At the heart of several wilderness areas, Mammoth Lakes is cut through by the San Joaquin and Owens rivers. Mammoth Mountain overlooks the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area to the west and the John Muir Wilderness Area to the southeast, and beyond to the Inyo National Forest.
The Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (tel. 800/626-6684 or 760/934-2571; www.mammothmountain.com) is the central focus for summer and winter activities. Visitors can ride the lifts just to see panoramic vistas, but those who want an active adventure have many options. If you do hit the slopes in winter, you can use the free Mammoth Area Shuttle (tel. 760/934-3184) or Sierra Express taxi service (tel. 760/934-8294) for transportation between town and the ski area. The shuttle makes many stops and eliminates the long wait that may befall you if you drive yourself.
The state-of-the-art Gondola provides great viewing every day, in winter or summer, weather permitting. The gondola carries eight passengers and stops midway up the mountain and at the summit with 360-degree views. In summer, you can use it to access the hiking and biking trails on the mountain. Tickets are $23 for adults, $17 for youths 13 to 18, $12 kids 7 to 12, and kids 6 and under ride free.
In addition to the most popular activities listed below, adventurers can go hot-air ballooning with Mammoth Balloon Adventures (tel. 760/937-UPUP ; www.mammothballoonadventures.com). And golfers can play at Snowcreek Golf Course, Old Mammoth Road (tel. 760/934-6633; www.snowcreekresort.com).
Trails abound in the Mammoth Lakes Basin area. They include the half-mile Panorama Dome Trail, past the turnoff to Twin Lakes on Lake Mary Road, leading to the top of a plateau with a view of the Owens Valley. The 5-mile Duck Lake Trail starts at the end of the Coldwater Creek parking lot with switchbacks across Duck Pass past several lakes to Duck Lake. The head of the Inyo Craters Trail is accessible via a gravel road, off the Mammoth Scenic Loop Road. It leads you to the edge of these craters, where a sign explains how they were created.
For additional trail information and maps, contact the California Welcome Center, Mammoth Lakes (tel. 760/924-5500). For equipment and maps, go to Kittredge Sports (3218 Main St., tel. 760/934-7566), which also hosts a website of employee-suggested hikes -- ranked from easy to advanced -- throughout the Mammoth Lakes Region: www.kittredge.net/hiking/hiking.php.
Horseback Riding & Packing Trips
The region is great for horseback riding, and numerous outfitters offer day rides and pack trips. Among them are Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit, on Lake Mary Road past Twin Lakes (tel. 888/475-8747 or 760/934-2434; www.mammothpack.com), offering day rides, multiday riding trips, and semiannual horse drives; Red's Meadows Pack Station at Red's Meadows, past Minaret Vista (tel. 800/292-7758 or 760/934-2345; www.redsmeadow.com); and McGee Creek Pack Station, McGee Creek Road at Crowley Lake (tel. 800/854-7407 or 760/935-4324; www.mcgeecreekpackstation.com).
Kayaks are available at Crowley Lake from Caldera Kayaks (tel. 760/934-1691; www.calderakayak.com), starting at $40 per day for a single, $60 for a double. This outfitter offers guided tours on Crowley and Mono lakes for $60 and provides instruction as well.
In summer, Mammoth Mountain becomes one huge bike park and climbing playground. The bike park is famous for its Kamikaze Downhill Trail, an obstacle arena and slalom course where riders can test their balance and skill. Plenty of other trails accommodate gentler folk who just want to commune with nature and get a little exercise, and one area is designed for kids. Bike shuttles will haul you and your bike to the lower mountain trails if you want to skip the uphill part, or the gondola will take you to the summit and let you find your own way down. The park operates daily from 9am to 6pm, during summer months. A 1-day pass with unlimited access to the gondola, bike shuttle, and trail system is $42 for adults, $21 for kids ages 12 and under. A variety of rent-and-ride packages is available; for more information, call tel. 800/MAMMOTH (626-6684) or log on to www.mammothmountain.com.
In town, the Footloose Sports Center rents mountain bikes (and stand-up paddle boards) at the corner of Main Street and Old Mammoth Road (tel. 760/934-2400; www.footloosesports.com). The NORBA National Mountain Bike Championships take place here in summer.
In winter, Mammoth Mountain has more than 3,500 skiable acres, a 3,100-foot vertical drop, 150 trails (32 with snow making), and 30 lifts, including 7 high-speed quads. The terrain is 30% beginner, 40% intermediate, and 30% advanced. It's known for power sun, ideal spring skiing conditions, and anywhere from 8 to 12 feet of snow.
Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center (tel. 760/934-2442; www.tamaracklodge.com/xcountry) runs a cross-country ski center, and snowshoeing for nonskiers.
If you're renting equipment, you'll save money if you do it in town instead of at the resort. We recommend Footloose Sports Center, at the corner of Main Street and Old Mammoth Road (tel. 760/934-2400; www.footloosesports.com), and Wave Rave Snowboard Shop, on Main Street (Hwy. 203; tel. 866/3-BOARDS [326-2737] or 760/934-2471; www.waveravesnowboardshop.com), for snowboards and accessories. And be sure to look for the "Mammoth Coupons" booklet in town for additional discounts at local rental shops.
The June Mountain Ski Area (tel. 888/JUNEMTN [586-3686] or 760/648-7733; www.junemountain.com), 20 minutes north of Mammoth, is smaller but offers many summer activities, as well as 500 skiable acres, a 2,590-foot vertical drop, 35 trails, and eight lifts, including high-speed quads. The terrain is 35% beginner, 45% intermediate, and 20% advanced. It's at the center of a chain of lakes -- Grant, Silver, Gull, and June -- visible from the scenic driving loop around Hwy. 158. It's especially beautiful in the fall, when the aspens are ablaze with gold.
Fancy a different kind of snowplowing? Book yourself on a snowmobile tour through Mammoth Snowmobile Adventures (Main Lodge; tel. 800-MAMMOTH [626-6684] or 760/934-9645), where you'll blaze groomed trails, zipping in and out of wooded canopies. The machines (complete with hand warmers) are suitable for beginners to operate, though they take some getting used to unless you're well versed on a motorcycle (the concept of turning is similar). Prior to switching course and beginning your trip back to the lodge, you'll be able to visit a snow park, where you can race around a snowmobile track and test out some untouched powder on the outskirts. Just be sure to wear clothes you don't mind getting mucky: The gasoline fumes leave behind a stench. Walk-ins are welcome, but it's smart to make a reservation in advance. Tours run from mid-December to mid-April and cost $95 to $130 for a 1 1/2-hour tour, $210 to $290 for 3 hours.
Cat Got Your lunch? -- Want a really cool après-ski experience you can't find every day? Then hop aboard a snowcat and explore the backcountry from the comfort of your heated plow, visiting mountain peaks you wouldn't be able to reach by a chairlift. Once you're at the viewing area to view the jagged Sierra skyline, your driver will pull over to an area of (often snow-covered) picnic tables and set up a scrumptious feast, complete with wine. You get bonus points if it's snowing profusely and you leave saying you had a picnic in a blizzard. Lunch tours run at 11:30am on weekends and holidays; sunset tours with appetizers and champagne are available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, as well as holidays. Full dinners at 9,600 feet occur on Friday and Saturday nights and holidays. Tour costs are $82-$89 for adults, $42-$49 for children. Reservations are required. To book, call tel. 800/MAMMOTH (626-6684).
Can't Fight the Moonlight -- Up for a moonlight stroll? Head over to the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center at Twin Lakes Road, just off Lake Mary Road (tel. 800/MAMMOTH [626-6684] or 760/934-2442; www.tamaracklodge.com), strap on your snowshoe rentals, and join in on an organized trek over the mountain and through the woods. Snowshoeing takes no prior knowledge or skill; it's essentially hiking in snow-friendly, Eskimo-like footwear that flattens the fluff and creates a packed path for an easier journey. Guided tours climb up, up, up, and then continue along a steep ridge, where all of Mammoth Village is lit up below like a Christmas tree, before returning through a tree canopy to the lodge in a 2-mile, 2-hour loop. Planned trips coincide with the full moon -- the mountain lights up in a spectacular manner -- and usually occur in the months of December, January, and February (call the lodge for specific times, which depend on the cycle of the moon). Just be sure to carry a tripod with you if you plan on getting any night shots with your camera. Once you're through with your physical activity, exercise your stomach with a sweet treat and a glass of mulled wine or cider in the Tamarack's cozy fireside lounge. Tours are $40 per person, including rentals, a guide, dessert, and a nonalcoholic beverage.
Mammoth Lakes Basin sits in a canyon a couple of miles west of town, with lakes that have made the region known for trout fishing: Mary, Mamie, Horseshoe, George, and Twin. Southeast of town, Crowley Lake is also famous for trout fishing, as are the San Joaquin and Owens rivers. For more fishing information and guides, contact Rick's Sport Center, at 3241 Main St. (tel. 760/934-3416); Trout Fitter, in the Shell Mart Center at Main Street and Old Mammoth Road (tel. 760/934-2517; www.thetroutfitter.com); or Kittredge Sports, Main Street and Forest Trail (tel. 760/934-7566; www.kittredgesports.com), which rents equipment, supplies, and guides; teaches fly-fishing; and offers backcountry trips.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.