I don’t ski, so I never took much interest in Mammoth Lakes. Then a friend familiar with the area--who also doesn’t ski--told me what a great place it is in the summer.
So two years ago Jason and I visited Mammoth for the first time. While that trip was fun, unfortunately the weather was really hot and a few wildfires were raging in the area. This summer I returned with my son, Ryan, for a few days to continue exploring the area. This time the weather was perfect and there weren’t any fires. Now I’m really in love with Mammoth and know I’ll be back many times.
So for all of my non-skiing friends and readers, here are my suggestions for what to do in Mammoth Lakes in the summer.
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Take Photos At Minaret Summit Vista
A few miles past the Mammoth Mountain ski slopes, along Highway 203, is one of the best mountain views in the region, Minaret Summit Vista. The entrance to the summit is well marked and easy to find--just turn right before entering Devil's Postpile National Monument.
Standing at the summit, you’ll see the many jagged peaks of the Ritter Range, a subrange of the Eastern Sierras. The peaks include The Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak. 1,500 feet below lies Reds Meadow Valley.
This stop doesn’t take long, but it’s definitely worth it. While I’ve enjoyed many mountain views around the world, this one's my favorite. The unique shape of the mountain peaks make the scene distinctive and more interesting than most.
If you’re planning to visit Devil’s Postpile, or do the hike to Rainbow Falls, it’s very convenient to stop first at Minaret Summit Vista since it’s on the way.
Hike to Rainbow Falls
If you love hiking as much as I do, you'll appreciate that the options for Eastern Sierra hiking are endless. In the Mammoth Lakes area, Rainbow Falls is probably the most popular trail, and one you won't want to miss while visiting the area. Just be warned that this trail can get pretty busy. However, despite the crowds, it’s a moderately challenging hike that ends with views of a 101 foot waterfall, making it worth the effort.
You can access the Rainbow Falls trail near Devil’s Postpile National Monument Ranger’s Station. In past summers, car access to the monument has been limited, and most people are required to take a shuttle into the valley. However, this summer, due to the pandemic, cars are allowed to enter as long as there are spaces available. So be sure to check the National Park Service website in advance to see what is allowed. To avoid crowds, and enjoy the hike with cooler temperatures, I’d recommend getting an early start.
The Rainbow Falls trail passes the Devil’s Postpile, a large formation of basalt columns that was likely created over 100,000 years ago during a lava eruption. I recommend taking a few extra minutes to do the very short hike to the top of the rock formation to see the unique hexagonal shape of the columns.
The trail is 5 miles roundtrip, with some moderate slopes along the way. However, if like us, you live at sea level, you may find this hike a bit tough since it’s at 7,500 elevation.
Ryan and I packed ourselves a lunch and ate it near the falls. Including time to eat, we allowed about two hours for this hike and had a really enjoyable morning.
Ride The Scenic Gondola
If you want to get as high as possible while visiting the area, head to the Scenic Gondola where you’ll ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain at 11,053 feet elevation. The ride takes about fifteen minutes each way. There is an interpretive center that is well reviewed, but it was closed while we were visiting. There are also hiking trails that start here and wind down the mountain.
We were charged $34 each for the gondola ride, which I must admit was pretty pricey for the short experience. The better way to go is to purchase your tickets seven days in advance online and receive a 20% discount. Or book your accommodations with a package that includes tickets.
Kayak Or Paddleboard At June Lake
There are many beautiful spots to kayak in the Mammoth area. When Jason and I visited two years ago, we opted for Lake Mary. This time, Ryan and I chose June Lake, about thirty minutes north of Mammoth Lakes. It’s a small lake with great views of the surrounding mountains. There are very few power boats, making it a nice option for new kayakers, or those just looking to float and relax.
We rented with Mammoth Kayaks and Paddleboards. Reservations are not accepted, it’s first come first served, and the cost is $30 per hour. They are located on the sand at Oh Ridge Beach. While they do accept credit cards, the internet connection is not always working, so I recommend bringing cash.
While Ryan and I did not come prepared to hang out on the beach after kayaking, I think that would be a lovely way to spend the day. Oh Ridge Beach was very clean, not crowded, and has restroom facilities. You could bring a cooler with food and drinks, relax on the sand, swim in the lake, and rent a boat or paddle board if you’d like.
Explore The June Lake Scenic Loop
Before or after kayaking, take the time to explore the fifteen mile June Lake Scenic Loop. There are two entrances to the loop along the US-395. We opted to take the northern entrance and passed Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and finally June Lake.
If you’re in a hurry, just driving along the loop is worth it and will take about thirty minutes. But if you have more time, stop along the route to soak up all the sun and scenery. We stopped briefly at Silver Lake which is one of the oldest fishing resorts in the Easter Sierras. Here you’ll see dozens of men, women and children perched on the shore with their lines dangling in the water waiting for a catch.
There are several trails along the scenic loop if you have time for hiking. One of the most popular is Fern Lake Trail. Jason and I attempted this one two years ago, but gave up when we realized it was much more challenging than we had anticipated. For a fairly easy hike, try the four mile Parker Lake Trail near Grant Lake.
Check Out Earthquake Fault
This sight was not on my original list of things to do in Mammoth Lakes in the summer. But as I was driving to Minaret Summit Vista, I saw a sign for Earthquake Fault and decided to check it out.
The short path from the parking lot leads to a long and deep trench in the earth partially filled with giant rocks and boulders, and even a few pine trees. I had never seen anything quite like it. The trench is protected by fencing, but the path allows visitors to walk near it, and at a few points walk across it.
Unfortunately, the signage about the fault has been destroyed, so I had to go back and research it later. Geologists believe that this fault was created about 160 years ago and created during a series of quakes. At some points the fault is estimated to be sixty feet deep.
You need about thirty minutes to visit Earthquake Fault and I highly recommend it. If you’re traveling with kids or grandkids, this is a great science lesson as well.
Explore Bodie Ghost Town
About an hour and ten minutes northwest of Mammoth Lakes is Bodie State Historic Park. This once bustling gold mining town was home to over 10,000 residents. At it's peak there were three newspapers, two churches, a school, and 65 saloons. But once the gold was depleted the town soon fell into disrepair. By 1942 it was officially abandoned. Twenty years later the California State Parks took over management of the area and left it exactly as it was found, described as a state of "arrested decay."
We really enjoyed the ghost town of Bodie and highly recommend it! There are dozens of remaining buildings scattered over a few acres including homes, a hotel, saloons, a church, and the general store. Most cannot be entered, but you are able to peak through the windows to see all remnants of it's occupants.
Most of the drive along Highway 395 is quick and scenic, but the final twelve miles along Highway 270 is very windy and much slower. The last three miles is along a gravel and dirt road, so a truck or SUV is ideal for this drive.
Craft beer continues to be popular in many cities throughout the U.S., and Mammoth Lakes is no exception. Since I was traveling with my 22 year old son this time, I knew that visiting breweries would be well received, so that’s what we did.
Located in Mammoth Village, where we were staying, is Shelter Distilling. I ordered the Bluebird Blonde and Ryan sampled the Foggy Goggles Hazy IPA. We also ordered one of their short rib tacos which was excellent. While we didn’t order any cocktails, since they also distill spirits, there’s a nice list of classic cocktails like Old Fashioneds, Maple Whiskey Sour, and Barrel Aged Manhattan. Since seating is limited, I’d recommend visiting Shelter for lunch, or an afternoon drink. Or if you have a refrigerator, grab a few beers to go.
After kayaking, Ryan and I headed to June Lake Brewing. They do not serve food, but there is always a food truck available if you’re hungry. Ryan ordered the Juiced Vulture Hazy IPA and I tried both the Deer Beer Brown Ale and the Archimedes Red Ale. If you like red beers like I do, this one was delicious.
There are a few more breweries in the area, so clearly I’ll need to return and try them next time.
Mammoth Lakes In the Summer
During our most recent trip to Mammoth I found it to be very busy--much busier in fact than our visit two years ago. This may be because Californians are staying in the state for their summer vacations this year. But whatever the reason, I definitely recommend starting your days early. Trails, roads, lakes, and beaches are always less crowded early in the morning.
And if you’re looking for a great place to stay, I definitely recommend the Village Lodge. I love it’s location in the heart of Mammoth, close to many good restaurants. This was our second stay there, and I’ll be back.
Mammoth is a destination any time of year. Outdoor lovers have a wide range of activities to choose and the gorgeous mountain scenery makes every experience that much better.