Yosemite, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California, is one of the nation’s most popular national parks with more than four million visitors every year. Its spectacular granite rock formations, waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, wildlife, and scenery attract travelers from around the world. Less than an hour from Yosemite’s eastern entrance at Tioga Pass, Mammoth Lakes also offers scenic beauty, unique natural formations, and a range of year-round activities.
Yosemite’s eastern Tioga Pass entrance is open from May through October and usually closes in November depending on snow conditions. From late spring through early autumn, travelers can leave Yosemite and take a scenic drive of less than forty miles to the town of Mammoth Lakes. During these seasons, there’s much to do, and fewer visitors than you’ll find at better-known Yosemite. In winter, there’s skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and every snowy sport anyone would want, but we’ll focus here on the time of year when a day trip from Yosemite works best.
As you leave Yosemite, enjoy the views from Tioga Road, the highest public road in California at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. On the way to Mammoth Lakes, a short detour through the June Lake Loop adds another dimension to the scenic road trip as well as perfect places to stop for photos or refreshments. The town of Mammoth Lakes, settled during the gold rush, is set in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, surrounded by peaks and home to more than a hundred glacier-formed lakes.
What to See in the Mammoth Lakes Area
The Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center is the ideal starting point for exploring the area. Knowledgeable staff members can provide information on points of interest, transportation, and maps.
Devils Postpile National Monument is an unusual basalt rock formation formed by lava flow and resembling stacks of lumber. A shuttle bus from Mammoth Lakes Village is the best way to visit. Rainbow Falls, a 2.5-mile walk from the Ranger Station, is the highest waterfall on the San Joaquin River, named for the colors that appear in its mist.
Take the Panorama Gondola Ride to the 11,053-foot summit of Mammoth Mountain for stunning views of the Sierras. At the Top of the Sierras Interpretive Center, learn about the area’s geology, history, and culture. Hike one of the trails or stop for refreshments at the cafe.
Hot Creek Geologic Site features geyser eruptions, bubbling hot springs, fumaroles, and colorful sulfur deposits. The activity attests to the hot lava about three miles below the earth’s surface, and water temperatures change rapidly. Entering the water is prohibited.
Bodie Ghost Town is an authentic California gold mining town, deserted and preserved as it was left by its one-time population of nearly 100,000. Explore on your own or take a guided tour to learn more about the town and hear stories of its resident spirits.
Mono Lake, located about thirteen miles from Yosemite National Park, is an ancient body of water and one of North America’s oldest at over a million years old. It is home to unusual structures called tufa towers created by the lake’s high mineral and salt content. Migratory birds attracted by the lake’s brine shrimp make birdwatching a popular activity.
Earthquake Fault is a 10-foot wide, 60-foot deep fissure formed by a series of strong quakes near the town of Mammoth Lakes. A short walk among beautiful scenery makes this an interesting and pleasant place to visit.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest features the oldest trees in the world. Their unusual shapes and colorful woods make walking through the forest a unique experience.
Things to Do in the Mammoth Lakes Area
The area’s lakes and rivers provide ideal fishing locales, and spending a day near the water is idyllic whether or not you catch your trout dinner. Enjoy the scenery while paddling a kayak or canoe. Rent a boat, stand-up paddleboard, or motor craft and look for wildlife and places to stop for picnics or photos.
Bikers have their choice of mountain trails or roads through Mammoth Lakes. Stay in town or take challenging rides on hilly unpaved roads. Guided rides, electric bicycles, or individual trips are a few ways to explore the area.
Dozens of hiking trails are spread throughout Mammoth Lakes, and maps are available at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center. Many of the trailheads are accessible by shuttle. Nearly 100 miles of trails take hikers to the John Muir Wilderness Area in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.
Two public courses offer golf at Mammoth Lakes with Sierra Star Golf Course 8,000 feet above sea level—the highest elevation 18-hole championship golf course in California.
Mammoth Lakes Village offers boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and places to stroll or enjoy concerts or movies in summer.
Dining in the Mammoth Lakes Area
The Restaurant at Convict Lake offers fine dining year-round, with a martini bar in The Lounge and award-winning wine list. Named for a shootout in 1871 with escaped inmates, Convict Lake also offers lodging at the Resort and Morrison’s Restaurant.
Restaurant Skadi, billed as “fine Alpine dining,” is an intimate ten-table venue helmed by Norwegian Chef Ian Algeroen and specializing in menu items like house-cured Gravlax and Canadian duck breast with spaetzle and lingonberries.
Petra’s Bistro & Wine Bar at the Alpenhof Lodge offers contemporary American cuisine and an extensive wine list in a cozy rustic atmosphere. Naturally raised and sustainable meat and fish with seasonal ingredients are their specialty.
Nevados Restaurant, family-owned and operated, is open year-round with a selection of fresh fish, prime meats, game, and an extensive and creative main course menu. The popular bar boasts a hearty menu and generously poured cocktails.
The Lakefront at Tamarack Lodge offers stunning views and an optional prix-fixe menu.
Mammoth Lakes dining spots include casual, coffee shops, cocktail lounges, and take out.
There’s so much to see and enjoy in the Mammoth Lakes area within hours of Yosemite National Park. We hope you’re now inspired to visit next spring as the snow melts and wildflowers appear or in autumn when the leaves turn to shades of orange and gold. Of course, there’s sunny summertime too.
After your first day trip to Mammoth Lakes, you’ll undoubtedly want to stay longer next time. A range of lodging includes cabins, campgrounds, condos, and luxurious hotels like the Westin Monache Resort, Juniper Springs Resort, Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa, and Snow Creek Resort to name a few.