Spending the Day in Mammoth Lakes
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Last June Nick and I took a very long vacation, or should I say family trip? We toted the twins away from home for 10 days!! It was part road trip and part flights. We drove from Los Angeles to Fairfield, then spent the next day in Napa. That afternoon we drove from Napa to South Lake Tahoe and spent the next several days there. After checking out of our rental mid-week, we drove from South Lake Tahoe to Reno and caught a flight from Reno-Tahoe International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Are you tired yet?! After spending several days in Seattle, we flew back to Reno then drove to Mammoth Lakes to spend the night. The next day we spent exploring Mammoth and then slow rolled all the way back home to Los Angeles, just in time to celebrate a friend’s birthday. You could say that I’m writing about it almost a month later because I’m just now recovering, but July is National Parks and Recreation Month so I think the timing works out wonderfully.
Keep reading for what we did, where we stayed in Mammoth and the beauty of the Inyo National Forest. Spoiler - we already want to go back!
To be completely honest I was happy about staying in Mammoth, but I didn’t want to explore the area. I was pretty unhappy that we had to drive through it. I just wanted to say I had been there, check it off my California bucket list and that was that. My preferred route home was to go through the east side of Yosemite since it is the one less traveled and is only open for part of the year. We visited Yosemite 4 months prior and were in awe, so I wanted to see again. You can read more about our family trip to Yosemite here. We ended up having to detour from the Yosemite plan because we completely spaced and didn’t request a permit. We could have still entered between 5:00 pm and 5:59 am without a permit; however, it would not have been a smart decision. We landed in Reno at 8:00 pm and had initially planned to book it to Mammoth (about a 3 hour drive) but our car had other plans. It was parked at the airport, on the roof, and overheated in the Nevada sun during the 5 days we were gone. We had to get its battery checked out and charge it, so that tacked on a couple hours we hadn’t planned on spending. It would not have been smart for us to try to trek home in one day with little to no sleep so we pivoted and I’m SO glad we did. Mammoth is a beautiful area and I’m dying to go back to spend more time enjoying it.
WHEN TO VISIT MAMMOTH
Before I dive into our specifics, I just wanted to mention that we visited Mammoth in the summer. It is typically thought of as a ski town, but do not sleep on it on the summer. It is beautiful! I want to go back in the winter (with chains and 4WD for sure), but I also want to go back in the summer to truly enjoy its beauty.
If you’re looking for somewhere to ski in California and don’t mind driving a little further than Big Bear, I would go here. It gets so much more snow! I’ve never been to Big Bear but I have been to Lake Arrowhead. I went during ski season and early fall.
The answer to “when to visit mammoth” is really anytime, as I’m sure it is gorgeous year-round. Just be aware of the season and be prepared for inclement weather and how to travel in that.
WHERE TO STAY IN MAMMOTH
There are tons of cute houses and rental options in the area. We stayed at Juniper Springs Resort and it was perfect. We had a closed off room and a living space with a patio and a full kitchen with a fridge, stove top, microwave, and oven. We set up the twins’ travel cribs in the living room. The units are all individually owned, so they might vary slightly. If you’re in for winter, they do ski in and ski out December - April. The resort is family friendly and has pools, hot tubs, fire pits, laundry rooms, fitness + game rooms, and bocce ball in season.
I did want to note that there was no air conditioning and we were visiting the end of June. We slept with our bedroom window open, as well as the patio cracked, which is what the norm is there. This didn’t bother us. We ourselves don’t have central AC and you’ll find a lot of places in California don’t either.
We enjoyed our stay there and would go back!
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN MAMMOTH
We were weren’t in Mammoth for a lot of meal times, but we were there long enough to test some out. We loved our breakfast sandwiches and pastries from Schat’s Bakery. After hanging out there, we walked across the street to Stellar Brew for coffee and tea. Their food looked pretty good too. And that’s all we had time for because we had to hit the road. If we stayed longer we would have probably hit the grocery story for some goods and prepared quite a bit of food in our room. If you have a favorite restaurant though let me know! I am making a list for when we visit again.
WHAT TO DO IN MAMMOTH
The options are endless whether you go in winter or summer. Obviously there’s Mammoth Mountain for skiing, but during the summer, it turns into a beautiful biking trail. We quickly drove around and checked off some things, but I was left wanting more. Here’s what we saw and what I would like to do next time:
WE EXPLORED THESE AREAS:
Mammoth Mountain - We literally just drove around it and at some point turned around. Everything is beautiful, plus you see all the bikers and hikers enjoying it in the summer.
Earthquake Fault Line - This is so cool! You can see down the layers of the earth from a previous earthquake that was at least 160 years ago if not older. “The fault lines up with the Inyo-Mono Craters and is believed to be part of the east-west stretching that is gradually widening the entire Basin and Range region”, as per the USDA Forest Service.
Lake Mary - The first lake we saw and it took my breath away. I was so surprised. When I saw this lake I was no longer sad about us missing out on the east entrance of Yosemite.
Lake George - Next to Mary and equally as gorgeous.
Lake Mamie - This backs up to the twin lakes and is beautiful.
Twin Lakes - This was my favorite because of the name, but also because of its beauty. It has an upper and a lower basin and you should see both. I just wish I could have caught a closer glimpse of the waterfall from the ground level. There are really cute cabins and camp grounds if you want to stay there. I shared pictures of us around the area here.
Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains - You experience this on the drive and it is just so pretty. You get the the Joshua Trees, the John Muir Wilderness, and more. It is a lot of nothing and a lot of something at the same time.
Owens Lake - This is sad, but I found it really interesting, so I wanted to mention it. It was a huge lake (10 miles wide and almost 20 miles long) that flowed from the Owens River. In the 20’s LA officials diverted the river to the Los Angeles Aqueduct and before the 30’s even hit, the lake was pretty much dry and to this day remains dry. Not a shining moment for how we have treated the earth. If you are driving on the 395 you literally cannot miss it.
WE DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR THESE BUT THEY ARE ON MY LIST:
Devils Postpile National Monument - This is near the earthquake fault line I mentioned above. We saw the sign for it, but you have to hike in for it and we didn’t have the time to spare. If you can make time for it, you can witness up to 60 feet of columnar basalt
Rainbow Falls - I mention this next to Devils Postpile because it is actually an easy hike down from Devils Postpile. I’ve heard getting back up is the hard part; however, when you’re basically already there you can’t miss out on this beauty! It features 101 feet of natural waterfall and rainbows.
Outdoor Activities - We were in such a time crunch we really didn’t get to play in the beauty of Mammoth. Nick and I took turns getting out and touching water, checking things out up close while the babies were sleeping, but we would love to swim, kayak, and truly experience all that Mammoth has to offer.
Alabama Hills - These are stunning, rounded rock formations. It is actually a Bureau of Land Management, so you are able to camp pretty much anywhere for free - both in a tent and in your car. Mobius Arch is one of the most popular ones, but there are others like Heart Arch, Boot Arch and Eye of the Alabama Hills. Check out Movie Road too, where a slew of movies have been filmed like Gladiator, Django Unchained, and Iron Man.
Mono Lake - This body of water is extremely salty which is interesting in itself, but it also has these crazy limestone towers that give of an eerie, yet beautiful vibe.
Manzanar War Relocation Center - This isn’t a “hey let’s go here and take photos” type of place, but it is our country’s history. It is very much in the middle of nowhere and sticks out like a sore thumb. We drove past it and was like wait a minute what is that? This was one of ten camps where the U.S. government contained Japanese Immigrants during WWII. They say they preserve the past for the sake of the future. It is considered part of the National Park Service (NPS), but is free to enter.
OUR MAMMOTH LIST
This is short, bulleted list that recaps the above and is easier to read than the paragraphs. Enjoy!
Stay at Juniper Springs Resort
Eat (breakfast) Sandwiches at Schat’s
Drink coffee (and tea) from Stellar Brew
Look at the Earthquake Fault Line
Drive around Mammoth Mountain
Take in Lake Mary, Lake George, Lake Mamie and the Twin Lakes
Please, please let me know if there’s anything I must do / see / eat on our next trip! I am dying to go back. Note that we made a big loop in our trip since we drove to Napa and Tahoe then Reno; however, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. It is only about a 5 hour drive from (west) LA to Mammoth Lakes and it is well worth it. To prep for our next trip, I’m currently reading For the Love of It, which is a non-fiction book about Roma and Dave McCoy who were visionary founders of world-renowned Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Who knows, maybe it will make me want to become a better skiier ;)
Have such a good trip! You will love it.
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