The Best Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California

The 15 Best Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California

No matter when you visit Mammoth Lakes, you’ll find plenty to do. And the best part is, you’ll have a magnificent backdrop to do it all in!

Going for a winter getaway? Hit the slopes of Mammoth Mountain. This massive mountain stands a proud 11,053 feet. Soar down the powdery snow, or just enjoy taking a lift to the top to take in the view.

For a summer trip to Mammoth, you’ll likely spend many a day down by the lakes of the Mammoth Lakes Basin. These five glacier-carved alpine lakes are surrounded by snowcapped mountains and lush pine forests. Relax on the sandy shores, kayak around the turquoise waters, or just take a refreshing dip.

Planning a vacation to this unreal destination? There’s so much to do in Mammoth Lakes that you might not know where to start. So, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Mammoth to help you plan your perfect getaway. Stick to this list, and you’re bound to have an incredible time in this majestic corner of the world!

The 15 Best Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, CA

1. Enjoy the Beauty of Rainbow Falls

Best Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Rainbow Falls

Seeing Rainbow Falls is one of those must-do things to do in Mammoth Lakes for any nature lover. This 101-foot waterfall is aptly named, thanks to its mist, which often takes on the appearance of a colorful rainbow. 

Although the falls flow all year round, the best time to see them is in June or July, when you’ll not only have the best chance to see wildflowers blooming all around but the falls’ flow is the strongest. If you visit later in the summer or into the fall, the waterfall will still be there, but it’ll have dwindled some. 

Cool Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Rainbow Falls

You also want to aim to visit on a sunny day. Without the sun, the rainbow effect will be minimal. Attempt to time your hike to see the falls around midday, with the sun high overhead.


2. Visit the Devils Postpile

Fun Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Devils Postpile National Monument

Rainbow Falls is actually a part of the Devils Postpile National Monument, and one of the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes is to take a hike to see both the falls and the Devils Postpile. The Devils Postpile itself is a true oddity and easily one of the most unique Mammoth attractions. It’s a very rare columnar basalt formation, with the columns reaching up to 60 feet and creating a striking sight amidst the pristine wilderness.

The Devils Postpile National Monument is generally open from June to October, though the status of its opening depends greatly on the weather and conditions. Check the National Parks Service website to be sure it’s open when you plan your Mammoth Lakes vacation.

Unique Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Devils Postpile National Monument

If it is open, you’ll need to take the Reds Meadow Valley shuttle bus. Launching from Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center, you’ll take a scenic 10-minute bus ride to the monument. From Stop No. 6, you can hike to see both the Devils Postpile formation and Rainbow Falls. If the formation is not open, you can still hike to the falls from Stop No. 9. 


3. Explore the Village

There’s much natural beauty to love around Mammoth Lakes, but what if you want to experience some nightlife and other entertainment? Then, whether you’re visiting in the winter or summer, you’ll want to head to the Village, where you’ll find many of the best Mammoth Lakes attractions. 

Heading to Mammoth Lakes on a summer vacation? There’s something happening all the time in the Village to keep you busy. In July, you’ll find events like the Mammoth Reggae Festival and Mammoth VillageFest, while August brings about the Mammoth Margarita Fest, Family Fun Day, Mammoth Wine Weekend, and Mammoth Rocks. You can also catch outdoor movies in the Village Plaza all summer long.

Meanwhile, winter has the family-friendly Woolley’s Dance Party every Saturday night, SantaVille, and the Mammoth Film Festival. Also in the winter, you can take the free gondola from the Village to start your skiing adventure. But all year round, you’ll find some of the best shopping and dining in Mammoth in this charming part of town.


4. Kayak around the Lakes

Mammoth Lakes, California Bucket List: Kayak

There are five lakes inside Mammoth Lakes itself, but there are actually more than a hundred throughout the area. One of the must-do things in Mammoth Lakes is to explore the area’s namesake bodies of water, but you can and should also venture outside of the town to visit the other nearby lakes. 

One of the best ways to explore the area is by boat. Over at the Tamarack Lodge, you can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and cruiser bikes to allow you to get around the Lakes Basin from Tamarack Bike & Paddle. You’ll start your adventure at the base of Twin Lakes, but you can head up Lake Mary Road to also visit Lake Mary, Lake George, Lake Mamie, and Horseshoe Lake.

Or give Caldera Kayak a try and take a guided tour around the unique Mono Lake, one of the best attractions near Mammoth Lakes. This ancient saline lake dates back over one million years. Teeming with life, this strange lake is best known for its famous tufa towers.

Another nearby lake you’ll want to visit is June Lake. While the sandy beach is a perfect spot to spend a day, you can also rent a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard to go out further into the water and explore the beautiful blue waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains with the help of companies like June Lake Marina.


5. Take a Ride aboard the Free Trolley

Looking for a free way to do some Mammoth Lakes sightseeing? Hop aboard the Lakes Basin Trolley, a free summer trolley that will take you all around Mammoth Lakes. 

Running between the Village and Horseshoe Lake, this trolley provides you with a scenic tour of the basin, stopping by Lake George, Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, the Tamarack Lodge, and much more. 

Daily service runs from 9 am to 6 pm, but for even more fun, climb aboard between 12 pm and 6 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. During this time, the historical society provides one costumed entertainer to regale the riders with stories and music to enhance the experience. 

The trolley is also just generally a great way to get around during your Mammoth Lakes vacation. Whenever you’re ready for an adventure over to one of the lakes, the trolley can help make sure you get there without having to rely on taxis, Ubers, or other forms of transportation you’ll need to pay for. There’s even a bike trailer on the trolley, so you can transport your bike up to the Lakes Basin Bike Trail with ease.


6. Step Back in Time at the Bodie State Historic Park

Must do things in Mammoth Lakes, California: Bodie State Historic Park

Just nearby Mammoth Lakes is a town that’s a reminder of California’s past. The Bodie State Historic Park, better known as the Bodie Ghost Town, offers one of the most unique things to do in Mammoth Lakes. 

In 1859, William S. Bodey discovered gold nearby what we now call Bodie Bluff. A mill was created in 1861, and the town began to form around it soon after. By 1880, it was a bustling community of around 10,000 people. 

In 1962, it became a State Historic Park, with the California State Parks opting not to restore the buildings but instead to preserve them as they were. Today, you can visit almost 200 of Bodie’s structures – from churches to schoolhouses to saloons – to see them in their abandoned state. Look through the windows, and you’ll see remnants of the past preserved. 

Listen to free History Talks, take tours of the Stamp Mill, or even sign up for a Photography Workshop. Private tours of the town, Stamp Mill, cemetery, and mining district are also available. And for three special nights in the summer, you can go on a Bodie Ghost Walk, but be sure to grab your tickets as soon as they’re available – they tend to sell out quickly.


7. Explore the Mammoth Museum

In the 1920s, Emmett Hayden, a famous map maker of the Eastern Sierras, constructed what would be known as the Hayden Cabin, sitting on the banks of Mammoth Creek. It became a hunting and fishing lodge, with Hayden playing guide for the visitors. Three of the four bedrooms were available for rent, while others camped on the grounds. 

Today, it’s a free glimpse into the history of Mammoth Lakes as the Hayden Cabin has become the Mammoth Museum. Look back on the lives of those who once called Mammoth Lakes home and see how the community came to be. 

You’ll learn about the people and industries who played formative roles in Mammoth Lakes. From mining instruments to artwork to photographs, there’s much to explore in the museum’s exhibits.


8. Go on a Fishing Trip

Best Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Fishing Trip

Mammoth Lakes is home to some of the best fishing in California, so if you love the idea of spending a peaceful day on the water, taking a fishing trip is easily one of the most fun things to do in Mammoth Lakes. Once you get your fishing license, you’re good to go!

If you’re new to fishing, consider booking a charter with someone who can show you the ropes. FishMammoth offers a number of different options for your fishing excursion. They provide you with everything you need for your adventure on the water, including rods and reels, as well as snacks and beverages. If you’re choosing a trip that involves getting into the water, you’ll also be provided waders and boots.

Cool Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Fishing Trip

For new anglers, you can do a five-hour beginner class, where you’ll spend an hour learning the fundamentals of fishing. The rest of the time is spent on the river, where you’ll also learn things like knot tying and choosing the right fly. You can also choose to take more advanced half-day and full-day trips, with the option to fish multiple lakes during a full-day excursion.


9. Visit Picture-Perfect Convict Lake

Fun Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Convict Lake

Just near Mammoth Lakes is a breathtaking location that’s home to a strange history. Surrounded by serene mountains, Convict Lake is one of the best Mammoth attractions. With its turquoise water, it’s as pretty as a picture, which is why it’s a prime sightseeing spot! Here you can go fishing, swimming, and boating around to explore the pristine wilderness. 

Known to the people of the Paiute tribe as Wit-sa-nap, Convict Lake received its current name after a group of criminals escaped from Carson City, Nevada, and were discovered by the lake in 1871. The convicts escaped a shootout that killed two members of a local posse, but they were eventually caught. In honor of the historic moment, the lake was renamed. 

Unique Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Convict Lake

Convict Lake is also home to one of the best and most popular hikes in and around Mammoth Lakes. Starting by the boat dock, the route takes you all around the entire lake. It’s a relatively easy hike and one of the best ways to see Convict Lake.


10. Go Horseback Riding

Mammoth Lakes, California Bucket List: Horseback Riding

Looking for a unique way to see the beauty of Mammoth Lakes? Then going horseback riding is one of the most fun things to do in Mammoth if you’re visiting in the summer. Typically open from June through September, Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit offers guided horse and mule rides in the Mammoth Lakes Basin and into the Eastern Sierra backcountry, allowing you to take in incredible views from horseback.

Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit has trail rides that last from just one hour to all the way up to a full day. What you see varies by which trail ride you book, but some highlights include views of lakes both in and around Mammoth Lakes, spectacular vistas from Red Mountain, and a trip through the historic Mammoth Consolidated Mine area.

Trail rides are for ages seven and up, but that doesn’t mean little ones can’t get in on the fun. The company also offers Walk & Lead Rides for ages three to six. During a 20-minute trek, a parent can lead the company’s experienced horses or mules to a scenic overlook of Twin Lakes. 


11. Take a Scenic Gondola Ride

Must do things in Mammoth Lakes, California: Gondola Ride

During the winter, you can take the free gondola from the Village up Mammoth Mountain. But the best views can be seen from the Panorama Gondola, which offers one of the best ways to do some serious Mammoth Lakes sightseeing. Departing from the Adventure Center, the gondola operates during both winter and summer, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the area during both unique seasons.

You’ll take in 360-degree views of the Sierra Nevada mountains as you ascend to 11,053 feet. The journey takes about seven minutes from the base area to the top of the mountain. At the top, you can snap a selfie with the famous summit totem sign and grab a bite to eat at Eleven53 Cafe, taking in the amazing vistas as you dine. 


12. Explore the Hiking Trails

Mammoth Lakes, California Things to do: Hiking Trails

If you’re looking to get out into nature, hiking is one of the best Mammoth activities for you, particularly if you’re visiting in the summer. However, many trails are also accessible by snowmobile or snowshoe for adventurers visiting in the winter. 

There are so many trails to take around Mammoth Lakes that you certainly won’t be able to do them all on one trip, but that just means you have something to look forward to on your next visit! 

One view you don’t want to miss is the Minaret Vista. As the highest lookout point, Minaret Vista offers a view of the Minarets and Mammoth Mountain. Although you can drive to it in the summer months, it’s much more fun to take in the view on the way up as well. You’ll start behind the Mammoth Mountain Inn and begin a 1.5-mile climb through the beautiful forest to reach the iconic viewpoint.

Other hiking trails you’ll want to take include the Crystal Lake Trail, which takes you from Lake George to Crystal Lake, with amazing views of the Lakes Basin in between. This moderate trail is best for those with some hiking experience due to the elevation changes, but it’s worth the workout.

For a quicker hike that’s good for beginners, check out the McLeod Lake Trail, which starts at Horseshoe Lake. From there, it’s just a half-mile to McLeod Lake, where you’ll see sandy shores and clear blue waters.


13. Ski Down the Powder-Fresh Slopes

Best Things to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Ski

Whether you’re visiting in the summer or winter, there are plenty of fun things to do in Mammoth Lakes. But it goes without saying that one of the best things to do in the winter is to hit the slopes. Mammoth Mountain is one of the best skiing and snowboarding destinations in California. As you can ski anytime between mid-November and June, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area has one of the longest ski seasons of anywhere in North America.

With over 3,500 acres of prime skiing terrain, there’s something for everyone here. Beginners can head to one of the base lodge’s ski schools, while more seasoned visitors can try their hand at the intermediate and expert runs. 

If you’re visiting in winter and want to play in the snow but not ski, you also have several options. Take a snowmobile, snowshoeing, or snowcat tour. Meanwhile, kids and kids at heart can enjoy going snow tubing or sledding.


14. Take a Dip in Wild Willy’s Hot Spring

Mammoth Lakes, California Bucket List: Wild Willy’s Hot Spring

As one of the more accessible hot springs to reach in California, Wild Willy’s Hot Spring is another one of the must-do things to do in Mammoth Lakes. Located just about 20 minutes from town, you’ll find the hot springs after a .25-mile walk on a wooden walkway. The scenery throughout the walk is lovely, so take your time on your trek.

From there, you’ll find a small creek leading into the hot springs. The shallow pool is relaxingly warm, making for a perfect place to destress and take in the views. If you’re looking for hotter water, there’s a second pool that’s almost heart-shaped that’s both deeper and warmer. 

Enjoy the soothing waters and feel your stress melt away as you watch the mountains in the distance. You’re sure to leave here feeling more relaxed than you came!


15. See the Inyo Craters

What to do in Mammoth Lakes, California: Inyo Craters

There’s something otherworldly about the Inyo Craters, one of the best sights in Mammoth Lakes. Six hundred years ago, a large blast zone was created when a huge explosion heated the rock and groundwater. As a result, three craters were formed, and pools were made in the craters from years of snowmelt and rainwater, which took on a unique green hue.

To see the craters, you’ll have to take a scenic hike, namely the Mammoth Scenic Loop. From there, you’ll follow the signs to the Inyo Craters. It’s ultimately a fairly short hike, making this trek accessible for most hikers. Once you reach the craters, you’ll find that there’s one in particular that’s easiest to see, where you can enjoy its rather shocking lime green-colored water. 

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Mammoth. What’s your favorite thing to do in Mammoth Lakes? Let us know in the comments!


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Author

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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