Pros:Many opportunities for day hikes amid spectacular scenery.
Cons:Popular day trails are very crowded in season
The Bottom Line: In summer and fall, the Mammoth area provides easy access for day hikers to interesting geological formations and spectacular Sierra scenery.
Mammoth Lakes is one of my favorite summer destinations mainly because of the extensive opportunities for extraordinarily scenic day hikes. Here are a few of my favorites:
Hikes in and Around Devils Postpile National Monument
During the summer you need to take a shuttle bus from the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area parking lot go get to the area encompassing Agnew Meadows, Devils Postpile and Reds Meadow. Be sure to check times of operation and schedule of stops.
Devils Postpile. Get off the bus at the Devils Postpile stop for this short level hike through meadow and open forest along the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River to this area's premier geological wonder consisting of hundreds of huge hexagonal basalt columns. (1 mile round trip, 100 foot elevation gain) You can return to the bus stop or continue downriver to Rainbow falls.
Rainbow Falls. This is a very pretty waterfall with a large pool at the bottom and scenic overlooks near the top. Get there by continuing another 1.5 miles beyond Devils Postpile on a fairly level trail through open forest with river views. You can stop at the top of the falls or walk down to the base. (4 mile round trip to Devils Postpile bus stop, roughly 400 foot elevation gain) You can take about a mile off the round trip and avoid retracing your steps by returning to Reds Meadow Resort, where there's another bus stop.
Pacific Crest Trail. If you really want to stretch your legs as well as take in a variety of forest and river scenery and visit several points of interest, try walking the Pacific Crest Trail from Agnew Meadows to Rainbow Falls and/or Reds Meadow. This 10 mile slightly downhill hike gives you the opportunity to see Soda Sprints, Devils Postpile, Rainbow Falls and Reds Meadow. There are several opportunities to cut the hike short and get back on the shuttle bus.
In and Around Mammoth Lakes
These hikes start near the cluster of lakes from which this area takes its name.
Panorama Dome. This is one of my favorites because it's a short hike (0.5 mile, 350 foot climb) with a big payoff: an amazing panorama including the town of Mammoth Lakes, the White Mountains, Crowley Lake, Mammoth Mountain, and more. It's also a great place to study the local flora. The hike to the top is mostly shaded but the top of the dome is open and windy.
Bottomless Pit. This is a short but strenuous hike (0.75 mile, 760' elevation gain) with another spectacular payoff. You'll end up at the top of a sheer drop of about 600 feet. You can continue to Seven Lakes Point with its spectacular view of the Mammoth lakes (1.25 miles, 1,260 foot elevation gain) and even walk to the top of Mammoth Mountain (4 miles, 2,500 foot elevation gain). The mountain rises to over 11,000 feet, so be sure you're in shape. Note that at least one ski lift operates during summer to the top of Mammoth Mountain. Inquire carefully about the possibilities for incorporating it into your hike.
Hot Creek Gorge. This is usually the first trail to open in spring and the last to close in fall, and it can be quite crowded with fly fishermen in season. The real reason to go here is to see the Hot Creek Geological Site. Here large amounts of hot water enter the creek from underground and you'll see areas of steaming and boiling water and mud. Lots of people congregate in the creek to enjoy the warm water, but be sure to heed all the signs because the water in some locations can scald you.
Convict Lake. If you can't think of anything better than spending part of a day walking around a lake, this is the hike for you. You'll walk below 500 million year old cliffs while enjoying lakeside scenery on this 2 mile round trip with (you guessed it) no elevation gain. The area is fairly dry with Manzanita and wildflowers as well as willows, birch and cottonwood along the lakeshore. Beyond Convict lake, there are much more strenuous hikes to Mildred Lake and Lake Dorothy.
The town of Mammoth Lakes is located in California's eastern Sierra Nevada on California route 203 just off US 395. Before you do anything in this area be sure to stop off at the Forest Service Ranger Station / Visitor Center on route 203 as you come into Mammoth Lakes. There are exhibits on the local flora and fauna and they also dispense wilderness permits (not required for day hikes), advice, and an excellent map of the local hiking trails.
Before you set off on a hike, be sure you have plenty of food and water, appropriate shoes, sun protection, mosquito protection, and adequate clothing for Sierra conditions, which can change very quickly.
Mammoth is overrun with tourists most of the summer. However, a quieter season begins when school starts in mid-to late August.
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Best Suited For: Couples
Best Time to Travel Here: Sep - Nov