One place that took me by surprise was Mammoth Lakes in California’s Sierra Nevadas. Last month, we spent a few days exploring the area, hiking, and hopping in and out of hot springs. The sheer natural beauty of this part of California is hard to capture in photos, but I hope they’ll inspire you to visit.
The one thing about Mammoth Lakes that is truly unique is the diversity in landscape. From towering mountains in the John Muir Wilderness area to the lakes that are spread throughout, there is truly a lot to experience. Mammoth Lakes is a destination for those who want to be outdoors, with plenty of options for things to do.
We spent two nights and it felt like it was the right amount to stop by some iconic spots and do one long hike. We knew we would be going back in the fall for the famous fall colors of June Lake Loop, so we kept a few hikes for then as well. But for now, if you’re thinking of going camping this summer, you may want to consider Mammoth Lakes and the entire region for a weekend trip. Here are some of the most incredible things to do in Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area.
Mammoth Lakes & the Surrounding Area
Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes
If you’re headed to Mammoth, you’ll want to probably book an Airbnb or private cabin. You’ll find quickly that the hotels are very limited and most are not incredibly great. A cabin will give you a place to retreat to (learn from our mistake of booking a cheap hotel). Otherwise, I’d recommend camping. There are a lot of campsites in the area from June Lake down to Convict Lake, there is even BLM land you can just dry camp at for the night.
7 Incredible Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes
1. Hike to Big Pine Lake
One of the main reasons we booked this trip to Mammoth was for this hike alone. The Sierra Nevadas have some of the best full day and overnight hikes in the state. It was this hike that caught are attention because it looked like a scene out of the Dolomites. The hike is strenuous, and we started off at sunrise to beat the heat. Overall, the effort was well worth it to be out in nature and soak in these views. If you went later in the summer, you definitely could cool off in the lakes on this trail.
I wrote an entire guide for everything you need to know about this hike and what to plan for. Read the full blog post on the hike to Big Pine Lakes.
2. Take a dip in the hot springs
Mammoth Lakes Area is a literal hotbed for geothermal activity which means that as a visitor, you can enjoy a dip in natural hot springs. There are several to choose from in the area. Our favorites were Wild Willy’s Hot Spring and Travertine Hot Springs further north in Bridgeport. For Travertine Hot Springs, I wouldn’t make the drive just for it, it’s really worth it if you’re passing through. Other hot springs that came recommended were Whitemore Hot Springs and the Rock Tub Hot Springs.
A few things to note for when visiting the hot springs:
- Clothing is optional, so don’t be surprised by nudity
- Some are seasonal so they may not have water in it or may not be kept up
- Early morning is best to beat the crowds
For Wild Willy’s Hot Spring, note that there is a clear parking area after you go down the dirt road off of Benton Crossing Road. You’ll walk the wooden planks out to the two tubs.
3. Catch the sunset over the Minarets
Though we would have loved to hike out to the Minarets, the next best thing was catching the sunset over them. Above Mammoth Lakes town, the Minaret Vista Point gives unparalleled views over the mountains and makes for a stunning spot to catch the sunset.
There are also quite a few trails that take off from there, so you could consider an afternoon hike as well.
4. Drive the scenic June Lake Loop
One of my favorite areas that we drove through was the scenic June Lake Loop. This scenic drive takes you through June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake. They are all nestled under towering peaks and covered in the forested areas. It is stunning and this where we’re headed back for fall colors this year because of the aspen growth.
This area would also be an amazing spot to stay overnight as you’re close to everything but removed from town of Mammoth Lakes. We packed a lunch and parked at Gull Lake and soaked in the views from here. There are some great trails and awesome spots for fishing here.
(didn’t take any photos here as we were driving and made a quick pitstop)
5. Walk to the waterfall above Twin Lakes
This was our spontaneous find for the time in Mammoth. We had a few hours before checking in so we drove out to Twin Lakes. There’s an amazing view above them from the Twin Falls Overlook, so we parked above the Tamarack Lodge and took the Lakes Basin Bike Path up. We then walked back down and around the lakes.
Twin Lakes reminded me a lot of the lakes you see in the Grand Tetons. It’s a stunning area and a lot of families were out on kayaks or fishing.
6. Go fishing at Convict Lake
If one place will take your breath away, it’s the vast mountains reflecting on Convict Lake. We went here twice just to see it and I honestly didn’t take a single photo. It’s beautiful at this lake and I would think this may be the best camping area as well. Further south of Mammoth, Convict Lake is tucked off the freeway down a winding road.
There is a trail that goes around the lake and it’s a very popular spot for fishing and boating. We brought our sandwiches here and enjoyed the view on our last day.
7. See the Hot Creek Geological Site
One of the most picturesque areas that looks like a scene out of a movie is the Hot Creek Geological Site. You drive down a dirt road, park, and can walk along this geothermal area. It’s very unique as the creek is flowing but there are hot springs on the sides.
For photography, sunset here is incredible and sunrise would be great if you wanted to see more of the steam.
Other things to do nearby
Here are a few things that also caught are attention:
- A visit to Mono Lake
- Boating on Lake Crowley
- Hike to Devils Postpile to see the Devils Postpile National Monument
- See the Earthquake Fault Line
- See the Inyo Craters