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How To Have A Not-So-Smallish Adventure In California’s Mammoth Lakes 

Why go small when you can go large on thrills?

If there is one word to sum up the type of time you would have in Mammoth Lakes, it is awesome. Awesome in size, thrills and overall natural spectacle. Mammoth Lakes is California’s ultimate year-round playground with the unlikely combination of skiing or snowboarding in summer being a thing. Yes, this is what the locals call Swinter (summer and winter). It may be hard to fathom skiing in summer or crafting snowmen in summertime getup, but that is what makes Mammoth Lakes that every bit adventuresome. 

It is every bit possible to start the day in your swimming cosie and end the day with snow boots. Splash away along the Pacific Coast then drive five hours from San Francisco or Los Angeles (or fly for one-hour) to end the day surfing down California’s Eastern Sierra with your snowboard or skis! Adventure overload indeed!

So pack the swimmers, leave the beanie at home as we show how you can have an epic summertime adventure in Mammoth Lakes. 

Summer Adventures

Skiing

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Have the best of both worlds – sun and ski! Image source: Visit Mammoth

Ski, snow and summer fun! 

Mother Nature has blessed the mountains at Mammoth with snow almost being present on the mountain all year-round. Although the mountains won’t be blanketed in snow in summer, it is possible to ski or board down what snow is remaining on its limited runs on Mammoth Mountain. It’s a crazy concept to see the snow in summer and that is what makes Mammoth Lakes so spectacular, to be able to participate in winter sports under the hot belting sun. If you are that way inclined, you can even work a summer tan while doing so! See a list of rental places here.

Mountain Biking

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Navigating the mountains via bike. Just go easy on the brake! Image source: Julia D’Orazio

Take your cycling skills to the extreme and get your adrenaline pumping with mountain biking. 

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The thought of cycling over rough terrain can be fearsome for some but once you get past the first bumps and rocks, the trail down Mammoth Mountain, well, rocks! It is recommended to take a beginner’s crash course in mountain biking as it is not for the faint-hearted. Mammoth Bike Park provides both bike hire and crash courses in learning your ways with the bike.

A great sweetener in your new favourite extreme sport is taking your bike up the gondola and soaking up Mammoth’s epic landscapes from above. Once you are back down to Earth, you can test your newfound mountain bike skills by meandering down the marked path through towering pine forests.

Another trail highlight is zig-zagging your way through Mammoth’s forest and heading towards the township. Mammoth Lakes has an extensive network of trails, so no trail run is ever the same.

Word of warning: Mountain biking can be easy to get a hang off but do exercise with caution if it is your first time. I say this as I got a tad too zealous going down on my last run and fell off my bike!

E-bikes 

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Lakes aplenty! Image source: Visit Mammoth

Putting power to the pedal is no longer necessary. 

Maybe the thought of conquering Mammoth by bike is too great to consider, but with the help of an E-bike, you can ride anywhere with ease and good timing. 

Let your feet go fancy-free by hiring a bike at Footloose Sports. Get your adventurous mindset into gear and head to Mammoth Lakes Basin and see its twin lakes. Then head to Lake Mary, a magical spot where you can partake in water-based activities and join the many others opting to live their best adventurous life in tranquil surrounds. Cap off the day with a cycle to Lake Mamie and subdued Horseshoe Lake to appreciate Mammoth and its many lakes. 

After this epic biking adventure, you would never look at regular bikes again! 

Hiking 

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The mountains are calling. Image source: Visit Mammoth

Monotony is not in Mammoth’s nature. There are plenty of streams, mixed scenery (some apocalyptic!) and unique wonders along its hiking trails to check out. 

See the best of the area’s natural attractions on an easy 2.5-hour hike to Rainbow Falls via Devils Postpile Trail. This easy 7.7 km hike suits all skill levels and is best visited from May until October. 

Natural attractions not to miss

Devils Postpile National Monument

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The devil at work. Image source: Visit Mammoth

Once the ice has melted, the devil comes out. The devil, of course, being in the form of the national monument Devil Postpile

This famous natural formation is a one-of-kind fiery spectacle. This monument features thousands of basalt columns that were created as a result of lava flow cooling and cracking over 100,000 years in the making.

Rainbow Falls

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Chasing waterfalls and rainbows. Image source: Visit Mammoth

Nature’s Mardi Gras comes in the form of Rainbow Falls. This 30-metre waterfall injects more colour into the already incredible scenery with a rainbow appearing in its mist. Best to catch the nature show at midday when the sun is at its peak. 

Other natural attractions in and around Mammoth Lakes not to miss

Earthquake Fault

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Now that’s a crack! Image source: Visit Mammoth

See how the Earth cracks under pressure in California. 

Despite the name, the crack in the Earth isn’t the fault of one earthquake alone. Geologists widely believe that the cracks are a result of a system of fissures occurring from strong quakes from centuries ago. 

Mono Lake Tufa State Nature Reserve 

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Mono Lake is one of a kind. Image source: Visit Mammoth

Take a 30-minute drive north of Mammoth Lakes to see the eerie desert oasis that is Mono Lake.

Oddly formed limestone ‘tufa’ towers fringe the edges of this one-million-year old lake that was formerly an ancient sea. The area attracts a large sea bird population, bringing life to an area that otherwise appears desolate. 

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Mono Lake is home to epic sunsets. Image source: Julia D’Orazio

It is recommended to check out other-worldly setting at sunset when the sky turns converts into a pastel coloured canvas, and the formations look beyond striking. 

Eat & Drink

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Cheers to mountain beer! Image source: Visit Mammoth

Have a taste of the mountain by sipping on a local brew at Mammoth Brewing Company

This corner favourite has a large front-yard beer garden that makes it a sweet spot to unwind after a days’ worth of adventure. With locally brewed craft beers on tap and an extensive yet lip-smacking menu on offer (hello naan tacos!), this is a sure-bet to recharge your energy after an action-packed day.

If you do have an ounce of energy left (and a spare hand minus a beer in tow), get involved and make new friends by playing a round of Cornhole. This old-timer’s hacky-sack game requires aiming for a hole in one with throwing a hacky into a raised platform.

For a more upmarket affair, cross the road and head Petro’s Bistro & Wine Bar. This restaurant showcases the best of contemporary American cuisine with its duck arancini balls and zucchini-noodle shrimp primavera a highlight. Its serves are also generous too, making you get more bang for your buck without substituting quality. It is worth making an early evening reservation as the restaurants’ happy hours offer some great specials on its appetizers, shares, entrees and drinks.

If feeling the need to step onto another continent, The Yoddler Restaurant & Bar will give you that European Alpine dining experience. This casual restaurant is located in the centre of all-mountain activity and is the perfect pitstop to refuel the energy levels or an early evening respite from all the outdoor play of the day. We recommend sharing their German-inspired giant pretzels (unless you are the ultimate carb lover!).

Stay

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Welcome to the village. Image source: Julia D’Orazio

Location, location, location!

Stay right in the heart of Mammoth Lakes at premier lodging, The Village Lodge. As its name suggests, it located within all the action with restaurants and bars a short stroll away.  

A stay here appeals to those who don’t want to be frivolous with their precious energy -please, save it for the mountains instead!

Conveniently, the lodge has direct gondola access to the slopes (in winter) and has the township’s shuttle service to Mammoth Mountain stopping on its doorstep.

The 205-room upscale lodge itself is comfortable, and like the feeling of being amongst the mountains themselves, the condos are vast with space (so don’t expect to have the feeling of being in someone’s space all the time). There are six accommodation types from a studio apartment to a three-bedroom deluxe condo, perfect for small groups and families. Staying here is like being in a home away from home in a wooden and stone décor to give the space more of a cosy feeling. The spacious kitchen is well-equipped with ample bench space. Meanwhile, you can be forgiven in getting too comfortable in the dining and lounge areas – especially perching yourself in front of its fireplace. 

As Mammoth Lakes is all about adventure, it is essential to get a decent night’s sleep. Thankfully, The Village Lodge recognises the need for energy conservation with its comfortable beds, making it hard to hop out of them to seize the day on the mountains and around the lakes.

In the centre of the accommodation, there is an outdoor pool for your summer enjoyment. It is surrounded by permanent bonfires making it the ideal place to unwind and enjoy a night under the stars.

Summer Events to look out for

Mammoth Food & Wine Experience

Short on time in California? If you align the stars right, let the best of California’s food and wine scene come to you.

Every July, the Mammoth Food & Wine Experience occurs in the town centre with the Eastern Sierra serving as a stunning backdrop for those seeking to enhance their appetite for exquisite tastes.

The festival’s Wine Walk evening event is a great way to introduce yourself to California’s vast wine and craft beer scene with unlimited tastings around the village to be had.

The details

Getting around

Park the car and hop on the free mountain shuttle service offered by the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ESTA). The bus service helps you to get around Mammoth Lakes’ popular sights and lodges, even if you have a bike in tow!

The scenic bus ride also goes past Minaret Peaks, part of the Ritter Range. The area’s most dramatic skyline includes sharp, jagged peaks jutting out of the ranges, making it an unworldly sight. 

See more: International travel reads

Image source: Visit Mammoth

Julia was a guest of Visit Mammoth, and all thoughts and opinions are of her own. 

Article first published on So Where Next – How To Have A Not-So-Smallish Adventure In California’s Mammoth Lakes 

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