Mammoth Mountain in California is world-famous for skiing but there are actually tons of other great things to do there all year round. It’s an ideal destination if you want to see natural wonders but still be near civilization and have a hot meal afterward. Here are my top ten picks for things to do in Mammoth and the surrounding area.
1. Mammoth Mountain (Skiing, Snowboarding, Hiking, Mountain Biking)
Of course, Mammoth Mountain itself will top the list with its famous ski resort, duh! If you ski or snowboard, you already know all about that.
But, Mammoth Mountain offers other fun activities at different times of the year including snowshoeing, hiking, and mountain biking. If you’re not up for those demanding sports, you can just take the scenic gondola to the top to enjoy the view without nearly as much effort!
2. Minaret Summit Vista (Hiking, Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing)
Number two on my list is Minaret Vista because of its breathtaking views of Mammoth Mountain and the jagged Minaret peaks. It’s really a “must-see” to get an overview of the beauty of the Mammoth Lakes area.
We also enjoyed reading the educational displays. The Minarets are a jagged mountain range formed by an ancient lava flow.
During non-snow months, you can drive there right on Hwy 203 Minaret Road with no hiking required.
In the winter you have to snowshoe or cross-country ski there, which is what I recommend. Snowshoeing in the winter was great because we had the summit all to ourselves! However, it was actually kind of tricky finding the trail to the Minarets (Hwy 203) when it was covered with snow. To get to the trailhead, go to the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge, then find chair 11. On the right of chair 11 is an easy ski trail where the Lower Road Runner run ends. Parallel to that on the right is a cross-country ski / snowshoeing trail marked with a small sign. Take that up just a couple of miles to Minaret Summit Vista!
3. Lake Ediza (Hiking, Closed in Winter)
Lake Ediza (rhymes with “Eliza”) is said by many to be the most beautiful lake in the Mammoth area, and the hike to the lake is also known for its beauty.
The trail to the lake is closed in the winter. When it’s open it’s a fourteen-mile (round-trip) hike with a thousand-foot elevation gain, so it definitely takes some effort to get there, but it’s worth it!
When we visited the lake, I felt like I was in the Swiss Alps!
During the summer, you have to park at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center (the Main Lodge) and take a shuttle to the first stop at Agnew Meadows. That’s where the trail starts. In the fall, you can drive all the way to the trailhead. In the winter, the trail is closed.
4. Devil’s Postpile (Hiking, Closed in Winter)
If you’re like me and into geologic oddities, then you’ve got to do the easy 1.6-mile roundtrip hike to Devil’s Postpile, which was formed over eighty thousand years ago when lava cooled into uniform hexagonal columns.
Be sure to hike to the top for more views of the formation!
If you go in the spring or fall, you can park near the trailhead. In the summer you’ll need to park at the Mammoth Main Lodge and take a shuttle to the trailhead. The Devil’s Postpile is closed in the winter.
5. Rainbow Falls (Hiking, Closed in Winter)
If you’re going to Devil’s Postpile, you might as well continue on the trail just a couple miles to the mighty Rainbow Falls, the tallest in the Eastern Sierras at over 100 feet!
When we went, we got to see the rainbow as promised! If you proceed a bit further on the trail, you’ll get to see Lower Rainbow Falls, which is usually less traveled and the perfect spot to stop at to relax or have a snack.
6. Lake Mary (Cross-Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, Hiking)
Lake Mary is part of the Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center. In the winter you can cross-country ski or snowshoe up Lake Mary Road to Lake Mary, and further on to Horseshoe Lake. In non-snow seasons, you can drive directly to these lakes and hike around them.
If you want to try cross country skiing or snowshoeing, this is the place to go.
7. Twin Lakes (Camping, Hiking)
Also part of the Tamarack Center are the beautiful Twin Lakes. These lakes are adjacent to the Tamarack parking lot, so there’s no hiking involved in getting there unless you want to walk through the campgrounds on the other side.
This is an ideal spot for car camping if you don’t want to be far from civilization. Just make your reservations well in advance!
8. Lake Mary Road Bike Path (Biking, Jogging, Walking)
On the way to the Tamarack Center, we noticed a wonderful bike path adjacent to Lake Mary road. These are dedicated bike lanes separate from the road, with the road on one side and the edge of the mountain on the other. There’s a bit of a climb involved, but it would be a very scenic ride or jog.
I’d recommend renting bikes on Main Street, then proceeding East until it turns into Lake Mary Road at Minaret Road. Continue on until you see Twin Lakes!
During non-snow seasons you can bike all the way past Twin Lakes to Lake Mary and Horseshoe Lake, or do a loop around Lake Mary.
9. Mono Lake (Hiking, Learning, Instagram-Photo-Taking)
Because it is located ten miles north of Mammoth, I was debating whether it was worth driving to Mono Lake. But, I’m so glad we decided to go because it was amazing! It almost felt like being on a different planet. It’s a total change of scenery compared to the trees and snow in Mammoth. It had a mystical quality to me.
I recommend first checking out the visitor’s center and nature trail off of Hwy 395, then driving back down to Hwy 120 East to have a truly otherwordly experience at the South Tufa Area. The visitor’s center is free but parking at South Tufa costs $3. Be sure to bring cash since you need to put the money in an envelope and tear off a receipt to post in your car.
I could write a whole article on why you should check out Mono Lake, so I will! Stay tuned!
10. Convict Lake (Hiking, Fishing, Picnicking)
Convict Lake, named for a shootout between some escaped convicts and a posse in 1871, is just a short drive from Hwy 395 opposite the Mammoth Airport. It’s accessible nearly all year round and has an easy 0.3-mile paved path along its shores. Those who want to venture further can do the full three-mile hike.
The prevailing leisure activity here seems to be fishing, as many folks had claimed spots along the shore to cast their lines when we were there. But, it’s a lovely walk and an even better place to stop and have a bite to eat at one of the many picnic tables there.
Since it’s so easy to get to, Convict Lake is an ideal stop for those who are not able to hike long distances, or for anyone who just wants to see one last beautiful lake before leaving Mammoth without having to do any significant hiking.
Where to Stay
We like to stay at the Village Lodge at Mammoth because it’s located in a charming complex with lots of restaurants, bars, and shops. If you ski or snowboard, there’s a chair lift from there that takes you directly to the slopes – super convenient!
Another good option if you plan to go cross country skiing is the Tamarack Lodge adjacent to Twin Lakes. Or, reserve a car campsite on the other side of the lake!
Where to Eat
When you’re in Mammoth, my advice is to stick with American food. Mammoth isn’t big on ethnic foods, and what we tried there was mediocre.
On Highway 395
If you’re driving up Hwy 395 to Mammoth, stop at Erick Schat’s Bakery in Bishop. It’s basically the Disneyland of baked goods with every conceivable type of bread and pastry there. Pick up some apple strudel for the slopes. Or have a sandwich and gelato with some coffeecake for later. There’s also a Schat’s in the town of Mammoth if you miss this one.
If that’s not hearty enough for you, then right across the street is Holy Smoke Texas Style BBQ, a frequent stop for bikers and hungry travelers!
Our favorite breakfast spot in Mammoth is Good Life Cafe, featuring delicious omelets and other American fare. The pancakes are nice and fluffy, however, any additions (i.e., blueberries, chocolate chips, etc.) are just sprinkled on top, not baked in the batter. Kind of a bummer, but this is still a great breakfast pick and a good value.
For bagels, we liked the Old New York Deli & Bakery right in the Village at Mammoth.
If you want really good coffee or tea, check out Black Velvet Coffee, a small, craft-batch coffee roaster.
We actually never ate at a restaurant for lunch while we were in Mammoth! We were always on a trail and ate on the go to make the most of our time there. If your time is limited, that’s the way to go! If you know of a great lunch spot, please leave it in the comments below!
Hands down, our favorite dinner spot in Mammoth is Bleu Cafe & Market featuring American cuisine using fresh organic ingredients.
Our favorites were the fried calamari, the pickled vegetables, and the off-menu burger. Everything was delicious though!
Winter Hiking Gear
If you’re planning to hike in Mammoth during the winter, you’ll need a good pair of waterproof hiking boots. On top of that, I’d strongly recommend a pair of Camp Snowline Chainsen Pro’s, which are basically snow chains for your boots:
These are very light and you can carry them in your backpack. When you hit ice or hard snow, slip them on. They make a huge difference and will help keep you safe from slipping.
But, at $49.95, the Snowlines are not cheap. I if you want a good lower-cost option, check out Yaktrax.
If you’re planning to go when there is fresh snow and you want to go snowshoeing, I’d recommend the MSR brand:
Snowshoes by MSR are durable but light, and are easy to get in out of.
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Finally, if you go in the winter, be sure to get snow chains for your car! You are required to carry them in the winter whether there is snow on the roads or not. Plus, the weather changes very quickly in Mammoth so there could always be an unexpected snowstorm.
I hope this list has been helpful to you. If you have a favorite spot in Mammoth that I didn’t cover, please mention it in the comments below so we can all learn and benefit from your experience! – Brian