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Mammoth Lakes, California is located in the middle Eastern Sierra on the edge of the Long Valley Volcanic Caldera(historic crater). The Long Valley Caldera around the town has been geologically active since the early 1980s. Because of the volcanic region, the area is famous for it’s warm hot springs that can be visited out on the caldera. The many Mammoth area rhyolite and lava domes make a stunning place to live, ski, hike, and mountain bike in.
For a different change of view and climate, Mammoth Lakes visitors can take State Route 203 from the town of Mammoth Lakes to the wetter frontside sierra country, over Minaret Summit. When route 203 is open in the summer months people can visit the famous Devils Postpile National Monument, Red’s Meadow, and hike to Rainbow Falls. Fly Fisherman also enjoy this area which has some of the best fishing on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. The campgrounds along Minaret Road are highly prized in the summer months, since they are remote, yet a hours drive to Mammoth Lakes for supplies and dinner. The backside Minaret Road area is also well liked by campers, since it is wetter and not as dry as the eastern side Mammoth Lakes Campgrounds.
Mammoth Lakes is a great central spot to stay in the summer months when visiting the Eastern Sierras. It is centrally located for all activities. In the summer months both road and mountain bikers stay here and ride area roads like Mammoth Scenic Loop and 395; or mountain bike local steep trails and forest roads on the northern sections of Mammoth Lakes. Hikers have a ton of high country trails in the area and just 40 minutes to the south is Little Lakes Valley which has some of the best family hiking trails in the Eastern Sierras.
Fishing in the Mammoth Lakes area is beyond great. In the area you have fantastic lake fishing at Mammoth Lakes. And some of the best river fishing on the San Joaquin River in the summer months. To the north of Mammoth Lakes you have the June Lakes, fishing on 120 Hwy around Tuolumne Meadows, Virginia Creek, Twin Lakes, and Bridgeport Reservoir. And just to the south you have many creeks to fish including Rock Creek, Hilton Creek, and McGee Creek. For trophy sized fish, most experts fish well stocked Crowley Lake and the Owens River and river gorge. For visitors that want to explore more, there is the Bishop Creek area just west of Bishop on the 168.
During the fall, The Bishop Creek, Virginia Creek, June Lake Loop, and Rock Creek areas are very popular with photographers when all the aspen trees explode with color. Areas like Aspendell and Little Lake Valley’s Rock Creek Road are prime viewing spots for fall leaf color. When driving in these areas in the fall months be careful for photographers who have their camera tripods parked in the middle of the roads. Also, in fall months, the region is less crowded since school is back in session. Great fishing and hiking in the fall months is popular with the locals and long time visitors. In the fall it is less busy, not as hot, more colorful, and their are WAY less bugs when hiking than in the spring melt months of May, June, and July.
For skiing, the area boosts one of the best ski trail selections with many beginner to expert trails. There is great lodging(see list below) and restaurants in Mammoth Lakes to pick from. However, if you do like to alpine ski, it is best to look into some sort of lodging package that will include heavily discounted lift tickets. The price of lift tickets now is nose bleed high and I know many people that have totally given up alpine skiing all together and just do cross country skiing now. If you are into cross country skiing there are nearby areas that have trails setup and maintained. Many are to the south in the Little Lakes Valley area. Check with the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Bureau for cross country skiing areas.
If you have extra time on your hands when you visit Mammoth Lakes, you may want to do many side trips. These include going to the eastern section of Yosemite National Park, visiting Hot Creek where many films where shoot ( North to Alaska, Nevada Smith, Shoot Out, and parts of the original True Grit). Also, visiting Mono Lake and the Tufa Towers is a very interesting trip to see the dense salt water, seagulls, geology, native insects(salt flies), and panoramic views. Before the area was protected, the Mono Lake area also hosted some very famous films like the town of Lago in High Plains Drifter and Fair Wind to Java volcanic shots.
Bodie Ghost Town to the north is also a popular spot to visit and take artistic pictures of the buildings and slowly weathering items that were left there.
The white Mountains is a interesting all day side trip to the south. It hosts some of the oldest trees in the world(bristlecone pines) at the highest elevations. This trip is a long one but the views of the Eastern Sierra’s, Bishop, and Owens Valley are breath taking. However, this trip goes up the very curvy and steep Highway 168 and White Mountain Road. If anybody in your group gets car sick, this is not a good road trip for them to do.
If you are into shopping, there are tons of stores in Mammoth Lakes that have deals at the end of the ski or mountain biking seasons. Visit the Luxury Outlet, Sierra Center Mall, Minaret Village Shopping Center, Mammoth Gateway Center, and other small local owned shops.
Economically, Mammoth Lakes has been hit VERY hard since 2008. The perfect storm of disasters (Drought, Gas Prices, Employers leaving - USFS) has hit Mammoth Lakes and Bishop.
If you want to do some good, than take a road trip to Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra and spend some money up there!