The town of Mammoth Lakes sits high in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, just south of the Eastern Gateway to Yosemite National Park. At its center is Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, a stomping ground for many professional skiers and snowboarders. Not to mention the hordes of Southern California skiers and riders who flock to the Sierra resort each winter weekend.
However, when the snow melts from Mammoth Mountain (sometimes into July) and summer is in full swing, a vast array of hiking trails open up in and around Mammoth Lakes. Surrounded by 3 million acres of forest and national park land, and situated at just under 8,000 feet, Mammoth Lakes is the trail exploration basecamp for hikers of all abilities, including those professional winter athletes who like to stay and play in the Eastern Sierra all year long.
Since there are more trails in the Mammoth Lakes area than most people will ever conquer, here are a few best places to hike in Mammoth to get you started.
1. Glen Plake: Mono Lake
“I love to explore the area out by Mono,” says the most recognizable character in skiing, Glen Plake, (think mohawk hair) who can often be seen on Mammoth Mountain in the winter. But when he visits the Eastern Sierra in the summer, he heads to the area east of June Lake (about 30 minutes north of Mammoth) to explore the Black Point Fissures on the north shore.
“You can’t get to the fissures in the winter, so it’s a cool place to check out in the summer if you are in Mammoth,” Plake says. “You can find shade in the fissures on a warm summer day.” Plake also recommends walking around the shores of mysterious Mono Lake near Navy Beach on the south side.
To get to Mono Lake from Mammoth Lakes, drive north on the U.S. 395 through the tiny town of Lee Vining. Note that other than the fissures, there is no shade on the north shore of Mono Lake, so be prepared. The hike from the Black Point parking area to the Black Point Fissures is about 2 miles round-trip.
No matter where you’re headed, preparation for all of these hikes is a must. Remember that you are at a high altitude, so bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat and snacks. Always tell someone where you are going before you head out and have fun!
2. Kelly Clark: Crystal Lake
“My favorite hike in Mammoth is the hike to Crystal Lake,” says Olympic medalist and Mammoth Lakes local, Kelly Clark. “It is about 4 miles round trip. It gets pretty steep in places, but it has stair-like rocks to help you out. It is very hard to run because of the steepness and the altitude, but every summer I like to try it anyways.”
Kelly says she usually starts with a half run/walk and then by the end of the summer she can run the whole thing.
“To reward myself, I jump off the cliff on the far side of the lake,” she adds. “It also has incredible views on the way up. Even though I have done it a ton of times I still stop to take photos every time.”
You can access the Crystal Lake trailhead from the Lake George day use area in the Lakes Basin. The hike to Crystal Lake is about 4 miles round-trip.
3. Kimmy Fasani: Duck Pass
Mammoth local and Burton Snowboards professional snowboarder Kimmy Fasani likes to wake up before the sunrise and walk jog, or run up to the top of Duck Pass.
“Give yourself some time but I try to make it to the top of the pass when the sun’s glow is hitting Skelton Lake or Barney Lake,” Fasani says. “Bring a headlamp, an extra layer, a snack and water. The mountains are so peaceful and serene, and you will start your day off with a great workout and a few quiet moments in nature.”
The trailhead to Duck Pass can be found at the far end of Coldwater Campground in the Lakes Basin. Round-trip this hike is 11 miles.
4. Gabe Taylor: Two Hiking Loops
“Obviously choosing a ‘favorite’ hike in the Mammoth area is difficult,” says pro snowboarder Gabe Taylor. “With so many to choose from it kind of feels like what I go through when I’m at the market in the ice cream aisle… there’s just so many!”
Gabe says he suffers from “some sort of ortholinaphobia (or fear of a straight line)” when it comes to hiking. “I don’t like out and back hikes. I’ll do em’, but if I can turn it into a loop, I will. With that in mind, here are my two favorite hikes in the area.”
Deer Lakes Loop
“Start at Coldwater and climb up to Duck Pass, which in itself is very enjoyable. Upon cresting the summit make a right toward Purple Lake and then another right up toward Deer Lakes. There is no marked trail and some route finding involved, but that’s one of my favorite parts. After making your way up to a massive moraine behind Blue Crag look toward the SW corner and a pile of rocks, this marks the trail to descend to Deer Lakes. It’s a bit rocky and fairly steep, but man is it beautiful. You can pick up the trail on the north side of the lakes where it will climb up to the Mammoth Crest and descend toward Red Cone and down to Lake George. A quick jaunt around TJ and Barrett lakes will bring you back to your car.”
The loop is approximately 13 miles.
“This is a decent-sized hike around some incredible High Sierra terrain. The section between Ediza and Iceberg is my favorite stretch of trail in the world. It follows a creek through a small valley with wildflowers and cool rock formations surrounding you, all while meandering right underneath the Minarets. From Iceberg to Minaret can get a little interesting as there’s some fairly rugged cross country scrambling up to and around Lake Cecile. From Minaret, enjoy the long downhill descent to Reds Meadow and hop on the shuttle back to Agnew, or continue on one of the numerous trails that make their way back up to Agnew.”
This loop is approximately 20 miles. To get to the trailhead at Agnew Meadows, take the shuttle from the Adventure Center at Mammoth Mountain to shuttle bus stop #1.
5. Stacey Cook: Devils Postpile and Reds Meadow
Alpine racer and Mammoth Lakes local, Stacey Cook is fond of Devils Postpile and Reds Meadow. Here are the best hike in Mammoth Lakes, according to Stacey.
“I really like getting to Minaret Lake and feeling so small under the towering Minarets,” she says. “Then I like doing the touristy thing at Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls. I try to plan my trip to Reds Meadow for early or late season and avoid the crowds, but the scenery is always amazing back there!”
Access Devils Postpile via the shuttle from the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center. The hike from Devils Postpile to Rainbow Falls is 4 miles round-trip. The hike from Devils Postpile to Minaret Lake is approximately 10 miles round-trip.
OntheSnow Favorite Mammoth Hiking Picks
Among many dog-friendly hikes in Mammoth, Red Lakes is a. 8.3 miles moderately trafficked out and back hike near Big Pine, California that is a difficult hike and features a gorgeous lake.
Among the easy hikes in Mammoth Lakes, this one is a 4.5 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail that’s good for all skill levels.
For those looking for a challenge, this 53.2-mile point-to-point trail is for experienced hikers and is rated as difficult. You can access the trail from April to September.
Bring along the pup
Hiking can be a lot more fun if you bring your best friend along (your dog, of course). Here are three dog-friendly hikes in the Mammoth area that get “five bone” reviews from critics at https://bringfido.com.
Devil’s Postpone National Monument
You can ride the shuttle bus to the famous monument from the Town of Mammoth Lakes, but be sure you have a muzzle for your canine friend. Enjoy the views of the formation as well as Rainbow Falls.
This is an easy walk and you and the pup can stop often along the way to take in the views. There’s even. a wood boardwalk along the way. The 3-mile long loop heads through sagebrush, pine and aspen groves. Wondering how the lake got it’s name. A group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City, Nev. and the sheriff caught up with them right here at the lake.
Sherwin Lakes Trailhead
If you and your friend are in good shape, take on this steep 3-mile trail past several small lakes. lots of aspen trees and old-growth Jeffrey pines beneath the high peaks of the Sherwin Range.
June (Lake) Is Busting Out All Over
June Lake and its beautiful loop is at the base of Mammoth’s “little” sister ski resort June Mountain, which by the way, is not so little. It’s a small, rather quaint village in a horseshoe canyon dotted by four lakes. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Mammoth at an altitude of 7,654 feet. An easy trail is a walk around Gull Lake. More of a challenge awaits you on the Reversed Peak Trail. It’s 6.1 miles and offers a 360-degree view of the entire area. And, here’s the tough guy: The Fern Lake Trail. The length is 3.4 tough miles. Fishermen will find plenty of brook trout in the lake.
The John Muir Trail
Interested in a backpacking adventure. Then the John Muir Trail is your answer. The trail connects Mammoth Lakes with Yosemite National Park. The trail passes through large swaths of alpine and high mountain scenery and lies almost entirely at or above 8,000 feet (2,400 m) in elevation. The trail has been described as “America’s most famous trail”; and sees about 1,500 thru-hiking attempts each year. Muir, a Scot, was the naturalist credited with establishing Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.