Hiking in Mammoth Lakes on a breezy summer day is an experience to treasure. Mammoth Lakes in California offers an abundance of hiking trails for all levels and ambitions. More than 300 miles of trails wind around alpine lakes, climb up rugged mountains, and meander through tree-shaded dirt paths. Pines rise majestically to the sky and meadows bloom with colorful flowers.
Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Mountain cover a part of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the John Muir Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. The awesome Devils Postpile National Monument is a few miles from Mammoth Mountain and merits a day of exploration, too.
A long weekend is perfect for a stay at Mammoth. Here’s a look at how you can plan your time to get in a variety of hiking and other activities.
How to Get to Mammoth
Mammoth is in the Sierra Nevadas just off Highway 395. This part of California makes for a scenic drive, with mountains rising to the west. The entrance to Yosemite National Park is a drive of about 45 minutes north on Highway 395. And coming from the south you will see Mount Whitney about an hour and a half before you reach Mammoth.
You can drive to Mammoth from Los Angeles in about six hours and from San Diego in seven hours. It’s a wonderful getaway for a long weekend or a longer summer vacation.
Another transportation option is to fly into the Mammoth Yosemite Airport.
Planning Your Mammoth Hikes
The Mammoth Lakes basin features almost 100 miles of marked trails that carry you into the heart of the Sierra Nevada. Check the visitor’s website for information. When planning a trip, you may feel overwhelmed by the choices. It helps to consider both the type of trail and length.
You can look at how easy or strenuous a trail is when you plan your itinerary. And some trails link up with others. Some are short distances and some trails go for miles.
I found it most fun to mix it up.The first day I enjoyed a fairly demanding trail. The last day I stuck to trails that were easy, with no long uphill sections.
To whet your appetite for hiking in Mammoth, read on about a couple of my favorites.
Head for Stunning Crystal Lake
If your time is limited and you want to choose just one main trail, head for the Crystal Lake trail.
This gives you the best of Mammoth, with switchback paths under fir and pines, big boulders strewn about, and views of the pristine lakes below.
And the reward of this hike is sitting on a rock and savoring the sight of Crystal Lake. Take along a picnic lunch to enjoy at your destination. After reaching an altitude of 9,600 you are entitled to a rest by the clear waters.Crystal Lake Trail is three miles out and back. Park at the lot for Lake George and enter the trailhead on the right end of the lot. If you choose this popular hike on a weekend or holiday, start early so you can get a parking spot. Parking spills out of the lot onto the roads when it’s busy.
Relax at the Horseshoe Lake Loop
Want to be out in the pines but without any strenuous climbing involved? The Horseshoe Lake Loop is a perfect choice. This two-mile loop meanders is flat and provides views of the lake as you walk through the trees and cross bridges over small creeks. If you prefer, you can walk on the wide, beachy shore. And you can even jump in the water for a swim.The last part of the trail is a paved bicycle path that follows parallel to the road.A large parking lot is available at Horseshoe Lake.
Off the parking lot is a stand of dead trees. Your first reaction may be to leave and go to a more attractive lake. A ranger told us that these trees are victims of CO2 emissions underground.They are interesting, and once you walk past this stand of trees, you are surrounded by greenery and beauty.
Visit the Devils Postpile National Monument
This geologic marvel lies about a half hour drive from the Mammoth Mountain Village. Take Highway 203 that runs through Mammoth near the Village and follow the signs. You will want to see this amazing place when you are in Mammoth.Run by the National Park Service, Devils Postpile is a formation of hexagonal columns of basalt. These formed about 82,000 years ago when basalt lava cooled. Stand below the columns that lean on each other and soar 60 feet into the air. It’s definitely a sight worth seeing.
It’s an easy 0.8-mile hike from the parking lot to the base of this wonder of nature.There about eight miles of trails leading out from the main attraction. Hikes range from easy to strenuous.
Two main trails lead from the postpile. The trail to Rainbow Falls is memorable. It’s a five-mile out and back trail. You can also go an additional 1.3 miles out and back to reach the Lower Falls.
The hike to Minaret Falls is another trail option from Devils Postpile. This 1.4-mile hike goes uphill from the postpile, across a creek, and to a small waterfall. I ended up hiking only a portion of this trail because it was hot and the trail offers little shade. And returning hikers reported that the waterfall had dried up. But if you want to fit in a short hike from Devils Postpile, this is still a great option.
One of the great joys of hiking is the people you meet, right? It was on the Minaret Falls trail I met a couple who had hiked south from Yosemite. They were obviously exhausted but so enthused about their travels. I loved hearing their stories.
One more way to enjoy your time at Devils Postpile is to hike the Agnew Wildflower Loop. This half-mile meadow trail takes you through fields of wildflowers. And picnic tables at the edge of the meadow beckon you to enjoy a picnic lunch here before or after your visit to Devils Postpile.
When you are planning your day at Devils Postpile, check online for information on the Reds Meadow Shuttle. Sometimes the shuttle runs between points so you can ride from hike to hike. When I visited, the shuttle wasn’t running. Figure out options before you go.
Mammoth Is a Dog-Friendly Place
Dogs are welcome on many of the trails in Mammoth. Keep your pup on a leash. And bring along plenty of water for both you and your dog. It gets hot at this altitude.My dog Bailey LOVED hiking at Mammoth Lakes. He got muddy, jumped over little logs, spent hours on dirt paths. And was so happy.
Take a Break from Hiking on the Scenic Gondolas
The same gondolas that whisk skiers to the top of Mammoth Mountain in winter also run in the summer. When you’re ready for a break from hiking, head to the gondolas. Sit back and relax as you ride up to over 11,000 feet. Take in the panoramic view. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re on top of the world, you’ve come to the right place.At the top, you can hike on trails or eat lunch at the small café. It was very windy, so I opted not to hike up here. But the view is definitely worth the trip!
Where to Kick Back After Hiking in Mammoth Lakes
After a long day of hiking and exploring, you’ll be ready to kick back with a drink, sit down to a delicious meal, and perhaps wander through a few inviting shops. The Village at Mammoth is the ideal place for an evening in the mountains.I can highly recommend dinner at Gomez’s, and you’ll want to try the Mammoth Margarita for sure. Even if you eat on the patio, peek inside at the inviting bar.Another restaurant to enjoy is Petra’s Wine Bar and Bistro, right across the street from the Village. The wine pairing is a specialty, and the fresh seafood was simply elegant.
Mammoth Lakes basin, Mammoth Mountain, and the surrounding wilderness offer so many spectacular hikes. You can meet the challenge of a steep mountain trail or you can leisurely stroll through a meadow of wildflowers. With so many hikes to enjoy, you’ll likely be planning a return trip to Mammoth as soon as you can.
PIN IT FOR LATER!!!
What an amazing place to explore. Devils Postpile is so neat!!
Beautiful landscapes for a hike. Bailey is a cutie.
I’m a big snowboarder, so I usually only visit Mammoth in the winter, but honestly, I’m realizing how much I am missing out on and need to experience this beautiful place in summer! I love the look for Crystal Lake trail. Short sweet and rewarding hikes are sometimes the best way to see the region before trying that Mammoth Margarita! Thanks for the detailed guide! I hope to visit in summer soon.
Wow Mammoth Lakes looks like an incredible area to go hiking! I love the views of the lakes from the top – they are breathtaking. And that gondola ride looks great!
Ahh, I’ve been wanting to go to Mammoth Lakes + hike but haven’t made my way out there yet. Hopefully soon though! Your photos are awesome (+ Bailey is adorableeee).
I love this post, especially the photos with Bailey! It’s so great to see a dog friendly hiking place.I can’t wait to go hiking in Mammoth!
What a beautiful hike! The scenery looks incredible! I love your photographs! Your pup looks like he loved the hike too! Thanks for the great guide!
What an absolutely stunning hike – so many amazing things to see! Thank you for taking us along with you.
What gorgeous terrain!! I love the majestic panorama views and the Devil’s Postpile. Looks beautiful. Hope to make it to that area one day.
What a beautiful area. My husband and I love to hike and will certainly add this area to our list for when we visit California again. I love the village too. It has a very European feel.
I cannot believe how blue the water is here! What a spectacular area. I would definitely love to go hiking here.
Hiking in Mammoth looks amazing! Love the views and that I can relax with a good meal afterward.
The Village at Mammoth looks incredible, and Bailey looks like he is having the time of his life! I can’t believe after growing up and going back to CA so many times I have never been to Mammoth.
this looks amazing! could definitely use some of that Mammoth Lakes air!
I am such a sucker for geological formations like the devil’s postpile! I love those columns of basalt rock whenever I see them!
The lakes (and the trails) all look incredible too, but I am most excited about the cool geology!
That water color is stunning! I’ll definitely eat at Gomez’s too!`
You had me at the lake views! How beautiful! I’m definitely adding this to my bucket list for my future trips to Cali.
I loved reading about your hiking experience in Mammoth Lakes. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!