12 Best Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Must-See Attractions

by Reyna
Best things to do in Mammoth Lakes
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Mammoth Lakes surprised me. I’d heard of its snowy escapades and ski tales, but what I didn’t expect was the sheer diversity of experiences it offers beyond the slopes. Sure, the ski runs are world-class, but there’s a whole other side to this mountain town that’s waiting to be explored. Tucked away in California’s Eastern Sierra region, Mammoth Lakes is a magnet for those who crave outdoor adventures. Whether it’s hiking through dense forests, fishing in tranquil lakes, or simply enjoying the vibrant fall foliage, there’s always something to do. And while the town might be small, its heart is big, filled with friendly locals, cozy eateries, and a genuine love for the great outdoors.

Over the years, I’ve returned to Mammoth Lakes multiple times, each visit revealing some of the best hidden gems in California. From the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing to the peaceful moments watching the sunset over the mountains, Mammoth Lakes has a special place in my heart.

If you’re looking for a destination that combines natural beauty with thrilling activities, Mammoth Lakes is the place to be. In this guide, I’ll share my top picks for making the most of your trip to this Californian gem. To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 12 things to see and do in Mammoth Lakes.

Best things to do in Mammoth Lakes right now

Best Places to Visit in Mammoth Lakes

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Mammoth Lakes? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this majestic vacation spot on the West Coast. So keep reading to discover all these unique Mammoth Lakes places to visit.

Are you looking to explore pristine wilderness through activities like hiking, biking, and fishing? Or would you prefer to hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding in the winter? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in Mammoth Lakes can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Mammoth Lakes that you should know about.

1. Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain isn’t just a ski destination; it’s an institution. With over 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, it’s one of the largest ski areas in the United States. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie looking to learn, Mammoth Mountain caters to all skill levels.

Now, when people ask me about the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes, hitting the slopes here always tops the list. The mountain boasts 150 named trails and 28 lifts. It offers a diverse range of runs, from challenging black diamonds to gentle beginner slopes. And if skiing or snowboarding isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to do. The area offers snowmobile adventures, scenic gondola rides, and snowshoeing trails.

But Mammoth Mountain isn’t just about winter. Come summer, the snow melts to reveal an entirely different landscape. The mountain transforms into a haven for mountain bikers, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. With events, concerts, and festivals throughout the year, there’s never a dull moment.

So, if you’re looking to carve up the slopes or embark on a hiking adventure, consider this. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area should be on your Mammoth Lakes itinerary to fully appreciate the mountain views.

A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Mammoth Mountain is a wonder that shouldn't be missed
A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, Mammoth Mountain is a wonder that shouldn’t be missed

2. Convict Lake

When you’re listing down Mammoth Lakes things to do, Convict Lake is a spot you can’t overlook. Just a short drive from the town center, this lake is surrounded by the dramatic Sierra Nevada peaks. Its clear blue waters and serene setting make it a favorite for both locals and visitors.

The lake got its name from an incident in 1871 when a group of convicts escaped from prison and were captured here. Today, it’s a peaceful place, far from its tumultuous past. The 3-mile trail around the lake is an easy hike, suitable for all ages. As you walk, you’ll get panoramic views of the mountains reflecting in the water.

Fishing is popular here, especially in the early morning when the lake is calm. You might catch rainbow trout, which are stocked regularly. If you’re not into fishing, rent a boat or kayak and explore the lake’s nooks and crannies.

Nearby, the Convict Lake Resort offers dining options with lakeside views. After a day of hiking or fishing, there’s nothing like a good meal with a view.

Convict Lake is more than just a scenic spot; it’s an experience. It captures the essence of the Eastern Sierra in one beautiful location.

Convict Lake is a relaxing and beautiful hike with amazing lakeside views
Convict Lake is a relaxing and beautiful hike with amazing lakeside views

3. Devils Postpile National Monument

When you think of Mammoth Lakes, skiing might be the first thing that comes to mind. But venture a bit outside the town, and you’ll stumble upon the Devils Postpile National Monument. This geological marvel is a testament to the power of nature and the wonders it can create.

Formed over 100,000 years ago, the Devils Postpile is a collection of columnar basalt formations. These columns, some reaching 60 feet in height, are a sight to behold. They’re a result of lava flow cooling and cracking into multi-sided columns, mostly hexagonal in shape. It’s a bit of a science lesson and a visual treat rolled into one.

But the monument isn’t just about the postpile. The area is also home to the stunning Rainbow Falls. A short hike from the postpile, this 101-foot waterfall is named for the rainbows that form in its mist on sunny days. It’s a favorite spot for both locals and visitors.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a geology buff, or someone just looking for a unique day trip, the Devils Postpile National Monument offers a different side of the Mammoth Lakes experience.

Devils Postpile National Monument is a geological marvel that is a must-visit site
Devils Postpile National Monument is a geological marvel that is a must-visit site

4. Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

One of the coolest things to do in Mammoth Lakes is to visit the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Located just outside the town is this ancient saline lake. It’s over one million years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. But age isn’t its only claim to fame.

Mono Lake is renowned for its limestone “tufa” towers. These intriguing formations rise from the water, creating a surreal and otherworldly landscape. They’re formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water, and walking among them feels like stepping onto another planet.

The lake also plays host to millions of migratory birds each year, especially during spring and fall. Birdwatchers flock here to catch a glimpse of species like the eared grebe and Wilson’s phalarope. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some brine shrimp, the lake’s primary resident.

Beyond the natural wonders, the reserve offers hiking trails, boardwalks, and viewpoints. The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center is a great starting point, offering exhibits on the lake’s ecology and history.

In a region known for its ski slopes and mountain trails, Mono Lake stands out as a unique and must-visit destination.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve's skies are an incredible wonder with stars brighter than one could even imagine
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve’s skies are an incredible wonder with stars brighter than one could even imagine

5. Hot Creek Geological Site

If you’re a fan of natural hot springs and geothermal wonders, then the Hot Creek Geological Site should be on your Mammoth Lakes itinerary. Located a short drive from the town is this area. It’s where bubbling hot springs meet the cold waters of Hot Creek, resulting in a mesmerizing display of steam and color.

The geothermal activity here is a result of magma heating the underground water. As you walk along the boardwalk, you’ll see boiling springs and fumaroles releasing steam. It’s a vivid reminder of the Earth’s dynamic forces at work just beneath our feet.

While it might be tempting to take a dip, swimming is prohibited due to the unpredictable nature of the hot springs. The water temperatures can change rapidly, and sudden eruptions can occur. But don’t let that deter you. The views alone are worth the visit.

For photographers, the early morning light offers a magical backdrop, with the rising steam illuminated by the sun’s first rays. And for those interested in geology, the interpretive signs provide insights into the area’s geothermal activity.

Visiting the Hot Creek Geological Site offers a blend of natural beauty. Its scientific intrigue also makes it a unique stop in the Mammoth Lakes region.

Hot Creek Geological Site is one of the most picturesque spots in California
Hot Creek Geological Site is one of the most picturesque spots in California

6. Mammoth Scenic Loop

When you’re in Mammoth Lakes, there’s a drive you shouldn’t skip: the Mammoth Scenic Loop. This 9-mile detour off the main highway offers a quick escape into the wilderness. It’s a lesser-known route, but those who take it are rewarded with some of the area’s best views.

The road winds through dense forests of Jeffrey pines and red firs. As you drive, you’ll notice the distinct smell of the trees, especially after a rain. There are several pull-outs along the way, perfect for snapping photos or just taking in the view.

One highlight is the Inyo Craters. These volcanic craters are a testament to the region’s explosive past. A short hike will take you to the rim, where you can look down into the deep blue-green lakes.

Another must-visit is the Earthquake Fault. Despite its name, it’s not an actual earthquake fault. It’s a deep fissure in the ground, and it’s impressive to see up close.

The Mammoth Scenic Loop might be short, but it packs a punch. It’s a reminder of the natural beauty that’s just a short drive from town. If you’re looking for a quick adventure, this is it.

A short hike to Inyo Craters' rim gives visitors a beautiful view of bright green lakes
A short hike to Inyo Craters’ rim gives visitors a beautiful view of bright green lakes

7. Mammoth Museum at the Hayden Cabin

Mammoth Museum at the Hayden Cabin is where Mammoth Lakes’ past comes alive. If you’re the kind of traveler who loves digging into the local history, this place is a goldmine. Housed in an authentic log cabin, the museum gives you a raw, unfiltered look into the town’s early days.

Think old mining tools, not shiny and polished, but worn out from real work. There’s vintage ski gear too, reminding you of the adventurous souls who once explored these terrains. And it’s not just about objects; the walls are adorned with photographs and documents that tell tales of a bygone era.

Located right by Mammoth Creek, the museum’s setting is as authentic as its exhibits. You can hear the water flowing, adding to the whole back-in-time vibe. And the staff? They’re not your typical museum guides. They’re storytellers, ready to share anecdotes and lesser-known facts about Mammoth Lakes.

So, if you’re in town and want a break from the trails and lakes, head to the Hayden Cabin. It’s a deep dive into Mammoth Lakes’ history, minus the usual touristy fluff.

Mammoth Museum at the Hayden Cabin's authentic exhibits make it one of the best places to visit in the area
Mammoth Museum at the Hayden Cabin’s authentic exhibits make it one of the best places to visit in the area

8. Mammoth Lakes Basin

Mammoth Lakes Basin is where nature puts on a grand show. A collection of pristine lakes, each with its own charm, awaits visitors. Whether you’re into hiking, fishing, or just soaking in the views, this area has something for everyone.

Among the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes, exploring the basin is a top pick. Lake Mary, the largest in the basin, is a hub of activity. You can rent a boat, try your hand at fishing, or simply relax by the shore. Lake George, on the other hand, offers a more tranquil setting, perfect for those looking for some quiet time.

The basin also boasts some great hiking trails. The Duck Pass Trail, for instance, offers panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. If you’re up for a challenge, the trail to Crystal Lake is steep but rewards hikers with stunning vistas.

In winter, the basin transforms into a snowy wonderland. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing have become popular activities.

Mammoth Lakes Basin encapsulates the beauty and diversity of the region. It’s a must-visit, no matter the season.

From kayaking to swimming, few places compare to the fun of Lake Mary
From kayaking to swimming, few places compare to the fun of Lake Mary

9. Earthquake Fault 

Earthquake Fault in Mammoth Lakes isn’t your typical tourist stop. Forget the ski slopes and scenic hikes for a moment; this is raw nature on display. It’s not an actual fault line from an earthquake, but the name sure grabs your attention, doesn’t it? This deep fissure in the ground gives you a front-row seat to the earth’s inner workings.

You won’t need hiking boots or a trail map here. Just follow the wooden pathways, and you’re navigating between rock walls that tell tales of centuries gone by. There are signs scattered around, breaking down the science for those curious minds. But even if geology wasn’t your favorite subject in school, the sheer sight of this natural crack is something to talk about.

It’s a quick detour from the main attractions of Mammoth Lakes, but it’s worth the stop. Think of it as a reality check from Mother Nature, reminding us of the dynamic and ever-changing world beneath our feet. So, if you’re up for something different in Mammoth, Earthquake Fault is your spot. And hey, it’s a cool story to tell when you get back home!

For those looking for unique things to do, Earthquake Fault is a stunning example of earth's geological wonders
For those looking for unique things to do, Earthquake Fault is a stunning example of earth’s geological wonders

10. Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center

When winter blankets Mammoth Lakes in a thick layer of snow, Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center becomes the go-to spot for winter sports enthusiasts. Located at a high altitude, this center offers some of the most scenic and well-groomed trails in the region.

Cross-country skiing might not have the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing. However, it’s a fantastic workout and offers a great way to connect with nature. The center boasts over 19 miles of trails, catering to both beginners and seasoned skiers. The serene setting, with snow-covered trees and the distant peaks of the Sierra, is truly mesmerizing.

If skiing isn’t your thing, snowshoeing is another popular activity here. It’s a bit slower-paced, allowing you to take in the surroundings and maybe spot some wildlife.

The center also offers lessons for those new to cross-country skiing. The instructors are friendly and knowledgeable, ensuring you have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Visiting Tamarack is more than just a skiing trip. It’s about immersing yourself in the winter wonderland that is Mammoth Lakes and making memories that last a lifetime.

Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center is a winter wonderland that is fun for skiers and snowshoers alike
Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center is a winter wonderland that is fun for skiers and snowshoers alike

11. Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl

When you think of Mammoth Lakes, bowling might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But, Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl is not your average bowling alley. It’s a modern entertainment center that offers a mix of fun activities for both kids and adults.

The main attraction, of course, is the state-of-the-art bowling lanes. Whether you’re a pro or just looking for some casual fun, the alley caters to all skill levels. The ambiance is lively, with upbeat music and colorful lights setting the mood.

Beyond bowling, the center also features a golf simulator. Here, you can practice your swing or play a round on some of the world’s most famous courses. There’s also a restaurant on-site, serving up delicious meals and drinks. It’s the perfect spot to refuel after a game.

Among the coolest things to do in Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl stands out as a unique experience. It’s a testament to the fact that Mammoth Lakes offers more than just outdoor adventures. Mammoth Rock is a destination where fun and entertainment come in many forms.

For those who want to take a break from skiing, Mammoth Rock 'n' Bowl is fun for the whole family
For those who want to take a break from skiing, Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl is fun for the whole family

12. Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes is a gem in the Mammoth Lakes region. Nestled at the base of the Mammoth Mountain, these two glacial lakes offer a picturesque setting that’s hard to beat. With the backdrop of the rugged Sierra peaks, it’s a postcard-perfect destination.

The area around the lakes is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking trails crisscross the region, leading to cascading waterfalls and secluded spots. The Lakes Basin Path, in particular, is a favorite. It’s an easy trail, suitable for families, and offers stunning views at every turn.

Fishing is a big draw here. The clear waters of Twin Lakes are teeming with trout. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a newbie, it’s a great spot to cast a line. And if fishing isn’t your thing, you can rent a boat or a canoe and paddle around.

For those looking to stay overnight, the Twin Lakes Campground offers a rustic experience. Waking up to the sound of birds and the sight of the sun rising over the lakes is something special.

Twin Lakes is a testament to the natural beauty of the Mammoth Lakes area. It’s a must-visit, whether you’re here for a day or a week.

Twin Lakes is a peaceful oasis perfect for fishing, swimming, or just relaxing
Twin Lakes is a peaceful oasis perfect for fishing, swimming, or just relaxing

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Mammoth Lakes? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Mammoth Lakes:

Is Mammoth Lakes worth visiting year-round?

Absolutely! While many folks associate Mammoth Lakes with winter sports, it’s a destination for all seasons. In the warmer months, the area transforms into a haven for hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. So, whether you’re carving down snowy slopes or exploring alpine trails, Mammoth Lakes offers something for every kind of adventurer.

What’s the best time to visit Mammoth Lakes for skiing?

The prime skiing season in Mammoth Lakes typically runs from November to June, thanks to its high elevation. However, if you’re looking for the freshest powder, aim for December to February. But remember, it’s a popular spot, so weekends can get crowded!

Are there family-friendly activities in Mammoth Lakes?

For sure! Beyond skiing and snowboarding, families can enjoy snowshoeing, sledding, and even scenic gondola rides. In the summer, the lakes offer great opportunities for fishing and kayaking. Plus, there are numerous trails that are suitable for younger hikers.

How’s the dining scene in Mammoth Lakes?

Surprisingly diverse! While you’ll find plenty of cozy mountain lodges to warm up with hot cocoa, there’s also a range of restaurants serving everything from gourmet pizzas to international cuisines. It’s not just about the outdoor activities here; the food scene is a draw in its own right.

Mammoth is filled with many lodges with scenic dining options with snow-covered views
Mammoth is filled with many lodges with scenic dining options with snow-covered views

Can I visit Mammoth Lakes without a car?

While having a car provides the most flexibility, it’s possible to get around Mammoth Lakes using the free town shuttle service, especially during the peak seasons. There are also airport shuttles if you’re flying in. However, if you’re looking to explore beyond the town, renting a car might be a good idea.

Why is Mammoth Lakes famous?

Mammoth Lakes is renowned primarily for its breathtaking natural beauty and outdoor recreational activities. Nestled in the Eastern Sierra region of California, it’s a hotspot for skiing and snowboarding in the winter, thanks to the impressive Mammoth Mountain. Come summer, the area transforms, offering pristine lakes for fishing, trails for hiking, and landscapes that photographers dream about. It’s a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

How many days do you need at Mammoth Lakes?

While you can get a taste of Mammoth Lakes in a weekend, ideally, you’d want at least 4-5 days to truly explore. This allows time to hit the slopes, take scenic drives, hike some trails, and maybe even enjoy a relaxing day by the lake or visit nearby natural wonders. Whether you’re into active adventures or just soaking in the views, Mammoth Lakes has a lot to offer, and a few days lets you experience a bit of everything.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Mammoth Lakes

Wrapping up a trip to Mammoth Lakes, CA, leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. This isn’t just another tourist spot; it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. From the ski slopes to the hiking trails, every corner offers a new adventure.

If you’re someone who loves to be active and immerse yourself in nature, this place should be high on your list. And even if you’re not, the sheer beauty of the landscapes might just convert you. So, pack your bags, grab your gear, and get ready for a trip that’ll leave you with stories to tell and memories to cherish. One of the most unique places to visit in California, Mammoth Lakes, with its raw and rugged charm, is waiting.

Best things to do in Mammoth Lakes for all types of travelers
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