Mammoth Lakes is one of those incredible outdoor playgrounds that's so mind-bendingly beautiful it's almost impossible to take a bad photo. But who wants to do that? Whether you're an action sports junkie hoping to shoot some unbelievable POV footage or an aspiring photographer looking to up your technical skills, the following ten adventures are sure to spark your imagination—and increase your number of Instagram followers.
1. Best Mountain Bike Shot: Mammoth Mountain
With 80 miles of singletrack and 42 trails, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park’s mountain-biking network has something for riders of all abilities. If it's epic sweeping shots or POV footage you’re after, hop aboard the aptly named Scenic Gondola that’ll ferry you and your steed up to 11,053 feet. Snap some shots of your buddies before casting down Off the Top, an intermediate fun-fest that zippers back to the base area’s Adventure Center nearly 2,200-feet vertical below.
2. Best Swimming Hole Shot: Rainbow Falls
Morgan Gonzalez, a competitive runner and VP for Mammoth-based SMACK! media, says although the trailhead is great for longer backpacking trips, the 1.5-mile hike to the falls is not to be missed. The quick hike along the San Joaquin River is all it takes to reach these spectacular falls, which plummet 101-feet in one vertical swoop. Once there, work your way down to the icy green pool below and slap on the zoom lens to capture closeups of your friends’ faces as they take the plunge into the freezing but unforgettable pools. Warm up on hot, sunny rocks before heading back.
3. Best Nighttime Sky Shot: Minaret Vista
The sky in Mammoth Lakes is an artist’s dream, perfect for capturing majestic nighttime shots that combine stars and earth. Follow local professional action-sports photographer Christian Pondella’s lead and take your DSLR and tripod up to Minaret Vista right around sunset. To get there, drive past Mammoth Mountain's Main Lodge on Highway 203 to reach a parking area just before the road begins to drop down the other side—it’s the perfect spot to get long exposures of the White Mountains to the east. Come back the next day at sunrise for gorgeous, golden-hour snaps of some of the region’s most inspiring peaks, such as the Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Mount Banner, all erupting out of the Ansel Adams Wilderness to the west. If it all looks a bit familiar, it could be because lots of car commercials have been shot up here, too.
4. Best Dogs of Instagram Shot: Crystal Lake and Lower Mammoth Lakes Basin
Mammoth Lakes isn’t a misnomer—there are literally dozens of alpine lakes within minutes of town. Although there are millions of great places to take your four-legged friends, one of the most pooch-friendly and spectacular of the options is Crystal Lake, a two-mile hike from Mammoth Lakes Basin’s Lake George parking lot. The views from the overlooks along the way are serene, with deep blue lakes bracing against evergreen forests, screaming peaks, and an endless sky. Down at the lake, climbers like to work their way up Crystal Crag, an impossible-to-miss granite giant that looms over the scene at 10,000 feet. Another option is to take your dog paddle boarding in the Lower Mammoth Lakes Basin, a quick drive from the center of town. These options will provide the perfect backdrop for getting shots of your favorite furry friend engaged in a splashy game of fetch.
5. Best Barefoot Selfie: Wild Willy’s
There are few more relaxing ways to cap off a day of playing outside than with a warm soak in a natural hot spring. Although there are tons of options in the area, Wild Willy’s is one of the more popular and easy-to-reach soaks. To get there, head down Benton Crossing Road to the second cattle grate, take a dirt road on the right, and follow it for about 1.5 miles to a parking area and a wooden walkway—the springs are a short quarter-mile hike away. Pondella suggests you get the obligatory shot of your steaming toes with the Eastern Sierra and Glass Mountains in the distance.
6. Best Album Cover Recreation: Mono Lake
Little-known fact: The surreal image of a diver making a splashless entrance into an even stranger lake on the cover of Pink Floyd’s iconic 1975 album Wish You Were Here was shot at Mono Lake, a short drive north of Mammoth Lakes on US 395. To recreate it, pick up a kayak from Mono Lake Kayak Rentals ($35/hour for doubles) and tool near Mono’s unbelievably cool tufa formations to scout for pictures of the lumpy limestone towers reflected in the lake’s mirror-like surface. If you really want to nail it, you’ll have to ask a friend to do a handstand in the salty lake for long enough for the ripples to dissipate.
7. Best Selfie Stick Shot: Convict Lake
Grab the GoPro and a clamp or two and practice perfecting the action selfie atop a stand-up paddleboard on Convict Lake, one of the more scenic lakes in the region. You can rent a board at the marina at Convict Lake Resort ($50 for half a day) and skim around the mountain-rimmed lake looking for scenes from Star Trek: Insurrection, which was partially filmed here in the late 1990s. When you get hungry head into The Restaurant at Convict Lake, a rustic resort lounge, for gourmet pizzas like the Mt. Morrison (a meat-lovers delight) and $5 pints.
8. Best Food Shot: Pie in the Sky Café
The famous chocolate, berry, and coconut cream creations at Rock Creek Lakes Resort’s Pie in the Sky café are delicious any way you slice it, but they’ll taste even better if you earn every bite. Our recommendation: Rent a road bike at Footloose Sports and ride all the way to Rock Creek Lakes Resort. It’s about 27 miles from the shop, a dramatic climb along one of California’s highest paved roads. Before you dive into your reward, crank that f-stop open as far as she’ll go or use a tilt-shift/miniaturizing filter on your phone to nail the shot. Just be sure to get there by 3 pm or no dessert for you—the goods go fast, just like you on the descent. But rumor is the pie lady may be retiring soon. So hurry on up!
9. Best Glowing Tent Shot: Thousand Island Lake
You don’t have to hike 20 miles in Ansel Adams Wilderness to get a sweet nighttime shot of your tent lit up from the inside, but we guarantee you’ll have a blast doing so. Start out at the Agnew Meadows trailhead to pick up the High Trail that leads to Thousand Island Lake, about eight miles in, where you’ll be rewarded with majestic views of 13,000-foot Banner Peak. At dusk, set up your tripod, place your light source (a headlamp or small lantern with low, diffuse setting is ideal, but the flashlight setting on your iPhone can work in a pinch) in the tent and begin experimenting: nationally published magazine photographer Christian Pondella recommends starting with f/2.8 aperture at an ISO of 800 for 20 seconds and making adjustments from there.
10. Best Grip ‘n Grin Shot: Hot Creek
With cauldrons of boiling water, bald eagles soaring by, and the breathtakingly ragged Sierra rising in the distance, hiking along Hot Creek—just ten minutes south of town—is enjoyable for everybody. Dan Molnar, a self-proclaimed ski bum and professional chef who's better known by Mammoth locals as "Powder Dan", also says the area is an angler’s paradise with pods of fat browns and rainbow trout lurking in its deeper pools. Have someone grab your picture with your rod in the creek and 11,843-foot Laurel Mountain in the background for some compositional perspective. Whatever you do, be sure to stay on the bank—it’s a no-wading stream.
Mammoth Lakes is an epic adventureland full of majestic, natural beauty and truly unbelievable moments. Year-round wonder awaits, from snow-covered ski runs to sun-soaked alpine hikes and everything in between. Each experience feels big in this destination of Eastern Sierra amazement—where larger-than-life is just the right size. For more information about adventuring in Mammoth, please head over to Visit Mammoth.