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Best Things to do Outside in Mammoth Lakes

There’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do in Mammoth Lakes, California. Amongst the best of them is the massive array of outdoor activities. The area is best known for its stellar skiing and snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain in the winter. But, there is also a large selection of things to do in the mountains in spring and summer as well as exploring nearby forests, trails, and of course, lakes. It may be no surprise that outdoor tourism is the primary focus in Mammoth.

If you haven’t already booked your family-friendly hotel for Mammoth, I suggest looking for a hotel near Mammoth Village, especially if it’s a first-time visit. There are plenty of budget-friendly and luxurious hotels to choose from including lodges and resorts.

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I’ve partnered with Hotels.com to share the best ways to view and explore Mammoth Lakes that allow for safe travel and proper physical distancing.

Mammoth Lake in California

Many travelers choose to include both Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes for a fun outdoorsy and adventure-focused road trip. The eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park is just a 30-minute drive from Mammoth Lakes when traveling north on Highway 395 to Highway 120 (Tioga Road).

From staples such as hiking and kayaking to fun alternatives such a horseback riding and fly fishing, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re a naturalist at heart, or just looking for an afternoon of outdoor fun to spice up your itinerary, here are the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes.

9 Best Things to do Outside in Mammoth Lakes

hike along lake in Mammoth California

1. Go Boating at Convict Lake

Ahoy! Why not celebrate your time spent at the lakes by lazing around on the water? During a visit to Convict lake, you can rent a pontoon or motorboat for as little as $40USD and go cruise around for the afternoon.

Crystal-clear waters nestled at the bottom of the mountain will set the scene for a relaxing day in nature. Here, you can embrace all the freshwater, waterfront sports, and activities you want, like waterskiing, or just soak it all in with a good book.

2. Kayak Across Lake Mary

While you can’t go swimming at Lake Mary, you’ll want to plan another way to visit. After all, paddling out to the center of the lake provides some of the best, obstructed views of Mammoth Lakes’ icons such as Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth Crest, and Crystal Crag.

Launching a kayak from the public marina is a perfect choice, and gives you ample opportunity for wildlife spotting or kayak fishing- just be sure to choose a vessel with higher stability and watch out for other tourists.

3. Visit Mammoth Lakes Earthquake Fault

True outdoorsmen and timid travelers alike would agree that the earthquake fault is a must-see when it comes to things to do in Mammoth. This 600-fracture, which you can visit for free in the Inyo National Forest is a jaw-dropping landmark all on its own with depths reaching up to 60 feet.

But as if that’s not enough, it’s also nearby to geothermal hot springs, making it an easy addition to an existing expedition. Plus, this short, family-friendly trail is well maintained to be accessible to even the most inexperienced hiker, with picnic tables and bathrooms onsite.

4. Hike to Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake in Mammoth, CA

If you’re looking for an enchanting, day-long hike to take you through the mountains, consider heading towards crystal-like via the Lake George Trailhead. You’ll trek through 13 acres of unspoiled wilderness, ranging from jagged rock face and evergreens to meadows and gentle lakes. The hike itself should take you around four hours, but you can easily take detours once you reach the Crystal Crag, or you can post-up and bask in the afternoon sun. 

5. Visit the Devils Postpile National Monument

Amongst mountains, forests, and the Rainbow Falls, consider planning a trip to this striking natural phenomenon. If you’re looking for things to do in Mammoth Lake that combine history with the outdoors, look no further. The origins of this geologic anomaly are still unconfirmed, but so far, scientists believe this jagged rock column dates back 100,000 years in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s also pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friend along on this adventure.

6. Take a Walk through the Wildflowers

While frolicking in fields full of wildflowers may not have been your first thought when planning a trip to the lakes, it’s certainly worth a spot on your itinerary. Spend an hour or two hiking the Sky Meadows Trail (which takes you through the Mammoth Crest Valleys) and discover the spectacular fields of wildflowers towards the beginning of summer. Especially if you’re looking for a little whimsy and romance, take a leisurely stroll- there’s no need to rush- and pack a picnic for two. Not only is this a great opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors for the afternoon, but it’s also a great opportunity to snap some swoon-worthy Instagram pictures amongst the meadows.

7. Go Fly Fishing at Hot Creek

If you’ve ever wanted to try fly fishing, Hot Creek, Mammoth Lakes is the place to be. Also located in the Inyo National Forest, this stream is home to over 8,000 wild trout per mile, making it a fly fishing hot spot. Not to mention, the area is also drop-dead-gorgeous, serving as a filming location for several popular western films. You can try and give it a go on your own (check out this DIY guide to fly fishing hot creek for some advice) or you can visit Hot Creek Ranch and learn from a pro.

8. Try SUP at Lakes Basin

The Lakes Basin, comprised of several waterways including Twin Lakes, Lake George, and Convict Lake, is a popular destination for stand-up paddleboarding pros, and newbies looking for a fun outdoor activity. Lessons and tour groups are plentiful around the area, so those seeking a little structure will have no trouble finding what they’re looking for, but you’re obviously more than welcome to go and explore on your own. If you don’t have a board of your own, or you’re traveling from farther afield, you can snag a rental board from Lake Mary’s Pokonobe Lodge or from any of the local sport shops.

9. Go Horseback Riding at Red’s Meadow  

We’ve already mentioned that this area of the Sierra Nevadas is a popular filming location for Westerns, and for good reason, so why not immerse yourself in the western experience? Red’s Meadow, a popular packing trip and ranch-style resort offer a variety of horseback rides through the mountains, ranging from a couple of hours in length to a couple of days. Their most popular ride is the Rainbow Falls Ride, which is a two-hour excursion across the San Joaquin River and to the mouth of Rainbow Falls.

3 Fun Facts About Mammoth Lakes

  1. The “Visit Mammoth Lakes” tourism commission has launched a responsible and sustainable travel initiative, making it super easy to make ethical travel choices on your vacation. They detail all of the most responsible things to do in Mammoth Lakes, that support the locals and protect the environment. Learn more and start planning here.
  2. Mammoth Lakes is a really popular destination for elite long-distance runners, since it’s high-altitude makes it ideal for athletic training.
  3. One of the most popular things to do in Mammoth is Skiing. It’s actually one of the most frequented skiing hills in the Sierra Nevadas, thanks to the prevalence of natural hot springs.

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