The Sierra Nevada mountains are epic pillars towering over highway 395 leading into Mammoth as you enter the city. The views of the mountains driving through the corridor
Mammoth is beautiful year round, but it depends on what you want to do. If you want tips on hiking and camping in Mammoth during the Summer, click here. For more information about visiting Mammoth in Winter click here.
How to get there
Mammoth is a 5 hour drive north outside of Los Angeles and Orange County area. The 395 is the route I take all the way up in the mountain corridor which is fine and open most of the year. If you try to visit in winter you must check because parts of the road do close off because of the snow or chains are needed.
I have a full list for camping and backpacking gear needed and recommendations in my blog post here. As well as my top list of hiking and backpacking clothes here. Mammoth, even in the summer, is chilly and you need several layers, coats, and beanies.
This is absolutely my favorite lake and easy hike in the
Trail stats: Convict Lake Loop
This trail is through open sagebrush country, and aspen and pine groves surrounding the lake. The granite peaks Mt. Morrison and Laurel Mountain are in the background. This is a great hike for all levels of hiker. You can find a map and more about the trial here. Also, this is a great short trail run in the mountains. The trail is pretty flat and even, except for one hill and one bridge crossing. This is my favorite spot in the Fall especially and Winter in Mammoth. The views of the peaks in winter time covered in snow is amazing as well as all the aspen trees with golden leaves in the fall along the turquoise colored water.
Time: 30 minutes
When: Year round! I have hiked this in Summer, Winter
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This trailhead is at the farther side of the lake away from the more busy boat dock
Mildred Lake/Dorothy Lake Trailhead
If you want to add 9 miles onto the Convict Lake Loop then once you reach the far end of the lake below the peaks, there will be a trail offshoot called Mildred Lake that you can follow. This is a forest hike rated as difficult compared to the easy Convict Lake Loop. This is an out and back trail starting from the far end of the lake. It has a pretty good elevation gain. There is a bridge out 5.8 miles in, which you need to cross over to get to Mildred Lake.
Elevation Gain: 2307 ft
Convict Lake Camping
There is a great spot off of the Convict Lake part of the Inyo National Forest. This site is in the midst of the Sierra Nevada mountain. It’s convenient because it’s between Bishop and Mammoth. It is not in Mammoth proper which helps avoid the crowds. This is a lesser known and visited lake. I happened upon it when I was staying in a cabin outside of Mammoth on the border of Bishop. I saw the sign and headed in to see this lake in the mountains. I was not disappointed. This is first come first serve tent only, non-electric. You can click here to learn more about the campground and reserve. This is a very budget campground that is gorgeous.
Elevation: 7500 feet
Amenities: Flush toilets, drinking water, hot showers, a dump station, food storage lockers for safety from bears. Also Firewood available for sale at the location. There is a store, boat rentals and a restaurant available here.
Activities: Swimming, boating on the lake, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, camping, climbing, biking
Devil’s Postpile Monument
This is an easy short hike with a national monument geological formation in the middle of the hike. There are huge basalt columns in thin tall strands that look like giant french fries. This same trail is the hike to Rainbow Falls, the gorgeous cascading falls in Mammoth. This route is through Red’s meadow that is a part of the PCT John Muir Trail. It’s a fun and easy hiking trail for all different levels. The signage is good, making it easy to stay on track. The Devil’s Postpile monument is not even a mile into the trail. Then you can continue on for 2.5 miles to see the falls. The whole way there and back is about 5 miles, including the Devil’s Postpile pit stop on the trail to the falls.
Miles: 4.5 miles
Time: 2-3 hours
This is the combination hike with Devil’s Postpile from the same trailhead. In the summer the parking area by Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls trial-head is closed and you need to take the shuttle. The shuttle is cheap and helps with all the traffic of people and parking issues. The lack of crowds is one of the reasons I love doing these hikes in the fall. The trailhead is open and available with very few people to share the trail with. 3.4 miles into the trail is when you can first see the falls. There are two viewpoints from the top and one you can walk down to at the base of the falls. All of the viewpoints are different and make sure to take time to see them all. There are often rainbows in the lighting over these majestic falls.
The map below shows the parking and trailhead for Devil’s Postpile as well as Rainbow falls.
Reds Meadow Campground @ Devil’s Postpile Monument
This is a major stop on the PCT trail, and you will see and meet plenty of people on their hiking journey if you stay here. It’s a great campground in Mammoth next to lots of water on the hikes right next door. This area has a small store and cafe restaurant that are nice resources to have nearby as well for camping. There are 52 campsites for tents, trailers, and RVs. There is a 14-night limit. There is a 10 entrance fee for parking instead of taking the shuttle (only operates in summer). There is a 6 person max for each spot. It’s a first come first serve reservations. You can read more about the campground here.
Minaret Falls Campground
This campground is still in this area of Mammoth but a bit further out and more private from the Devil’s Postpile area. There are 27 campsites in the gorgeous Inyo National Forest alongside a creek. This campground is first come first serve. Read here for more information about the campground.
When: Summer and Fall, closed in winter
Amenities: A shuttle fee applies for travel into Reds Meadow Valley. There are lots of bears, and bear boxes are provided and must be used (typical bear box size 48″x 30″x 36″). There is potable water and a vault toilet.
Soda Springs Campground
This campground is the furthest out from the main hiking, camping, and parking areas. It’s is a peaceful spot in the Inyo National Forest. This is the campground closest to Agnew Meadow trailheads, and the wildflower section of Mammoth in the spring. This is also the entrance to the Ansel Adams wilderness as well. The campground is a mid-sized campground with 29 sites, 20 minutes outside of Mammoth Lakes. This campground is along the San Joaquin River. There are plenty of things to do nearby including hiking, and fishing. For more information or booking click here.
When: Closed in winter and only open in Summer
One of the wildest things about Mammoth is the free hot springs in the wilderness that you can soak in after a day of hiking or snow sports in the winter. Mammoth sits on an ancient volcanic caldera creating a network of hot springs in many places. There is an amazing large network of hot springs once you drive out on the back dirt roads. I write a full post about the hot springs and how to get there in my blog post here.
Dispersed camping is also a great option in Mammoth. Dispersed camping is when you stay on free BLM, Burea of Land
Also, you need to be careful with wildlife and safety in dispersed camping. This trip while I was dispersed camping I had a crazy expensive encounter with wildlife. Overnight some marmots came and crawled up into my engine in my car and chewed through the power steering wires. The mechanic in town said this is such a rare one in a thousand chance, but it happened. The car was completely dead in the middle of nowhere in Mammoth. I barely had phone service and tried for 2 hours before I could get a call out to the local towing shop. They charged me around 2,000 to tow my car to Bakersfield which was the town with the nearest parts and Subaru dealership. I couldn’t get back to work or grad school on time, and it was very stressful and inconvenient.
What You Can Learn from Interruptions
Sometimes life interrupts your plans and routine when a rodent chews your Subi up. Then, you have to get towed by Richard from the middle of nowhere Mammoth and spend 2 days in Bakersfield, CA with strangers who host you from couch surfing & friend’s Grandparents. You have to cancel teaching, meetings, class, work, and commitments, and you are forced to pause in the rat race of life. I saw people’s hearts and heard their stories while they helped me. Adventure is the unpredictable course of time with people that can be hard, challenging, and frustrating, not just the beautiful and fun planned moments. Adventure is wild because it changes and grows us in beautiful, fun, hard, and challenging ways that we would not have chosen.
Discomfort is the greatest gift in a world and culture of nonstop comfort. I welcome the pause and struggle of discomfort and interruption for they keep me open, listening, teachable, sensitive, and dependent on Love himself. Thankful for the gift of discomfort and interruption. How wild are they haha?! Moral of the story if you do dispersed camping, the safest way to protect your car is to bring a tarp and bungee cord it up onto your side mirrors covering the bottom front engine part of your car so rodents cannot get into your engine. Also, if you leave your hood up, then it lets all the heat escape which is why they normally crawl up in the first place.