San Diegans usually view Mammoth Lakes as a winter travel destination. Mammoth Mountain, part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the state of California. However, there are a number of beautiful, natural outdoor sites in Mammoth Lakes that can’t be visited during that popular time of year because they, or the roads leading to them, are covered in snow. Summer in Mammoth Lakes is also a popular time of year for travelers, but it doesn’t feel as crowded as winter because everyone is spread out fishing, hiking, biking, and driving, rather than all being on the slopes. For nature lovers, there are many things to do in Mammoth in summer, or any time snow isn’t covering the ground. Also, Mammoth Lakes is incredibly dog-friendly, so all of these things to do in Mammoth Lakes are dog-friendly as well.
Devils Postpile National Monument
After breakfast our first morning, we spent almost the entire day at Devils Postpile National Monument. This large open area protects the Devils Postpile formation and Rainbow Falls and offers miles of hiking trails surrounded by mountains.
Devils Postpile is a geological phenomenon of lava columns that are hexagonal in shape and appear to jut straight out of the ground, some bending near the top. These crazy columns of lava were apparently created thousands of years ago when basalt lava flowed quickly into Reds Meadow Valley and created a lake of lava hundreds of feet deep. As the lava cooled, cracks formed, creating the columns. The columns were revealed by glaciers.
Rainbow Falls is also found at Devils Postpile National Monument. Rainbow Falls is 101 feet tall and gets its name from the rainbows that form in the mist at the base of the falls. The rainbows of Rainbow Falls are best seen mid-day when the sun is bright and directly overhead.
During the summer, visitors to Devils Postpile National Monument must travel there using the Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile Shuttle Bus.
Like much of Mammoth Lakes, Devils Postpile National Monument is dog-friendly. However, note that all dogs, no matter how small, must wear muzzles on the Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile Shuttle Bus. Soft muzzles are available for purchase at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center, however, I read that the rubber basket muzzles are actually more humane as they allow dogs to pant better, which is important in the summer when it can get hot, especially on a crowded shuttle bus. Henry and Charlie didn’t like them, but they tolerated the muzzles, and Henry was still plenty happy to have a treat or three while wearing his.
Another thing to remember about Mammoth Lakes, especially when traveling with pets, is that it is very high elevation. This affects dogs just as much as it affects humans. Henry and Charlie definitely moved a lot slower, and on our hike through Devils Postpile National Monument, we ended up carrying them most of the way. Be sure both humans and pets drink lots of water and have snacks.
Another geological wonder near Mammoth Lakes is Mono Lake and its tufa towers. Mono Lake is a little bit like the Salton Sea in that its salinity level is higher than that of the ocean. Also like the Salton Sea, Mono Lake’s water level is falling, which has revealed the tufa towers.
The tufa towers are made of limestone and are created by calcium-rich underwater springs mixing with the lake water. The calcium mixes with the carbonates in the lake water and creates limestone, or calcium carbonate. Tufa towers only grow underwater, so the only reason why we see these towers, some over 30 feet tall, is because the water level has fallen dramatically. The best tufa towers can be seen at the South Tufa grove.
Also similar to the Salton Sea, Mono Lake is a temporary home to many species of migrating birds. Mono Lake is also home to a smaller winged species, the alkali fly. These small flies congregate on the shoreline and move en masse close to the ground when humans walk through. These flies provide food for the birds and they feed on the algae. There are also brine shrimp in the lake that provide food for the birds.
Hot Creek is another geological marvel. Hot Creek is located in a volcanic caldera several hundred feet deep and 10 miles by 16 miles. Through this caldera runs a creek which gets its name because water from the Sierra Nevada seeps through the cracks of the earth, is heated by magma, and then comes back up to the surface via steam vents and springs of boiling water.
The result is a zigzagging creek that steams and bubbles. The water can get very hot and geysers can even erupt without notice, so entering the water is prohibited. However, this doesn’t stop many locals who use Hot Creek as an outdoor natural hot tub.
Bodie State Historic Park
Outside of Mammoth is one of California’s oldest towns, Bodie. Bodie State Historic Park is one of California’s historic gold-mining ghost towns. In its heyday, it was one of the biggest cities in California.
The town is named for Waterman S. Body (William Bodey) who discovered gold in them thar hills near Mono Lake. The mine was purchased by the Standard Company in 1877 and people started flooding in. Today the town is a ghost town and it became a State Historic Park in 1962. However, the town has been continuously lived in since the beginning, though now its few residents are park rangers.
While Bodie is a fraction today of what it was in the past, there is still an impressive number of buildings that remain and which are caught in a state of arrested decay. Some buildings of note are the Methodist church, Miller house, visitor center and museum, morgue, post office, Boone store and warehouse barn, schoolhouse, bank, and jail.
Visitors to Bodie can even visit the Standard Consolidated Mining Company’s Stamp Mill. In its heyday, the sounds from the stamp mill could be heard miles away. Stamps, heavy iron rods, were used to break the quartz rock to reveal the gold and silver, and then mercury was used to separate the metal from the rock. The mill can only be visited during the summer months on a guided tour.
Scenic Gondola Ride
To get an elevated, 360-degree view of Mammoth Lakes, head up Mammoth Mountain on the Scenic Gondola Ride. These gondolas take up hikers, bikers, and people who just want a view from the top. There are two stops on the gondola ride, but workers will make sure you don’t get off at the wrong one. The top is at 11,053 feet. At the summit are not only views, but also an interpretive center and learning stations.
California is earthquake country, and there’s a really huge, ominous fracture in the ground called Earthquake Fault in Mammoth Lakes. However, this isn’t a traditional earthquake fault. It is a fracture that was probably formed during a volcanic eruption. The fracture is a few hundred feet long and 60 feet deep in some spots.
No matter the time of year, Mammoth is the place for outdoor sports. Winter is for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling. Summer is for hiking, biking, fishing, and boating.
Getting to and Around Mammoth in the Summer
Mammoth Lakes without a Car
It is possible to enjoy Mammoth Lakes without a car. The Mammoth Lakes Airport is serviced by direct flights from Los Angeles year-round with additional non-stop flights from San Francisco and San Diego in the winter. Airport shuttles, hotel shuttles, and car rental agencies are available, as well as limited taxis.
If you want to enjoy the things to do in Mammoth Lakes in summer without your own car, Mammoth All Weather Shuttle offers not only shuttle service to and from the airport, but also point-to-point car service, long distance shuttle service, trailhead transfers for hikers, and summer sightseeing tours. To see what visiting Mammoth Lakes without a car would be like, we took Mammoth All Weather Shuttle’s June Lake Loop, Mono Lake & Bodie Ghost Town Tour, which is a seven-hour tour. The benefits of taking a tour with Lucas Ropke, owner of Mammoth All Weather Shuttle, whether or not you have a car, are that you get to relax and take in the views, and also that you get the benefit of Lucas’ local knowledge of geology and history and his guidance as to what are the important sites on which to concentrate.
Mammoth Lakes also makes it easy to get around town for visitors by providing free public town transportation.
Mammoth Lakes Road Trip with the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL
Being travel bloggers comes with fun perks, and for our road trip to Mammoth Lakes, one of the many fun perks was getting a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC to test drive for a week. The Mitsubishi Outlander turned out to be a great car for a road trip to Mammoth Lakes. It’s very roomy, with three rows of seats. It was just the two of us and our two dogs, so the third row wasn’t necessary, but that was okay because the third row easily folds down to provide more room in the back. We had our two suitcases, camera equipment, dog carriers, dog bed, and it all fit without even reaching to top of the back seats, meaning visibility wasn’t hampered in the least. There was plenty of room in the back seat for Henry and Charlie’s dog car seat as well.
In addition to its roominess, the Mitsubishi Outlander has insane gas mileage for an SUV, which was fantastic for our road trip. The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL gets 29 MPG on the highway and 26 MPG combined city and freeway and holds 16.6 gallons, which means it can go 430 to 480 miles without filling up. Mammoth Lakes is just under 400 miles from San Diego, so we could make that over six-hour drive without stopping for gas.
Some other features that made the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL great for a Mammoth Lakes road trip were the lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. The lane departure warning is a feature that beeps if you stray outside of your lane, good for a long drive, especially late at night. However, this feature can also be turned off, which we did while driving the winding roads of Mammoth Lakes. The forward collision mitigation feature not only warns the driver that a collision might be imminent by beeping when too close to a car ahead, it also applies emergency braking automatically to hopefully avoid, or at least reduce the severity of a collision. The adaptive cruise control was a bit of a surprise. I had the car in cruise control on US-395 and was getting ready to change lanes because I was approaching a slow-moving car when all of a sudden the Mitsubishi Outlander lost speed. The car uses radar to detect vehicles ahead and will slow down the car to maintain a preset distance between you and the car ahead. If the car ahead goes faster or changes lanes, the speed of the Mitsubishi will automatically increase up to the cruise control set speed. All of these features are very useful for a long drive where a driver might lose a bit of their concentration.
No matter where we are, we always seem to end up going off-road, and we knew some off-road driving would be a given in Mammoth Lakes. The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL has All Wheel Control (AWC), Mitsubishi’s brand name for four-wheel drive, so we had no concerns about taking the Mitsubishi out onto the dirt. There are a myriad of other features like power folding mirrors, heated leather seats, SiriusXM radio, rearview camera, GPS, and plenty more.
Places to Eat in Mammoth
Hotel restaurants are getting better and better, yet I am constantly surprised by the really good hotel restaurants we encounter in our travels. Whitebark at The Westin Monache Resort is one of those restaurants.
First off, we were told that we had to try the sushi. What?! Sushi is what we need to try at a mountaintop restaurant? We reminded ourselves that all of our sushi is flown in from somewhere far away and went for it, ordering the poke salad made with five different fresh fish, house poke sauce, daikon, seaweed salad, and tobiko caviar. Delicious!
We followed our sushi appetizer with something meaty and hearty. Rome went with the aged New York steak, Yukon gold potato puree, grilled asparagus, and Au Poivre sauce. I ordered the free range duck with pan roasted Pekin breast, crispy skin leg confit, sweet potato puree, roasted Brussels sprouts, and orange gastrique. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we’d done a lot of walking and I had carried a small dog who wasn’t crazy for the heat and altitude most of the way, but that duck was one of the most delicious duck dinners I’ve ever had, and I’ve had duck in a few different cities and countries. Also, while the duck breast is usually my favorite part, Whitebark’s crispy skin leg confit won because it was so rich and flavorful and so crispy.
Perhaps not as unusual as eating sushi in a ski resort town, but not the first meal you’d think of either, was eating Mexican food at Gomez Restaurant Tequileria, the self-proclaimed highest and largest tequileria in the world with over 500 bottles at an elevation of 8,054 feet. We learned that Gomez’s chef is known for his sauces, so we made sure to choose entrees that featured sauces. I had the Mexican rib-eye steak with Mezcal compound butter and Rome had the new and amazing Wahoo Mexicana, a white fish marinated in jalapeno, ginger, soy dressing and grilled wrapped in a banana leaf served with rice, plantains, and Baja slaw.
Gomez Restaurant Tequileria is located in The Village at Mammoth, the place where everyone in Mammoth gathers at night. There’s always something going on. The night we visited, there was a wine tasting and live music. We sat outside since we had the dogs with us, which gave us the feeling of being part of the action.
The funkiest place we ate while in Mammoth was at Whoa Nellie Deli, a restaurant in the Mobil gas station. Whoa Nellie Deli is the product of a brilliant idea to create a one-stop shop, a restaurant in a gas station, at the corner of Highway 395 and 120, the gateway to Yosemite. Whoa Nellie Deli doesn’t just sell food, it serves casual gourmet fare like their world famous fish tacos with mango salsa and ginger coleslaw, wild buffalo meatloaf, lobster taquitos, steak and eggs, and more.
Where to Stay in Mammoth in the Summer
For our summer weekend in Mammoth, we stayed at The Westin Monache Resort. Something we noticed as we arrived in Mammoth at night and pulled up to The Westin Monache Resort was that even in summer, Mammoth has a Christmastime feel. The pine trees in town, including outside of the Westin, were decorated with lights, which gave it cozy ambiance.
The Westin Monache Resort sits in a great location just across the street from The Village at Mammoth, the place to be at night after you’ve spent all day exploring nature.
The Westin Monache Resort is also dog-friendly. Now, if you’ve read our 10 tips for traveling with dogs, then you know that one of our pet peeves is “pet-friendly” hotels that don’t allow pets to be left unattended in the room. Unfortunately, The Westin Monache Resort falls into this category. However, since Mammoth is such a dog-friendly destination, we were literally able to take Henry and Charlie everywhere we went, so it wasn’t an issue, except there were a couple times we’re pretty sure Henry and Charlie would have preferred to be left behind because they were exhausted.
Our room at The Westin Monache Resort was everything you could want for a mountain retreat. We had a large suite with a king-size bed, living room area, and a fully equipped kitchen. We also had a little gas fireplace that we used every night even though it was summer. Henry enjoyed napping on his dog bed in front of the fire. Henry and Charlie also enjoyed that we used the kitchen to make them hard-boiled eggs to add to their breakfast and dinner so they were energized for their outdoor activities.
Mammoth Lakes is a treasure trove of natural outdoor beauty, most of which is buried under the snow in winter. Mammoth Lakes is a beautiful travel destination at all times of the year, but summer, or anytime when the ground isn’t covered in snow, is the season to go to experience these particular things to do in Mammoth.
Thank you to Visit Mammoth and Mitsubishi for hosting our summer Mammoth Lakes weekend getaway and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you purchase through them, it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission which goes towards funding this website and bringing you more travel stories.