When you think of California, what comes to mind? Surf, celebrities, maybe the first few chords of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys? Set in the high Sierra Nevada mountains on the eastern border of the state, Mammoth Lakes avoids just about every Californian cliché.
From world-class beers to high-altitude mountain biking, here are our top reasons to visit Mammoth Lakes, California.
The information in this article is inspired by the Rough Guide to California, your essential guide for visiting California.
If you’re the kind of person whose idea of a perfect holiday includes lazy lie-ins, early doors aperitifs and nights in the hotel streaming Netflix, you can stop reading now. If you’re coming to Mammoth Lakes, California you’ll want to make the most of the great outdoors.
Mammoth Lakes lies in the stunningly beautiful Inyo National Forest – and what better way to experience the area than wild camping? With over 800 campsites nearby, there are plenty of opportunities to witness this gorgeous natural site. Take your pick of camping by the wildflower meadows, crystal clear lakes or pine forests.
Based 2500m above sea level, the Mammoth Brewing Company ferments the highest altitude beers on the west coast. Founded in 1995, they use straight-from-the-mountain alpine water in the brewing process, and the resulting beers are lauded as being some of the best in America.
The supremely hoppy Epic IPA is our pick of their brews, although at 6.5% ABV you may want to start with a lighter option. The grassy and crisp Sierra Trout Pilsner is a solid alternative, named after the rainbow trout that is native to the Sierra Nevada mountain waters. For those staying off the hooch, the ultra-sweet root beer should do the job.
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Mammoth Lakes is, first and foremost, a place to carve up the snow. Over the long winter, the top of Mammoth Mountain gets an average of nine metres of the white stuff. Most people come here to ski or snowboard down imaginatively named ski runs such as Gremlin’s Gulch, Wipeout Chutes and Paranoid Flats. If you're looking for a different snow activity – try snowshoeing, snowmobiling or dog sledding.
Ready to go skiing? You won't want to miss our guide to the best places in the world to hit the snow.
If you’ve ever read one of those ‘Spooky Abandoned Places’ lists online, there’s a good chance that it featured the gold mining town of Bodie – about 65 miles north of Mammoth Lakes.
In its heyday, the town had a population of over 10,000. About a century ago, however, the gold industry began to dwindle and the locals left in their droves. Today, it is suspended in a state of arrested decay, with gold mines, banks and schools left just as they were in the early twentieth century.
In case the experience during the day wasn’t eerie enough for you, park rangers offer ghost night tours through the town on select nights.
Ten miles or so from Mammoth Lakes, the Devil's Post Pile is one of the 123 national monuments in the United States, and it’s well worth a visit. Judging by its uniform structure – each 18-metre column is an almost perfect hexagon – it’s hard to believe that this is a feat of nature and not man (or devil).
Be sure to walk up to the top to get a close-up look at the beautifully symmetrical patterns and the super smooth glacial polish. While here, look out for the ubiquitous chipmunks, who will happily pose for your next Instagram post.
There are so many beautiful places unique to the United States — don't miss our list of the most beautiful places in the US.
The sulfuric hot springs of Mammoth Lakes are strikingly beautiful and are a must-see when visiting this area. Although some of the thermal springs are too hot to bathe in, this area is packed with mineral pools and tubs where one can take a dip. These natural hot springs are surrounded by unforgettable views of the Sierra mountains and are a top reason to visit Mammoth Lakes.
Visit the aptly named Mammoth Lakes Rainbow Falls in the warmer seasons and witness the 31-metre waterfall and its equally large rainbow. Created by the mist of the tumbling waters, this colourful site is best witnessed at midday when the sun is at its highest. Make a day trip of it by hiking to the falls from the ranger station, and taking the bi-hourly shuttle back.
Want to see the very best views while on your trip to the Golden State? Read our guide to the top national parks in California.
Perhaps the top of Mammoth Lakes’ roster of summer outdoor activities is the Mammoth Bike Park. When the snow melts and the Californian sun starts to do its thing, Mammoth Mountain offers some of the best single-track runs in the country. There are 128 kilometres of track across 1416 hectares of alpine mountains; plenty for both wobbly beginners and death-wishers to enjoy.
For a truly peaceful adventure, try kayaking on one of the many lakes of the Mammoth lakes basin – June and Mono lakes being the most impressive and photogenic of the bunch. Or, for more excitement, try Lake George – where one can spend time white water rafting.
Another popular activity is taking a gondola ride up the 3368-meter Mammoth Mountain. The summit is a popular place to grab lunch and enjoy the incredible panoramic views. From there, one can either return on the gondola or hike down the mountain using one of the many hiking trails.
Ready to go on a hike? Don't miss our top twelve hiking tips before you go.
Mammoth Lakes offers a full range of accommodations. Though some may prefer a more rustic style of wild camping, for those who prefer a bit more in the way of shelter there are plenty of options. Within the area lays five four-star hotels and ski resorts. There are also countless motels and cosy cabins to rent for your stay. Whether it be camping, glamping, or staying in a world-class ski resort, the Mammoth Lakes area has you covered.
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One way of getting to Mammoth Lakes is to take a flight from Los Angeles or San Francisco to the region’s tiny airport (Mammoth Yosemite Airport). This offers a rare chance to see the Californian landscape shift from surf, to desert, to snow-capped peaks in just eighty minutes. But if you have time on your hands, you could consider incorporating Mammoth Lakes into a longer road trip.
Although there are endless opportunities for beautiful road trips in California – a great route is to start in San Francisco, and then head east to Yosemite National Park. From there, it’s a short journey to Mammoth Lakes. Afterwards, head south to the famous Western movie town Lone Pine. Further south through the desert will take you to Los Angeles.
For more inspiration for when you hit the road, don't miss our guide to the best road trips in California.
There is plenty of beautiful sites in Mammoth Lakes. If you're feeling inspired to finally see California – check out the snapshot Rough Guide to California or the Rough Guides to the Southwest United States. If you travel further in the United States, read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and the best things to do in the United States. For inspiration use the US itineraries from The Rough Guide to the USA and our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to California without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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Top image: Mammoth Lake, California © melissamn/Shutterstock