32 Exciting Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes, California

The year-round adventure haven of Mammoth Lakes, CA is not to be missed. From gondola rides to hiking, mountain biking to snowboarding/skiing, ziplining to beer tasting, Shakespeare plays to outdoor movie nights, there’s something for every adventurer here!

Many people know of “Mammoth” for its world-class skiing and snowboarding during the wintertime. During the colder months, Mammoth Mountain is a huge draw for the area, with people visiting from all over the world to hit the slopes here. Meanwhile, in Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding region, there is plenty of nature to be explored by hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, and other outdoors enthusiasts.

On our most recent road trip to the Eastern Sierras, Mammoth Lakes was our jumping-off point for a fun weekend of adventure, camping, the outdoors, and good eating. We loved how many amenities there were in this town, as well as how central it was to so many cool sites like Devil’s Postpile, Rainbow Falls, Minaret Vista, Hot Creek Geological Site, Earthquake Fault, and Wild Willy’s Hot Spring.

If you’re looking for some of the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes, we’re glad you’re here! Continue reading to discover the entire range of activities you could busy yourself with in Mammoth Lakes, California.

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WHERE IS MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA?

Mammoth Lakes is a relatively bustling mountain town in Mono County, California, located in the Eastern Sierra of California. It’s located just 45 minutes from the eastern end of Yosemite National Park and 3 hours from Death Valley National Park. The town is located at an altitude of 8,000 feet.

Despite its remoteness, you can actually expect quite a few modern amenities, including major grocery stores, a hospital, shopping, many dining options, and fun brewpubs and bars.

The nearest airport, Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH), is only 10 minutes from town and is one of the most convenient options for getting to Mammoth Lakes with nonstop flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) year-round and seasonal flights from other airports. If you’re flying from somewhere farther than California, flights to this airport might cost a pretty penny. Consider flying into Reno–Tahoe International Airport (RNO) instead. More on that below.


BEST TIME TO VISIT MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA

Mammoth Lakes is truly a year-round destination. However, summer and fall are my personal preferences for visiting Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area. Getting the chance to swim in refreshingly cold alpine lakes? Yes! Breathing in the cool mountain air and catching the fall colors at their peak? Also yes!

Summer – The most popular time to visit the cool mountain towns of the Eastern Sierras is during the summer. This is when the weather is the warmest, giving you that perfect mountain escape where you can hike, mountain bike, splash in the lakes, and enjoy the outdoors. Since the weather is so perfect, expect more vacationers in the area.

Fall – Fall is an absolutely wonderful time to visit as well. The crowds who flocked to Mammoth Lakes during peak seasons and holidays have gone, which often means cheaper hotel rates. In terms of weather, we think it’s perfect for outdoor adventure! Expect crisp mornings, warm afternoons, and brisk evenings.

Another huge plus? The fall foliage in the Eastern Sierra area is unlike anywhere else in California. In fact, the Eastern Sierra provides the best display of glowing golden-orange-crimson fall colors in the western United States! If you want to plan your trip around the foliage, use this super-helpful fall colors tracking website to track the latest color changes!

Eastern Sierra Fall Foliage - TravelsWithElle

Winter and Early Spring – Winter and Spring are also great times to visit if you’re looking for epic snowboarding/skiing opportunities or those winter retreat vibes. Snow season at Mammoth Lakes can start as early as October and usually runs through May. During the snow season, Mammoth gets blanketed with snow and becomes a winter wonderland for those who want to hit the slopes and sip on hot cocoa by the fireplace.

For those of you who can’t get enough of the snowy alpine life, there’s good news for you! Snow season at Mammoth Lakes is actually one of the longest seasons in North America due to how high up in the mountains it is. Comparing the winter months to the spring months, you’ll get more clear, sunny days in the springtime March to May).

NOTE: Winter in the mountains lasts a lot longer than it does in other parts of California, and there may very well be snow here well into the spring season. Always check the weather report, road conditions, and snowpack report to determine the latest conditions. You may need to use snow chains (or at least carry them with you) or not even be able to go at all.

Best Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes, CA - TravelsWithElle

HOW MANY DAYS TO SPEND IN MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, I definitely recommend spending 3-4 days in Mammoth Lakes, CA. With this amount of time, you will be able to explore not only what Mammoth Lakes has to offer, but also what the surrounding Eastern Sierra region has to offer as well!

If you aren’t much of a hiker, biker, climber, or fisher, I think 1-2 days would be enough time to sightsee the highlights and soak in the mountain atmosphere.

Regardless of which type of traveler you are, Mammoth won’t disappoint! Trust me, it won’t be a problem finding things to do. Where you may have trouble is deciding what to do out of the many, many activities to choose from.


HOW TO GET TO MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA

The closest major city to Mammoth Lakes is Reno, Nevada, a 3-hour drive from Mammoth Lakes, CA. If you don’t plan on completely road-tripping to the area, you could fly directly into Reno–Tahoe International Airport (RNO). From there, rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Mammoth Lakes, CA. (And if you really don’t feel like driving, you could entertain the idea of flying directly into Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH), located a short 10 minutes away from Mammoth Lakes–but this route definitely won’t be cheap).

If you do plan on driving your way over to Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area, you could also drive from either the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles.

Here is a quick breakdown of the distances between Mammoth Lakes and other parts of California/Nevada.

  • Reno, NV (RNO) to Mammoth Lakes, CA: 3-hour drive
  • San Francisco, CA (SFO) to Mammoth Lakes, CA: 5-hour drive
  • Oakland, CA (OAK) to Mammoth Lakes, CA: 4-hour 50 min drive
  • San Jose, CA (SJC) to Mammoth Lakes, CA: 5-hour 50 min drive
  • Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Mammoth Lakes, CA: 4-hour 50 min drive
  • Las Vegas, NV (LAS) to Mammoth Lakes, CA: 5-hour 15 min drive

The drive times above are assuming you make no stops at all. But since there are so many fun stops along the way (which we’ll get into in just a little bit), do allocate a lot more time to make the full drive. The amount of time you’ll need to factor in will depend on how many stops you end up making. Trust, there are a lot of them!


RENTING A CAR FOR YOUR MAMMOTH LAKES TRIP

If you don’t have a car or don’t have a reliable car you trust to get you out of your starting city and back in one piece, I suggest you pick up a rental car for your road trip.

We like to rent from Hertz. Why? Well with their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program (completely free to join), you’ll get counter-free pickup at select locations, and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive. Book your rental car with them here.

If you are more the type to compare prices between rental car companies, use Priceline’s rental car search. Not only does the tool allow you to compare rental car prices, but most of the time you can book with no prepayment and no cancellation fees. Since we’re always looking to save where we can, we almost always start our rental car search with Priceline.

Regardless of which rental car company you decide to go with, make sure you have the appropriate car rental coverage. Our credit card benefits typically cover car rental insurance, so we usually stick with that as our primary insurance.

Olmsted Point Yosemite National Park - Travels With Elle

ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA

  1. During your drive, there will likely be lots of elevation. Make sure you have a car that can handle hilly drives! We rented a car from Priceline for our Eastern Sierra road trip because we were wary that our old cars could make it out there with all the ups and downs!
  2. Mammoth and the surrounding landmarks sit at an elevation well above sea level, which means for a lot of us, we’ll need to remember to acclimate to the altitude. Take this seriously, because I’m talking 7,500 – 9,500 ft above sea level! You will probably feel the elevation while you’re doing things like walking uphill, hiking, and even sleeping. Be sure to pace yourself, drink lots of water (more than you’re used to drinking), and avoid alcohol for the first 24 hours if you can help it.
  3. If you’re traveling in the summer, be sure to check for forest fires before embarking on your trip. We like to use Cal Fire’s Incidents Overview Map to check if there are any fires along our route. If there happens to be a fire nearby, check out the Air Quality Index before going, especially if you plan on being outside a lot.
  4. Winter in the mountains lasts a lot longer than it does in other parts of California, and there may very well be snow here well into the spring season. Always check the weather report, road conditions, and snowpack report to determine the latest conditions. You may need to use snow chains for your car (or at least carry them with you).
  5. During the winter, Tioga Pass in Yosemite is closed so you won’t be able to drive through the park to cut through to the east. To access the park, the South Entrance is open and accessible to cars.
  6. Consider bringing a cooler with you on your road trip, especially during the summertime. It’s the perfect way to stow refreshing cold drinks and to bring sandwiches along for the ride.
  7. If you’re an avid mountain biker, Mammoth is a mountain biking paradise in the summertime.

BEST THINGS TO DO IN MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA

Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra are not short on things to do. Because of how much there is to do, this area often appeals to many people with a range of interests, from fly fishing to biking, and backpacking to enjoying cabin life.

I recommend taking a look through the list below and researching in advance of your trip so you have a better idea of what interests you and how you want to spend your time in Mammoth. From here, pick and choose your favorite activities to make the perfect itinerary! Use this useful map below as a visual guide so you can cluster activities together if they’re nearby and avoid unnecessary over-driving.

Note: Do factor in some flexibility in your itinerary to account for weather changes, road closures, and any other unexpected events that can often occur in the mountains!

VISIT DEVILS POSTPILE NATIONAL MONUMENT

Devils Postpile National Monument - Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes - TravelsWithElle

Devils Postpile is truly one of a kind and one of nature’s craziest formations! The formation is said to be a rare sight in the geologic world and ranks as one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. These 60-foot tall basalt columns were formed less than 100,000 years ago when a cooling lava flow cracked the basalt into stable, hexagonal columns.

Devils Postpile was actually once a part of Yosemite National Park until the mining industry separated it from the rest of the region. It lost its protective status in 1905, when miners planned to dynamite the postpile to make a rock dam on the river. Luckily, this did not happen and it was then established as a National Monument in 1911.

View the postpile from the many different angles offered at the monument. Once you explore all corners of the postpile from below, head to the top of Devils Postpile to check out the view of what looks like hexagon floor tiles. The whole monument is just super fascinating to see!

NOTE: The national monument is usually open mid-June to mid-October and closed in the winter. In order to get here, most visitors need to take a mandatory shuttle down to Devils Postpile and Reds Meadow. Buy tickets and board the bus at Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center.

PRO TIP: If you want to avoid the hassle of taking the mandatory shuttle, you will need to arrive at the Devil’s Postpile parking lot at or before 7am. After 7am, they stop letting cars through and you’ll be forced to take the shuttle to and from the monument, setting you back $15 per person.

HIKE TO RAINBOW FALLS

Rainbow Falls - Best Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes - TravelsWithElle

Part of Devil’s Postpile National Monument, Rainbow Falls is a 101-foot high waterfall that is named for the constant rainbows that can be seen forming through the fall’s mist. Even during summer during drought years, you will see an impressive flow of water plunging down from the San Joaquin River. The best part? You can easily hike here from Devil’s Postpile!

From the same trailhead as the national monument, just keep going past Devil’s Postpile once you reach it and follow signs for Rainbow Falls. Since we did this easy hike just shortly after sunrise, we got to enjoy the wonderful sights of the trees basking in the early morning rays and the sounds of little birds waking up.

The terrain is sandy and dusty, so be sure to wear long pants and/or long socks if you don’t want pesky rocks flying into your shoes!

What’s really cool is that during this hike, you’ll be actually walking on a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)!

Once you begin to hear the slight faint of water, you will eventually get to a few viewpoints from atop the falls. If you’re trying to catch rainbow views, the rainbow is best viewed around noon (when the sun is at its highest and rainbows are the clearest).

If you want to view the falls from below, keep going on the path until you reach a set of steep stairs. Carefully descend to snap a few up-close and personal pictures with the falls!

Oh yeah, if you’re daring enough, you can even hop in and swim in the falls! Since we drove in early morning and reached the falls at 9am while the air was still cool and crisp, we found that it was too cold to swim. However, if it was later in the day, we most definitely would have!

Don’t feel like hiking? Shuttles from Mammoth Adventure Center will also take visitors to the falls. Get off at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead bus stop or Reds Meadow Resort bus stop.

CAMP AND EXPLORE REDS MEADOW

Devils Postpile Rainbow Falls Hike Mammoth CA - TravelsWithElle

As you can see from the previous two activities, there’s a lot that Reds Meadow Valley has to offer. You can expect a variety of clear rushing streams, pristine lakes, and majestic forests completely surrounding you in the valley. Reds Meadow is such a great place to camp during the summer, offering activities such as fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.

There are seven campgrounds in the area to choose from–Minaret Falls, Reds Meadow, Agnew Meadows, Pumice Flat, Upper Soda Springs, Pumice Flat Group and Devils Postpile. You might be able to sleep better here compared to in town, given that it’s situated at a more comfortable elevation of 7,500 feet.

You can also stay at Reds Meadow Resort, a favorite among hikers and campers. They not only rent out mountain cabins and motel rooms, but also provides a shower facility open to the public.

No matter where you choose to stay, you’ll be able to wake up next to some really cool hiking trails in Mammoth Lakes like Devils Postpile, Rainbow Falls, Minaret Lake, and more.

GO HORSEBACK RIDING AT RAINBOW FALLS

A great way to see the plunging waterfall at Rainbow Falls is on horseback! On this 2-hour ride, not only do you get to see a spectacular waterfall, but you’ll get to experience a piece of the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail by horseback.

Red’s Meadow Resort and Pack Station offers horseback rides to the waterfall as well as longer rides to other popular destinations in the area. There are half-day and full-day rides to choose from. Don’t forget to bring water, sunscreen and a hat!

CATCH THE VIEWS AT MINARET VISTA

This vista point on the road to Reds Meadow offers one of the most iconic viewpoints in the entire Sierra Nevada. If you visit during sunset, even better. You’ll be able to witness the Minarets aglow with the sun’s final rays of the day. Don’t forget to bring a picnic!

There are interpretive signs and viewing tubes that will help you identify all the breathtaking peaks you see in front of you. The best part? The vista is so easily accessible–you don’t even have to leave your car to enjoy the view.

SEE THE EARTHQUAKE FAULT

Earthquake Fault - Best Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes - Travels With Elle

The Earthquake Fault is an area located just minutes from town where you can witness a huge split in the ground resulting from California’s powerful earthquakes. The fissure cuts through hard volcanic rock and reaches a depth of around 60 feet. This landmark is truly a testament to the power of nature and its mighty forces and I was shocked by the depth of the split ground!

Though the landmark has been labeled an earthquake “fault”, geologists no longer believe this was caused by a single earthquake, but rather a system of fractures created from several quakes dating back 600 years to the eruption of the Inyo Craters and Inyo Domes.

There is a short 0.3-mile interpretive trail beginning and ending at the Earthquake Fault parking and picnic area off Highway 203. At the parking area, there are restrooms, picnic tables and the self-guided interpretive trail.

WAKE UP WITH REALLY GOOD COFFEE

Black Velvet Coffee - Mammoth Lakes, CA - TravelsWithElle

Two awesome places to grab coffee really early in the morning before you head out on your adventures are Black Velvet Coffee (get the liege waffle to pair with your coffee) and Stellar Brew & Natural Cafe (you can even pick up fresh smoothies here).

I highly recommend stopping by both if you’re spending more than one morning in Mammoth Lakes!

FUEL UP BEFORE AND AFTER YOUR ADVENTURES

Within the town of Mammoth, we recommend grabbing breakfast or lunch at The Stove Restaurant if you’re looking for that classic, hearty diner meal. They have freshly baked pies daily too!

We also recommend grabbing dinner at Austria Hof Restaurant, serving up a unique combination of old-world German favorites and light Californian fare. After a day of outdoor adventure, there is no meal better in Mammoth!

EXPLORE THE VILLAGE

Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes - TravelsWithElle

No matter the season, the Village is the perfect way to start or end your day in Mammoth. Situated to a few of the super-popular lodges including The Village Lodge and The Westin Monache Resort, The Village plays host to fun shops, bars, and restaurants. It also serves as the hub of the town shuttle system.

This is also where you’ll go for all things Mammoth Mountain-related. Head to the Mountain Center for tickets, rentals and lessons, and McCoy’s for everything you need to hit the slopes as well as gifts/souvenirs. After you hit the slopes or get back from your hike/bike adventure, grab tiki drinks at Lakanuki’s or creative cocktail drinks at Shelter Distilling.

During the summer months, The Village is also home to a variety of events such as concerts, outdoor movies, and more.

VISIT MAMMOTH BREWING COMPANY

What better way to refuel after a long day of adventure than with a good meal and a few pints? Kick back those tired feet and head to Mammoth Brewing Company. This brewery is super spacious with a huge outdoor beer garden and plenty of indoor seating. Seriously, the food here is actually good, so definitely consider eating lunch or dinner here while you enjoy the brews.

MAMMOTH ADVENTURE CENTER

The Mammoth Adventure Center is a whole lot of fun for the whole family. With a world-class bike park, scenic gondola rides, Adventure Pass activities, the Via Ferrata guided climbing experience, there’s something to do here for everyone.

With the Adventure Pass, kids can enjoy a ropes course, climbing wall, junior zip line, bungee trampoline, and more. And if you or your group are looking for mountain biking opportunities, the Mammoth Bike Park starts at the Adventure Center. From here, you can hop on a chairlift to reach the beginner-friendly Discovery Zone, or ride the gondola up to explore over 80 miles of single-track.

There’s also a wonderful dining patio at the Yodler Restaurant & Bar where you can enjoy German-inspired bites and brews after your day of play.

TAKE A GONDOLA RIDE UP MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN

Even if you aren’t going to mountain bike at the bike park in the warmer months, you can take a gondola ride up to the top of Mammoth Mountain. Yes, if you want to experience firsthand what it feels like to breathe (or struggle with breathing) at 11,053′ ft of elevation, the gondola ride is just the thing for you. Aside from the thinner levels of oxygen, you’re going to get unbeatable, stellar views.

At the top, snap a few photos at the summit sign (you can even tell everyone you climbed up the whole thing if you’d like), enjoy lunch with panoramic views from the Eleven53 Café, and discover the history of the Sierras at the Interpretive Center and Explore Mammoth learning stations. Once you’re done, you can choose to either hike back down or take the gondola back down.

TAKE A SCENIC RIDE ON A ROAD BIKE

Not a mountain biker? No problem, we aren’t either. We recently discovered that there are plenty of relatively flat trails for us normal road bikers! Exploring the roads of the Eastern Sierra on your road bike or hybrid bike will guarantee you lots of fresh and scenic sights.

Benton Crossing Road is a popular spot for biking year-round, offering smooth pavement, very little car traffic, and spectacular views of the Sierras and the White Mountains. This road winds for 30 miles and connects Mammoth with Benton Hot Springs.

Yep, that wonderful road pictured above is Benton Crossing Road! To do this ride, park on the road at the Green Church at the Benton Crossing/Highway 395 junction. Turn around at any point to achieve your desired distance.

The ride to June Lake Loop (22-miles RT) in the summertime is another very pleasant ride. For cyclists looking for a more thrilling ride, ride down to Reds Meadow from The Village and then huff and puff your way back up (28-miles RT). Mammoth Lakes Basin Path Loop (14-miles RT) is another ultra-scenic ride, weaving you in and out of aspen groves, past numerous lakes, and bringing you in front of stunning mountain vistas.

STAND UP PADDLE OR KAYAK THE LAKES

Renting a stand-up paddleboard or kayak is one of the best ways to enjoy the Mammoth Lakes Basin–you’re guaranteed stellar mountain views! If you don’t have a car or truck to transport watercraft rentals, try renting one at the Pokonobe Marina or the Lake Mary Marina. Lake Mary’s water is generally calm and the views from the lake are like none other. Rentals are also available onsite at nearby June Lake Beach.

If you do have the ability to transport a kayak or SUP board, you have a world of opportunity! There are so many great lakes to explore in the Eastern Sierra.

DAY HIKE OR BACKPACK TO MINARET LAKE

Minaret Lake Mammoth Lakes Things To Do

If you’re looking to get yourself into a longer day hike or even an overnight backpacking trip, Minaret Lake is one of the best options near Mammoth Lakes. Minaret Lake is a 14-15 mile out and back trail that not only features a tranquil lake backdropped by the epic Minarets, but also features meadows galore, waterfalls, and stellar views almost the entire way there.

As with many alpine hikes in the area, the uphill can be brutal. But once you get past the burn, as the ground levels out, your efforts are sure to be rewarded! I recommend backpacking if possible. However do note, wilderness permits are required for overnight trips into the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

GO ROCK CLIMBING

Whether you’re a novice rock climber or an experienced one, Mammoth is a great spot to take your skills outdoors to the wild! Ground Up Climbing Guides offer family climbs that are safe, fun, and suitable for kids and adults alike.

Ground Up Climbing Guides is the leading guide service in Mammoth Lakes and they offer a half-day climbing tour that comes highly rated. They’ll provide all the gear, you can just simply meet them on the trailhead!

SEE FALL FOLIAGE

As we stated before, seeing fall colors is a full-on activity here in the Mammoth Lakes area. The warm autumn colors typically begin in the highest elevations by the end of September/early October and finish at lower elevations by early November.

If you’re looking for pointers on where exactly to witness the colorful leaves, be sure to look up while paddling around the Mammoth Lakes Basin, driving the June Lake Loop, or hiking around Convict Lake and Rock Creek.

If you want to plan your trip around the foliage, use this super-helpful fall colors tracking website to track the latest color changes!

SEE HOT CREEK GEOLOGICAL SITE

Hot Creek is something that completely reminds me of Yellowstone National Park. In other words, it’s totally otherworldly! This cool geologic area is located just 8 miles from Mammoth and features boiling bubbling water emerging into turquoise pools, as well as geyser eruptions if you’re lucky.

So what’s causing all the activity around here? Well, about three miles below what you’ll see is an underground chamber of magma. The heat from the volcanic activity below the surface of the earth sends hot gas and boiling water bubbling up to the surface!

Restrooms and picnic facilities are available at the parking area. The interpretive area is open from dawn to dusk usually, but you’ll have to check road conditions in the winter to make sure you can get there.

MAMMOTH ROCK ‘N’ BOWL

If you find that the weather is poor during your visit or you’re just looking for an activity to partake in at night, head to Mammoth Rock ‘N’ Bowl for some indoor bowling, golfing, and eating! The Rock ‘N’ Bowl is a popular hangout spot for locals and offers a good amount of indoor activities during the winter. There’s the bowling, as well as an indoor golf simulator, a bar, and two restaurants.

CATCH A SUNRISE AT CONVICT LAKE

Convict-Lake-Eastern-Sierra-Road-Trip-Travels-With-Elle

Situated just barely south of Mammoth Lakes and a couple of miles from Highway 395, Convict Lake is so easily accessible and so beautiful, especially during the sunrise hour! This lake is one of the deepest lakes in the Sierra Nevada and is best known for its trout fishing as well as the dramatic mountains that surround the lake. The mountain you see backdropping the lake is the 12,241’ Mount Morrison.

Its unique (yet slightly ominous) name comes from an incident back in 1871 when a group of escaped convicts from Carson City, Nevada took refuge near the lake. A shootout ensued and two locals, Robert Morrison and Mono Jim, were killed. Most of the inmates were eventually caught, the large peaks above the lake were renamed after the fallen men, and the lake was renamed to Convict.

If you’re willing to wake up before the sun, your efforts will be rewarded. After you enjoy the sunrise, enjoy a quick and leisurely 2.5-mile hike around the lake.

VISIT BISHOP, CA

Bishop CA - Eastern Sierra California Road Trip - TravelsWithElle

Nestled between the Sierra Nevada to the west and the White Mountains to the east, Bishop is the largest town in the Owens Valley. Some popular activities around Bishop include bouldering, hiking, mountain biking, and off-roading.

If you’re a climber or boulderer, then you’ll already know about the popularity of the Buttermilk Boulders. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada just a few miles outside of Bishop, this scenic climbing area is popular, drawing in climbers from all over the world. And even if you don’t climb, it’s still fun to drive out there with a picnic in hand, stare at the massive boulders in amazement, and watch the boulderers in action.

Bishop Creek Canyon is another awesome outdoor wonderland, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who want to explore, fish, and camp. Expect a whole variety of mountains, lakes, streams, forests, and waterfalls once you reach the canyon area. There are four lakes in the Bishop Creek Canyon, each offering a variety of recreational activities. If you are limited on time and need to pick just one, opt for South Lake or Lake Sabrina (with boat rentals, a cafe, and a store).

Within the town of Bishop itself, there’s a lot to see and do, given its thriving arts and culture scene! Start by driving down North Main Street and soaking in Bishop’s quirky charm. What you’ll immediately find is that there are a lot of antique, secondhand shopping opportunities! One of our favorite finds was Mammoth Gear Exchange where we found new and gently-used outdoor gear at steeply discounted prices!

PRO TIP: Bishop, CA is a really great place to get affordable gas, way more affordable than Mammoth Lakes or any of the nearby towns. It’s also a good place to grab a meal and hit the grocery store for any last-minute camping needs. Our favorite food joints here were Burger Barn and Mercado Mexico!

WHERE TO STAY: Creekside Inn – One of the best options in Bishop, hands-down! This hotel features a year-round outdoor hot tub and a seasonal outdoor swimming pool. It also offers guests a creek-side patio with stellar views of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Guests can enjoy a daily hot breakfast too.

ERICK SCHAT’S BAKKERY

Erick Schats Bakkery Bishop -Eastern Sierra California Road Trip - TravelsWithElle

While you’re in Bishop or Mammoth Lakes, you need to stop by Erick Schat’s Bakkery to carbo-load, an activity you need NOT be shameful of. This Dutch bakery is filled with bread, the scent of bread, people trying to buy bread, and pure bread mayhem.

Be sure to pick up a loaf of their Original Sheepherder’s Bread as well as a loaf of cheese bread, and maybe a pull-away bread or a pack of cinnamon rolls for something sweeter. I mean, you’re going to be in the car for a while right? Might as well load up on fresh-baked snacks!

PRO TIP: There’s a large section of day-old breads in the back left corner, so be sure to check that section out for discounted eats! The bakery gets crowded, but the lines move pretty fast.

DRIVE THE SCENIC JUNE LAKE LOOP

June Lake - Eastern Sierra Road Trip Stops - TravelsWithElle

Take a detour right before you hit Mammoth Lakes, CA to see a series of sparkling lakes and gorgeous flora! The highlight here? Gorgeous mountain views, blue alpine lakes, plenty of world-class fishing, and colorful fall foliage.

For roughly 16 miles on the June Lake Loop, the road winds past a series of glacial lakes, all backdropped by scraggly peaks that reach up towards the skies. It’s a drive you’re definitely going to want to have your camera ready for.

The June Lake Loop takes you through the quaint mountain town of June Lake which you should definitely stop at and explore. More on that below!

You can certainly cover the entire scenic drive in 1-2 hours, but if you have more time to explore, there are plenty of spots to hike, bike, SUP, kayak, fish, and snap pictures. Check out Silver Lake, Grant Lake, and Gull Lake, which offer swimming, boating, sailing, stand-up paddleboarding, waterskiing, and jet-skiing. A variety of watercraft, from kayaks to stand-up paddleboards to powerboats can be rented on-site.

If you’re into fishing, the four lakes here (June, Gull, Silver, and Grant) are renowned for fishing and are stocked with trophy-size Alpers trout.

HANG OUT AT JUNE LAKE

June Lake Oh Ridge - Best of Eastern Sierra Road Trip - Travels With Elle

If you’re looking for a great place to take a dip, have a lakeside picnic, or get out on the water on a watercraft, head to Oh Ridge. What you’ll find as soon as you get in the water is cold but shallow water and fine, soft sand, perfect for the whole family to play in. The view of the lake from Oh Ridge is probably one of the most picturesque so definitely be sure to take a few photos with the lake/mountain views.

In addition to world-class trout fishing, swimming, and beaching, June Lake (and the loop’s other three lakes) offers a variety of other water sports. During the summer/fall seasons, I highly recommend getting out on the water one way or another! The water might be a little chilly, but it’s so refreshing to take a dip in.

Aside from the lake, June Lake is home to a rustic little mountain town. If you’re looking for a spot to eat after your lake adventure, we loved Epic Cafe, serving up hearty soups, filling salads, and warm paninis. You absolutely cannot miss their Epic Carrot Cake, or any of their pastries and scones for that matter!

You can also check out June Lake Brewing or the Ohanas395 food truck if you’re looking for lunch bites/brews! You can even pick up a few additional drinks or snacks to pair with your meal from the big general store in town.

WHERE TO STAY: For the budget-friendly traveler who doesn’t mind roughing it, I’d recommend trying to snag a campsite at June Lake or Silver Lake. If camping is not your thing, Double Eagle Resort & Spa is a luxurious day spa and resort with a fitness center and indoor swimming pool. What better way to combat those tired legs from hiking with a well-deserved massage here!

VISIT MONO LAKE

Mono Lake - Eastern Sierra Road Trip Stops - TravelsWithElle

You might have heard about Mono Lake in passing, but what’s the deal with Mono Lake, and why is it so salty? Mono Lake began to form around 750,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. Runoff water from the surrounding mountains became trapped in the basin, and with no outflow (and limited inflow during the summer and fall), dissolved salts and calcium accumulated here.

With a salinity level over three times that of the ocean, Mono Lake has become a very unique environment, supporting a diverse collection of wildlife. And guess what? You can even boat and swim in the lake! A swim in Mono Lake provides an oddly buoyant swim, which means you’ll effortlessly be able to float!

The best place to see the Mono Lake tufas is undoubtedly at the Mono Lake South Tufa Area. One of the best times to visit is during an evening sunset, where you can meander along the boardwalks as the sun lights up the tufa formations (those spite things sticking right out of the lake). Mono Lake Navy Beach viewpoint is a good option for photography. The Visitor Center also has a bookstore, restrooms, and shaded picnic area. There is also a short interpretive trail behind the building, winding over to the lake’s shoreline.

PRO TIP: Cell service is spotty here, so be sure to mark the viewpoints you want to stop at. Check out our map above for specific Mono Lake viewpoints.

KAYAK AT SILVER LAKE RESORT

Even if you’re not a kayaking enthusiast, we highly recommend kayaking on Silver Lake, 30 minutes away from Mammoth Lakes.

Once you pick up a rental from the docks, you should kayak right into one of the little waterways through trees and marshland. Let me tell you, the views are absolutely gorgeous in these narrow streams! Bring a camera, and don’t forget to stow it in a trusty drybag. If you’re up for a longer kayaking trip, the waterways will eventually diverge, each opening up into several other lakes.

Wondering exactly which path you should take? Ask the attendees at Silver Lake Resort when you go to rent your kayak! Boat rentals and kayak rentals can be made right on the shore of the lake from Silver Lake Resort; prices are located here.

After your kayaking adventure, head to Silver Lake Cafe for some of the best breakfast options in the area! Located to the General Store, they are best known for their famous giant three-egg omelets to help start any adventurous day. With their giant plates of food, you’ll definitely be refueled and ready to take on the rest of the day.

SOAK IN A HOT SPRING

If you’ve never soaked in a natural hot spring before, you’re missing out on some real adventure-life experiences. Now is your opportunity to soak in warm (okay, sometimes very hot) mineral waters while gazing up at some fantastic mountain views! Some of the best hot springs in Mono County are a short drive away from June Lake and Mammoth Lakes. These are the easiest ones to get to without a 4WD or AWD car:

  • Pulkey’s Pool – a clothing-optional hot spring located just off Benton Crossing road. This pool is actually a concrete tub that’s fed by a tube connected to a natural spring about 50 feet away. It can fit about 5 to 6 people.
  • Wild Willy’s Hot Spring – also known as Crowley Hot Springs, this one is one of the most popular hot springs in the area located just outside of Mammoth Lakes.
  • Travertine Hot Spring – boasting some of the best views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This is located a bit further away in Bridgeport, CA (north of Lee Vining, by Bodie SHP).
  • Benton Hot Springs – a campground that’s well off the beaten path, about 45 minutes from Bishop or Mammoth Lakes in California. Each campsite offers a private hot tub to soak in with views of the White Mountains. There are just 11 campsites, and each is fairly private. The views of the White Mountains are spectacular at sunset and sunrise.

Do note, since these are natural hot springs out in the wild, there are no locker rooms, changing facilities, showers, or convenient trash cans. Be sure to leave no trace and pack out everything you brought in.

DAY TRIP TO YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

Tunnel View Yosemite - Travels With Elle

Mammoth Lakes is close enough to Yosemite National Park, so if you have the time, it would be a shame to skip over this epic national park! And if you’re visiting from Northern California, chances are your route to Mammoth Lakes will bring you super close to Yosemite, if not through it via Tioga Pass.

You’ve probably heard of Yosemite, known for its majestic rushing waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and granite cliffs more massive than one could imagine. California is so lucky to be the home of this iconic National Park. On average, about four to five million people visit Yosemite each year, and most of them spend the majority of their time in Yosemite Valley.

It’s a no-brainer why this is. Yosemite Valley holds many natural wonders such as Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall, Half Dome, and El Capitan. Here, you can take a hike among ancient sequoia trees, ride bikes with incredible rock formations as your backdrop, soak in the Merced River, and even catch glimpses of baby bear cubs. If you have only one day to spend in the park, make the stops mentioned in this Yosemite 1-day itinerary your priority!

Since you’ll likely be entering via the eastern gate from Mammoth, you’ll want to stop at the closest sights, which include Tuolumne Meadows, Olmstead Point, Lembert Dome, Cathedral Lakes, Tenaya Lake, and Tioga Pass.

IMPORTANT NOTE: During the winter, Tioga Pass in Yosemite is closed so you won’t be able to take this route to drive through the park. The South Entrance is still open and accessible to visitors, though.

WHERE TO STAY: We have a whole post to guide you on Yosemite lodging! Check it out here: Where To Stay At Yosemite National Park: 7 Affordable Lodging Options

BODIE STATE HISTORIC PARK

Bodie State Historic Park is the largest ghost town in the West and is located just 45-minutes northeast of Lee Vining and the eastern end of Yosemite National Park. For some background, back from 1877 to 1882, Bodie was a bustling town with more than 10,000 residents and produced more than $35 million in gold and silver.

Visiting Bodie is one of the most authentic ways to experience the setting of the California gold rush. Why? Because it has not been restored with tourist shops and modern businesses, like many of the other gold rush towns have. At Bodie, you’ll find almost 200 abandoned wooden buildings in a state of “arrested decay” to explore. Today it looks much the same as it did over 50 years ago when the last residents left. The inside of the shops and homes remain as they were, with goods still there from the time they were left.

It costs only $8 for adults ($5 for children) to enter and explore the deserted streets of Bodie. To preserve the ghost town atmosphere, there are no commercial facilities at Bodie, such as food or gas. There is a bookstore inside the museum where you can learn more about the daily tours. Before leaving the area, swing by Bodie Mercantile in Bridgeport, CA to browse and shop for unique gifts and souvenirs!

Bodie SHP is open year-round, but the roads to the park will close with snow. Be sure to visit the park’s website to check for the latest SR 270 road conditions.

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN MAMMOTH LAKES, CA

  • Skateboard at the 40,000 square-foot Volcom Brothers Skate Park
  • Go golfing at Sierra Star Golf Course or Snowcreek Resort
  • Go fly fishing at Hot Creek

WHERE TO STAY IN MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA

If you’re into camping, there are so many campgrounds in the Eastern Sierra to choose from. If you can snag a campsite, anything in Reds Meadow is an easy recommendation. Not into camping? Below are two of our favorite lodges located in Mammoth Lakes:

The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth – this is where we stayed on our most recent trip. The rooms are spacious and come with a living space, fireplace, and fully equipped kitchen. Of course in true Westin style, there are wonderfully soft bedsheets and bathrobes provided. There is a heated swimming pool and a very spacious hot tub pool.

The Village Lodge – this is our second choice in the Mammoth Lakes area. Featuring direct access to a gondola and ski elevator at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the Village Lodge condos are surrounded by mountain views. The property features a heated outdoor pool, 5 hot tubs, and 3 gyms, as well as free WiFi. Rooms include a dining area and a fireplace, and a balcony with a view of mountains or the courtyard. Some come with a kitchenette as well.


ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA

Aside from the normal clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without for your Mammoth Lakes trip:

  • America the Beautiful National Parks Pass | Entrance to Yosemite NP cost $35 for a 7-day pass. If you use Tioga Pass, you’ll have to pay the entrance fee. However, the National Parks annual pass is a great way to save on entrance fees. If you intend to visit three or more National  Parks or National sites in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will more than pay for itself. This pass can be purchased at the park entrances or online here.
    • [Example: 3 National Parks x $30 parking each = $90. Savings with the annual pass = $10. Any more parks you go to thereafter = FREE! ]
  • License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
  • Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
  • Jumper Cables | Jumper cables are one of those things on your road trip list you hope to never use, but are so crucial to have just in case. If you’re looking to invest in something exponentially more powerful/convenient than simple jumper cables, get the NOCO Boost HD Car Battery Jump Starter Box. This tool serves as a car jump starter, portable power bank, LED flashlight, and 12-volt portable power–all in one.
  • Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
  • Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
  • Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
  • Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip, but especially on summer road trips. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
  • Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
  • First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
  • Roll-up Picnic Mat | Probably one of the best inventions since sliced bread, and one of my best investments for the summertime! Not only are these picnic mats super-portable because they roll up into themselves, but their water-resistance factor is a game-changer. No need to worry about wet-grass-butt anymore!
  • Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
  • Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
  • Lots of water and snacks | maybe even a packable lunch.
    • Stinger Waffles are one of my favorite sources of quick and delicious energy.
  • Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. Nights here in the mountains can get cold, and you never know when rain may come. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
  • Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers in the mountains, especially at night. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
  • Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
  • Camelbak Water Reservoir | I love water reservoirs for a few reasons. For longer hikes, it’s always best to bring a water reservoir of 2-3 liters of water with you. And even if you don’t plan on hiking, a water reservoir means you can bring water with you in your backpack while you explore without dealing with clunky bottles.
  • Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any alpine destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
  • Sunscreen | Sunscreen is absolutely necessary for mountain destinations. Even if it’s overcast or cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors. No matter where we go, we like a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that damage our environment. For the face, we are absolutely obsessed with Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen.
  • Mini survival kit | Get one that’s pre-made like this one, or make your own. Be sure to carry this with you in your hiking backpack.
  • Waterproof bag / dry sack | We have this trusty one. Always good to have, especially if you’re bringing a nice camera for photography or anything else you don’t want to potentially get wet.
  • Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from water shoes to regular shoes or simply need to dry your feet off. This one here is a great option.
  • Hand Sanitizer Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
  • Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike (or even after a walk outside on a scorching hot day) but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
  • Headlamp / Flashlight | This is a must if you’re going to be camping. Being able to find your way through the wilderness in darkness is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
  • Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the funky roadside stops and eateries… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
  • Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling from abroad, a universal travel adapter is a necessity. This 5-in-1 travel adapter is perfect for travel use with cell phones, laptops & other devices anywhere in the world.
  • Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
  • Emergen-C packets or Liquid I.V. Hydration Packets | These are a great way to support your immune system and overall health on a road trip. They are light, take up no space, and are easy to pack.
  • Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads; painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.
  • Camping Gear | Only required if camping.
  • Snowboards, Skis, Bikes, SUP, Kayaks | If you don’t plan on renting gear for your adventures.

Want more California travel tips?

Best Things To In California’s Eastern Sierra: Yosemite, Mammoth, Bishop, and More

15+ Fun Things To Do In Gold Country, CA Near Yosemite

13 Unmissable Things To See at Yosemite National Park: 1-Day Itinerary

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