This post explores one of the most beautiful areas of California. In here, you would find details about the Mammoth Lakes Basin hiking, walking biking, picnicking and day-use opportunities.
If you are from the West Coast, you have probably heard of Mammoth Lakes or Mammoth Mountain.
If you are not from the area, no worries. I will fill you in in less than a minute.
Mammoth Mountain is the “go to” ski resort for Southern Californians. There are other ski areas located closer to Los Angeles but Mammoth is considered the real deal. In winter, all you hear at work is people making plans for the 4+ hour drive to the mountain.
See. That was less than a minute ;0)
Since people from the Caribbean (me) and snow do not mix well, I didn’t follow the crowds and visited Mammoth during fall. Guess what? It. Was. Beautiful.
I was like, Mammoth, where have you been all my life?
There is way more up there than lifts, cozy chimneys, and hot cocoa.
Just five minutes from the center of town (Mammoth Lakes is the only incorporated city in Mono County), you will find an area known as Mammoth Lakes Basin. The best part is that you have super easy access to pine forests, alpine lakes, and clear streams. On-site, you can enjoy over a dozen lakes, five campgrounds and over 50 miles of well-marked hiking trails.
All that sounds like paradise for those who love to play on the outdoors. However, remember I said there is easy access to all these? That is true too.
Five of the lakes in the area can be visited by car. You can decide to take a look, walk around, fish, relax in a hammock, rent a boat or embark on a longer hike. The choice is yours.
Highlights of Mammoth Lakes Basin
Here is a series of stops for those visiting for a day or making it part of a longer trip.
Twin Lakes Mammoth
This is the first set of lakes you are going to find by road. I find the name a little bit confusing since, if you look at a map, there are three lakes connected by the Mammoth Creek. So, not sure how this place got its name (natural elements change a lot though).
The lakes are famous for their super cute bridge located in one of the narrow connecting points. It is a popular place for wedding photos.
Places to Stay: Tamarack Lodge & Resort (restaurant on site), Twin Lakes Campground
Lake Mary Mammoth
This is the largest lake in the area and, consequently, a spot with varying landscapes and facilities galore.
If you like to fish, this is the place to be. I took a photo of a group showcasing their 20+ trout on a line. I was hoping for a little gift from them but it didn’t happen.
The area surrounding the lake is very relaxing. People were paddling their boats, taking a dip in the water or resting on their hammocks. What a life!
One corner of the lake presents a phantasmagorical scene of dead trees and barren trunks. I assume the water level increase and flooded part of the forest. I was attracted to the spot since it is not something I see every day.
In addition, a red, sterile dome can be observed once you keep circling the lake. This promontory reminds us of the volcanic origins of Mammoth Lakes and the Owens Valley.
Places to Stay: Crystal Crag Lodge, Cold Water, and Pine City Campgrounds
Rent a Boat / Water Access: Lake Mary Marina, Pokonobe Marina at Lake Marina
Lake George Mammoth
This lake is small but one of the loveliest in the area because of its turquoise waters. It is important to mention the famous Crystal Crag, a granite promontory, can be seen in all its splendor from the lake’s shores. Climbing fans go to the top of the rock to get prime views of the chain of lakes and tall mountains.
Rent a Boat / Water Access: Woods Lodge Boat Rental
The Crystal Lake Trailhead is located at Lake George.
Lake Mamie Mammoth
During our visit, time was against us and we had to hurry up to finish seeing the lakes. When I was taking a quick look at Lake Mamie, I noticed a group of people congregated on the other side of the road.
I moved towards them and my jaw dropped! They were looking at the Twin Lakes from a viewpoint. I didn’t even notice we were gaining altitude while driving the road. It was crazy to think we were down there about two hours before.
Place to Stay: Wildyrie Lodge
Horseshoe Lake Mammoth
I was able to take a very small peek at this lake. The water level was low, so, I took a couple of photos and said goodbye to the gorgeous area.
After hours exploring the lakes, we indulged by having pizza, salad, and lemonade at the Mammoth Brewing Company. Everything was delicious and the atmosphere was unbeatable. This is an ideal stop for those who enjoy good food and conversation.
Mammoth Lakes Hiking
The basin area offers excellent hiking opportunities. Here are some of the best Mammoth hikes:
- Crystal Lake – This hike (approx. 3 miles) is one of the more popular and scenic in the area. It offers great views of Crystal Cragg, a granite dome that dominates the panorama. Park your car on the Lake George day-use area and find the nearby trailhead (just follow other hikers)
- TJ and Barrett Lakes – This is a shorter (1.5 miles) and moderate hikes (ideal for the entire family). Get prepared to be surrounded by pines and mountains! Start from the Lake George day-use area too
- McLeod Lake – This lake is located a short walk from the Horseshoe Lake parking lot. May people swim and sunbath in here during summer
- Duck Pass – This 5-mile trail is for hikers with more experience and stamina. If you are fit enough to conquer the trail, you will be rewarded with lakes, creeks and amazing views
- Mammoth Crest – Another hike for those who know what they are doing. The trail will take you high enough to see the entire basin and parts of the John Muir Wilderness
- Lakes Basin Path – The 5 mile, multi-use trail (you can walk, jog or bike) connects the North Village to the basin area. You do not have to walk the entire path. For example, you can park your car on one of the lakes day-use areas and walk to another lake. Take into consideration some part in here is steep
- Other Mammoth hikes include Arrowhead Lake, Heart Lake, Emerald Lake, Panorama Dome and walk / hikes around the lakes presented in the article
How to Find the Mammoth Lakes Basin
- From US-395 (main road/freeway on the Eastern Sierra area) – take road 203 and continue on Lake Mary Road (instead of turning towards Downtown)
- During summer, the free Orange Line Trolley runs between Downtown and the Lakes Basin. Bikes can be mounted on the trolley
- There is a paved bike path between the areas of interest
Mammoth Lakes Airport
- If you do not want to drive the Mammoth Lakes Airport is located 20 minutes from Downtown. Alaska Airlines offer year-round flight from Los Angeles. San Francisco and San Diego flights are added during winter.
- Getting to the area is what I consider an “easy drive,” no crazy curves, sharp turns or scary drops
- All the lakes are above 8,000 feet. Drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen before getting exposed to the sun
- For camping availability, expert advice and trail conditions, drop by the local office of the U.S. Forest Service at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center or visit their website
- Campsites may be reserved online here. Book in advance if you intend to visit during summer
- This is bear country. Follow instructions on the camping and day-use areas
- Mammoth Lakes Visitors Center is located at 2510 Main Street. These should be the first stop for those looking for things to do and adventure in the area. Stop by even if you have researched your trip. Locals know best!
- A California Welcome Center is located there too
Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite
Many visitors do not want to miss the opportunity to visit Yosemite National Park if they are in the Mammoth area. The Tioga Pass, the Eastern Sierra gateway to the park is located 30 miles from Downtown Mammoth. The world-famous Yosemite Valley can be reached in about 2 hours (100 miles). That is a long, long day trip! An option is to explore the Tioga Pass / Road. Here is my post about Yosemite’s high country in case you are interested. And, here is my post about the valley just in case.
More of the Eastern Sierra
Click on any of the links below to see how you can combine Mammoth Lakes with other nearby spots in the area.
Have you visited the Mammoth Lakes Basin?
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