Out with the snow, in with the rainbows, hot springs, and wildflowers.
It’s no secret that Mammoth Mountain is one of the most iconic ski destinations in Northern California. But what many of the region’s cold weather visitors don’t realize is that there’s an abundance of other activities to enjoy the rest of the year in the Mammoth Lakes region. In fact, when the weather heats up and the snow melts, there’s even more of the Mammoth region open for exploration. From traversing rainbow waterfalls to scouting out the natural hot springs to fishing, or hiking and biking amongst the spring and summer wildflowers, here are some of the most enjoyable things to do in Mammoth once the snow has melted and ski season has ended.
While it’s true that Mammoth’s Hot springs are open all-year-round, they’re much more accessible in the warmer months. After the snow melts it’s easier to reach these thermal wonders by hiking in on foot or driving (without needing to use an all-terrain car).
Hot Creek Geographic Site is truly a “scenic wonderland” containing dozens of natural hot springs that bubble up inside the walls of this river gorge located in the shadows of the soaring Eastern Sierra mountain peaks. The steaming turquoise pools brim with hot water and layers of travertine rock. It’s the perfect place to pack a picnic and spend an afternoon exploring–but beware that the drive to the parking lot near the springs can be bumpy, so it’s best to use a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a higher clearance to make this journey.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is just a 15-minute drive from Mammoth Village and is well-known by locals and visitors alike as one of the more popular hot springs in the area. Here, visitors will find a manmade tub within the naturally warm waters of the creek to ease into and relax. It can be an excellent spot to rejuvenate, offering incredible views of the mountains beyond. The road to get to the hot springs is seasonal, so be prepared to walk about a mile to get to the springs and another to get back on a flat dirt road.
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In the spring when the snow melts, visitors will seemingly encounter waterfalls everywhere they go. The terrain of the mountains is dry enough that it doesn’t become muddy and sticky like other regions can get when the snow melts in the spring. Instead, this is the perfect time to explore the beautiful results of this melting snow.
Rainbow Falls and Lower Falls is part of the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. Its name is no coincidence–when the sun is shining at the perfect angle, the mist from the falls creates the stunning visual of a beautiful rainbow within its 101-foot drop. The best time to experience the rainbows is midday when the sun is highest. This trek is a great family-friendly waterfall hike coming in at just five miles round-trip, in a moderate climb. But be forewarned that this trail is also known as one of the most popular hiking trails in the area.
Minaret Falls is where the River Trail Minaret Creek plummets over the granite rock just before it enters the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. This fall is best seen from the River Trail/Pacific Crest Trail.
Crater Creek Falls is truly a hidden gem because it’s one of the least trafficked falls for visitors to explore. This waterfall moseys through the dense alpine forests before plunging over a rocky cliff into the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.
Mammoth’s Most Scenic Wildflower Hikes
In spring and summer, the snow melts to reveal gorgeous alpine lake hikes with a plethora of wildflowers to explore. The best time to see peak bloom is when the temperatures rise in the high elevations later into the summer, but there is almost always a trail-worthy of seeing some beautiful flowers in the warmer months.
Mammoth Creek to Snowcreek Meadows is a shorter and less strenuous path to explore the wildflowers of Mammoth. The best place to start this hike is at Mammoth Creek Park. Head up the paved Town Loop path along Mammoth Creek and cross the road at the end of the paved path. Then, join the nature trail that adjoins with Snowcreek Meadow and take this path to the top where there will be wildflowers of all colors as well as gorgeous views of Mammoth Mountain before turning around and heading back the same way.
Mammoth Mountain Trail climbs up past the ski resort towards a tall summit that offers fantastic views from the top, overlooking California’s highest ski area. Since this hike offers a range in elevation, there are many types of wildflowers that last for months during peak bloom in the summer. This trail departs from the Main Lodge and switches back across the north and western sides of the mountain and finishes by topping out at the summit. Hikers should be sure to follow the white hiking trail signs to make sure they’re staying on course–be cautious of the mountain bikers who also frequent the trail. At the summit, either turn around and hike back down or take the gondola back to the bottom.
Lastly, the Mountain View Trail offers sweeping views of the Minarets and Ritter Range from its peak, and passes through open glades and a number of dense wildflower-lined microclimates on the way to the top, for a bright burst of color. This trail can be hiked in a downhill direction from the Minaret Vista or in an uphill direction from the Earthquake Fault trailhead–both of which offer scenic sights and fantastic wildflower viewing.
In the summer, there are a plethora of swimming holes to explore many of which are accessible only via hiking trail, making the experience that much more adventurous.
McLeod Lake is a swimming hole that’s only accessible on foot. It’s located up in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, after a half-mile hike up on an easy, soft surface trail through the woods, Trekkers will be rewarded with a beautiful mountain lake at the base of the breathtaking views of Mammoth Crest.
Ediza Lake is a swimming hole hikers have to work for, but those who make the climb will be thoroughly rewarded on this bucket list adventure. The 15-mile hike leads to a lake tucked under Mount Ritter. It is a well-known destination for a long day hike in the Reds Meadow Valley.
Lake George is a lake that visitors will have to drive to as opposed to hiking up, but those who enjoy a high elevation lake setting will find paradise at Lake George, which is known as a great place for fishing.
And then there’s Horseshoe Lake, another destination that’s worth the drive. The shores of Horseshoe Lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin are known for being one of the region’s best beaches. It’s located at the end of Lake Mary Road and is surrounded by the towering peaks on Mammoth Crest to the south and Mammoth Mountain to the north. This lake is a great place to spend an entire day either out on the water, or just relaxing on the beach.
Fishing and Wildlife Viewing
Mono County fishing season starts the last Saturday in April and ends on November 15 of every year. If you come during the off-season though, the catch-and-release fisheries of the Upper Owens River above the Benton Bridge to Big Springs, the East Walker River below Bridgeport Reservoir, and Hot Creek are open to experience year-round. It’s no surprise that Mammoth Lakes is renowned as one of the most stimulating fishing destinations in the West. The clear blue lakes and rushing streams keep each fisherman occupied for hours–either from the shore, a boat, or a dock–on one of the many lakes, rivers, and streams located in the region. There are a variety of types of fish in the area, including Golden, Brook, Rainbow, Brown, and Cutthroat trout.
There’s an abundance of wildlife to encounter in Mammoth Lakes–from elk, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, coyotes, deer, mountain lions, to bears. It’s important to remember that wildlife is wild and to give these animals enough space to keep everyone safe.