On the dramatic eastern side of the Sierra at 7,800 feet sits Mammoth Lakes, a refreshing high-alpine respite from the summer heat. Teeming with alpine lakes, epic vistas, and ghost towns, it’s the ultimate family-friendly playground.
Head for the Lakes
True to its name, there are lots of lake options. For an easy introduction, Camille Miller—mother of three and owner of Mammoth Fun Shop (maker of premium milk shakes and malts)—suggests you load your bikes onto the village trolley and take it to the Horseshoe Lake trailhead. From there, you can pick from a variety of easy to moderate rides (or hikes if you'd prefer to explore on foot), or rent electric bikes from Wave Rave and get a boost up to the trailhead. If you’re looking to get wet, June Lake, 20 minutes north of town, is a good bet. The lake is set against a dramatic palisade of granite peaks, and you can rent a paddleboard, kayak, or boat from Mammoth Kayaks and Paddleboards.
For a truly unique lake experience, check out Mono Lake, a surreal and beautiful saltwater lake 30 miles north of town. Book a guided morning canoe tour with Mono Lake Committee Canoe Tours to learn about its extraordinary ecology and otherworldly salt formations, or rent a kayak from Caldera Kayaks to explore it on your own.
Picnic in High Style
South of town, Mosquito Flat—a high-alpine glacier valley close to the timberline—is one of the prettiest spots in the Eastern Sierra. It’s where Shannon Robertson, mother of two kids under age five and manager at a local health-food store, fell in love with the area, and it remains one of her favorite spots for family picnics. Follow her lead: Pack a lunch and head out on the Little Lakes Valley Trail. Although the altitude is high (roughly 10,000 feet), the terrain is gentle with little elevation gain, making it ideal for even the youngest hikers. You’ll encounter the first of many beautiful lakes about a mile and a half in, and it only gets better from there.
Get ‘em Hooked
The best way to get your kids excited about fishing? Head someplace where they’ll actually catch fish. In Mammoth Lakes, your best bet is the stocked lakes above Rock Creek. And if you really want to ensure you hook some, hire a fishing guide from Rock Creek Lodge, located down the valley, to show you where the golden trout and rainbow trout are biting.
Splurge on a Helicopter Ride
Here’s the great thing about helicopters: Riding in them is really cool, and it doesn’t matter if you’re ten or 60. Book a 40-minute tour with SkyTime Tours, and you’ll fly over more than 150 lakes (including Mono Lake), get views of the earth's largest caldera, and, if you’re lucky, you may spot some bears or mountain lions from the air.
Run Like an Olympian
If you’re looking for incredibly scenic and challenging trails right outside of town, you’ve come to the right place. It’s one of the main reasons more than a dozen elite athletes call this high-altitude adventure playground home. Local celebrity, mom, and Olympic bronze-medal-winner Deena Kastor’s favorite ten-mile route is the Mammoth Rock Trail. The 5.2-mile out-and-back climbs 900 feet from town. “I like my runs to reward me with great views,” says Kastor, “and this one doesn’t disappoint, with a view of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the town, and Mammoth Rock.”
Travel Back in Time
The Bodie Ghost Town, 60 miles north from town near Bridgeport, is a well-preserved throwback to life in the Gold Rush era. If your kids like to get spooked, join the nighttime ghost-stories guided tour. Or for a real sense of the Old West, book a multi-night packing trip through the area. You’ll ride horses through hardscrabble brushland and high desert, and you'll arrive at the ghost town to spend the night camped out among history.
Swing into Action
Whether you’ve got a budding Ricky Fowler in the family or are looking to sneak in a quick round sans kids, Mammoth Lakes has you covered, twice. Not only are Sierra Star Golf Course and Snowcreek Golf Course two of the highest-elevation golf courses in the state, they’re also among the prettiest: tall pines bordering the courses and the granite peaks of the Sierra as a backdrop. Even better: Both offer golfing day camps for kids in the summer.
Hit the Bike Park
Mammoth’s massive and incredibly well-maintained bike park has something for everyone in the family. First-time mountain bikers and kids as young as six can ease into the sport in the Discovery Zone: an industry-leading area dedicated to beginners that has smooth trails and starter-size berms and obstacles. More experienced family members will want to head straight to the summit of the gondola and hit Off the Top, the most intermediate-friendly of the park’s iconic trails.
Celebrate the 4th
From the June Lake Triathlon (July 8, 2017) to virtually every stripe of music and food festival, Mammoth Lakes has something fun going on most weekends. Although all of them are family-friendly—even the June Lake Triathlon has a kids’ division—the Fourth of July celebrations are a local favorite. The festivities kick off with a one-mile run/walk, followed by the town parade, then live music and food and drink specials. Finally, the whole day is capped off with fireworks at dusk over Crowley Lake.
Camp Like a Pro
There are about 16 designated camping areas throughout Mammoth Lakes, ranging from close-to-town sites to locations adjacent to beautiful alpine lakes. Take nearly all the planning and preparation out of the equation by visiting Adventure in Camping. All you have to do is pick one of ten campgrounds in the area, choose the RV you like, and they’ll deliver it and set it up in camp. All you have to do is show up with food.
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.