13 Best Sights in The Southern Sierra, California

Bodie Ghost Town

Fodor's choice

The mining village of Rattlesnake Gulch, abandoned mine shafts, and the remains of a small Chinatown are among the sights at this fascinating ghost town. The town boomed from about 1878 to 1881; by the late 1940s, though, all its residents had departed. A state park was established here in 1962, with a mandate to preserve everything in a state of "arrested decay." Evidence of Bodie's wild past survives at an excellent museum, and you can tour an old stamp mill where ore was crushed into fine powder to extract gold and silver.   Bodie has no food, drink, or lodging, and snow might cause closure of the road to it from late spring through early fall, so check ahead.

Devils Postpile National Monument

Fodor's choice

Volcanic and glacial forces sculpted this formation of smooth, vertical basalt columns. For a bird's-eye view, take the short, steep trail to the top of a 60-foot cliff. To see the monument's second scenic wonder, Rainbow Falls, hike 2 miles past Devils Postpile. A branch of the San Joaquin River plunges more than 100 feet over a lava ledge here. When the water hits the pool below, sunlight turns the resulting mist into a spray of color. From mid-June to early September, day-use visitors must ride the shuttle bus from the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to the monument.

Mammoth Lakes, CA, 93546, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $10 per vehicle (allowed when the shuttle isn\'t running, usually early Sept.–mid-Oct.); $15 per person shuttle

Mammoth Lakes Basin

Fodor's choice

Mammoth's seven main lakes are popular for fishing and boating in summer, and a network of multiuse paths connects them to the North Village. First comes Twin Lakes, at the far end of which is Twin Falls, where water cascades 300 feet over a shelf of volcanic rock. Also popular are Lake Mary, the largest lake in the basin; Lake Mamie; and Lake George. Horseshoe Lake is the only lake in which you can swim.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Mono Lake

Fodor's choice

Since the 1940s, Los Angeles has diverted water from this lake, exposing striking towers of tufa, or calcium carbonate. Court victories by environmentalists have meant fewer diversions, and the lake is rising again. Although to see the lake from U.S. 395 is stunning, make time to visit South Tufa, whose parking lot is 5 miles east of U.S. 395 off Highway 120. There, in summer, you can join the naturalist-guided South Tufa Walk, which lasts about 60 minutes (sign up online).

The Scenic Area Visitor Center, off U.S. 395, is a sensational stop for its interactive exhibits and sweeping Mono Lake views (closed in winter). In town, at U.S. 395 and 3rd Street, the Mono Lake Committee Information Center & Bookstore, open from 9 to 5 daily (extended hours in summer), has more information about this beautiful area.

Panorama Gondola

Fodor's choice

Even if you don't ski, ride the gondola to see Mammoth Mountain, the aptly named dormant volcano that gives Mammoth Lakes its name. The high-speed, eight-passenger gondolas—which serve skiers in winter and mountain bikers and sightseers in summer—whisk you from the chalet to the summit, where you can learn about the area's volcanic history in the interpretive center, have lunch in the café, and take in top-of-the-world views.

Standing high above the tree line, you can look west 150 miles across the state to the Coastal Range; to the east are the highest peaks of Nevada and the Great Basin beyond. You won't find a better view of the Sierra High Country without climbing.  The air is thin at the 11,053-foot summit; carry water, and don't overexert yourself.

Fresno Flats Historical Village and Park

For a dose of colorful foothills history, make a quick stop at this engaging local museum centered on two 1870s houses. Self-guided tours are available from dawn to dusk; museum visits are by appointment.

Hot Creek Geological Site

Forged by an ancient volcanic eruption, the geological site is a landscape of boiling hot springs, fumaroles, and occasional geysers. Swimming is prohibited—the water can go from warm to boiling in a short time—but you can look down from the parking area into the canyon to view the steaming volcanic features, a very cool sight indeed. You can also hike the foot path along the creek shores. Fly-fishing for trout is popular upstream from the springs.

Hot Creek Trout Hatchery

This outdoor fish hatchery has the breeding ponds for many of the fish—typically from 3 to 5 million annually—with which the state stocks Eastern Sierra lakes and rivers. In recent years, budget cuts have reduced these numbers, but locals have formed foundations to keep the hatchery going. For more details, take the worthwhile self-guided tour. Kids enjoy feeding the fish here.

June Lake Loop

Heading south, U.S. 395 intersects the June Lake Loop. This gorgeous 16-mile drive follows an old glacial canyon past Grant, June, Gull, and Silver lakes before reconnecting with U.S. 395 on its way to Mammoth Lakes.  The loop is especially colorful in fall.

Mammoth Rock 'n' Bowl

A sprawling complex with sweeping views of the Sherwin Mountains, Mammoth Rock 'n' Bowl supplies one-stop recreation, entertainment, and dining. Downstairs are 12 bowling lanes; lounge areas; Ping-Pong and foosball tables; dartboards; and a casual bar-restaurant serving burgers, pizzas, and small plates. The upstairs floor has three golf simulators, a pro shop, and Mammoth Rock Brasserie, an upscale dining room and lounge. If the weather's nice, sit out on the patio or the upstairs deck and enjoy the unobstructed vistas.

Minaret Vista

The glacier-carved sawtooth spires of the Minarets, the remains of an ancient lava flow, are best viewed from the Minaret Vista. Pull off the road, park your car in the visitors' viewing area, and walk along the path, which has interpretive signs explaining the spectacular peaks, ridges, and valleys beyond.

Village at Mammoth

This huge complex of shops, restaurants, and luxury accommodations is the town's tourist center, and the venue for many special events—check the website for the weekly schedule. The complex is also the transfer hub for the free public transit system, with fixed routes throughout the Mammoth Lakes area. In winter, the free village gondola starts here and travels up the mountain to Canyon Lodge and back.  Unless you're staying in the village and have access to the on-site lots, parking can be very difficult here.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Travel back to a time when powerful steam locomotives hauled massive log trains through the Sierra. This 4-mile, narrow-gauge railroad excursion takes you near Yosemite's south gate. There's a moonlight special ($75), with dinner and entertainment, and you can visit the free museum.