. The spectacular sights of the park are available to eastside visitors when snow is cleared from Tioga Pass in late spring. (Tioga Pass Road is typically closed due to snow from November through May.) An additional two-hour drive through the dramatic Tuolumne Meadows high country of Yosemite brings you to the valley floor and such spectacles as Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. With an early start, both Tuolumne and the valley floor can be seen in one day. The park has an entrance fee. YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) offers an affordable way to visit the park without having to drive your own vehicle.

Mammoth Lakes Basin

Twin Lakes, Lakes Mary, George, Mamie and Horseshoe are located along Lake Mary Road with elevations starting at 8,540 feet and climbing to 9,008 feet. These lake beds were scooped out of solid rock by glaciers and are popular for fishing, boating and photography. If you love glistening alpine lakes set against dramatic, mountain backdrops, then this is where you want to spend some time. The lakes are also great for kayaking, canoeing and standup paddleboarding expeditions in the summer months. Picnic areas are available at several locations.

Convict Lake

The site of an 1871 gun battle between escaped convicts and a sheriff’s posse gives this lake it’s unique moniker. It’s natural beauty at its finest: Rugged mountain scenery with sheer cliffs of highly colored and folded rock meet a natural lake formed behind debris left by receding glaciers. The oldest rocks in the Sierra Nevada range were discovered here. It’s a great area for picnicking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, boating and camping. Take U.S. Highway 395 eight miles south from Mammoth Lakes, then follow Convict Lake Road two miles west.

Crowley Lake

A man-made lake located 10 miles south of Mammoth Lakes that is popular for fishing and water skiing. First formed in 1940 as part of the Los Angeles aqueduct system. Crowley Lake Fish Camp charges a fee at the entrance.

Hot Creek

Take U.S. Highway 395 three miles south from Mammoth Lakes and turn left on Hot Creek Hatchery Road. Proceed three miles east of the airport (the last section is unpaved). Hot Creek is a phenomenon of live hot springs and fumaroles (gas vents) which heat a cold mountain stream. Parking lot and restrooms are available. Open sunrise to sunset; no charge. Hot Creek is closed to swimming due to varying water temperatures. If you have more time to explore, visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and its 4,000-year-old trees, just a day trip from Mammoth Lakes; or Death Valley National Park.

Sightseeing Tour Operators

If you want to spend more time seeing the sites and less time staring at the road, it’s easy to get someone else to do the driving when you book a tour with a local guide.

Mammoth All-Weather Shuttle

June Lake / Mono Lake Visitor Center / Bodie Ghost Town – 5 1/2 hour tour Guided Tour Leaves at 8:30 a.m. Visit the June Lake loop, stopping for pictures, then head over to the Mono Lake visitor center. Go back in time and explore the remains of Bodie, a real ghost town. Return to your lodging by 2:00 p.m. Yosemite Half Day – 5 1/2 hour tour Guided Tour leaves at 8:30 a.m. and stops first at the Tuolumne visitor center and meadow. The next stop is Tenaya Lake, followed by an incredible view of Half Dome. Return to your lodging by 2:00pm. Yosemite Full Day – 9 hour tour Guided Tour leaves at 8:30 a.m. and stops first at Tuolumne Meadows. The next stop is Tenaya Lake, followed by an incredible view of Half Dome. Next is the Yosemite Valley Loop with scenic views of waterfalls and granite monoliths. Head back to Mammoth Lakes at 2:30 p.m., stopping at Tuolumne for a snack. Return to your lodging by 5:30 p.m. Mammoth Lakes – 4 1/2 hour tour Guided tour leaves at 8:30 a.m. Starting from your condo or hotel, tour the Mammoth Lakes Basin including all lakes, then head over to the famous Inyo Creators and finally the geological wonder of Hot Creek. Return to your lodging by 1:00 p.m. For more information on Mammoth All Weather Shuttle Tours, call 760-709-2927 or go to www.mawshuttle.com.

Dakota Snider

A professional photographer for 10+ years, including four years shooting in Yosemite National Park, Dakota now works as the Sr. Manager of Marketing & Events for Visit Mammoth. When he's not adventuring with a camera in hand, which is rare, Dakota enjoys time spent with friends exploring the Sierra on foot or skis.

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