Super-sized fun for all seasons
TWO HOURS NORTH of Mount Whitney, the Continental United States’ highest point, and only 45 minutes from Yosemite’s east entrance, the Mammoth Lakes region is an epicenter for outdoor activities throughout the year.
Up in the hills and meadows of the Eastern Sierra mountain range, hikers and bikers can explore the extensive Mammoth Lakes Trail System, whether it be for rugged multi-day adventures or a gentle walk through a park. Golfers enjoy extra-long drives in the high elevations of Sierra Star and Snowcreek Golf Courses. The Mammoth Lakes area is well known for fishing, so much so, that many local motels feature fish-cleaning facilities. Fly fishing in streams, and lure-based fishing in lakes (including Convict, Crowley and several lakes in Mammoth Lakes Basin) gives everyone a chance to try their specialty or pick up a new skill. The full “grand slam” of trout—rainbow, brook, brown and golden—await your arrival. Or you can skip the fishing, and simply paddle a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle board through the lakes and take in the scenery, or even try out a floating historical tour of Mono Lake. Explore the wonders of geology at Devils Postpile National Monument and gaze at its towering basalt columns, then cool off in the spray of the hundred-foot-tall Rainbow Falls just downstream. Summer is also festival time, the calendar filled with music events and food and drink gatherings, including the combination of “blues and brews” for Mammoth’s Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza each August.
As the name suggests, Mammoth Mountain ski resort is gigantic, with terrain descending from multiple peaks providing runs suitable for all levels of skiers. The resort creates more than a dozen terrain parks for snowboarders, and hosts regular competitions for those who just want to watch. Tamarack Ski Center and the Mammoth Lakes Nordic Trail System are destinations for cross-country ski enthusiasts. For non-skiers, Mammoth Lakes also connects visitors with dogsled rides, snowmobiling, snowshoe tours, fat-tire snow biking and even snowcat rides to scenic picnic spots. Small kids too can come to enjoy Mammoth’s tubing park, festive winter parades with mascot “Woolly” or a scenic gondola ride. June Mountain, a 20mile drive from Mammoth Lakes, is a laid-back location for downhill fun (and kids 12 and under ski for free!). If it’s too cold outside, check out Mammoth Rock ’n’ Bowl with its bowling lanes, golf simulator, bar and restaurant, or maybe even partake in the Eastern Sierra Brewery Tour of three local microbreweries.
Often considered just a “shoulder season” between skiing and fishing, spring around Mammoth Lakes offers great deals on lodging and activities for those looking for some late-season sunny skiing (Mammoth Mountain often stays open past Memorial Day), or some early biking and fishing. Some people try for the “spring triathlon” of skiing, biking and fishing in a single day. Spring is also a good time for birding, when visitors can see many of the 300 species of local and migratory birds that have been spotted in the area, including the horde of 50,000 California gulls nesting at Mono Lake each year.
Fall foliage is a treat for the eyes around Mammoth Lakes. Enjoy hiking through the colors in the crisp fall air on the Mammoth Rock Trail or the Heart Lake Trail, or even stay for a couple of days amidst the trees at the Sherwin Creek Campground. Go for a drive around winding mountain roads of the June Lake Loop to see the spectacular colors in groves of aspens and cottonwood trees below towering pine forests. You can soar above the colors on helicopter tours. Or go back in time and join a multi-day horseback ride down from the hills. For a spooky Halloween, or any quiet day, visit the ghost town within Bodie State Park, the abandoned remnants of a gold mining settlement about 60 miles north.
FLY FISHING AT MAMMOTH LAKES, opposite; winter ski and board fun at Mammoth Mountain, right; Mammoth Lakes is mountain bike heaven, bottom.