California's Nature Fix
Why visiting Mammoth Lakes will make you happier, less stressed, and more creative
By design, vacations are supposed to help you relax and keep you happy. And if you prefer getaways that are focused on being outside in beautiful places, you're in luck. In recent years, studies have shown that engaging in nature—and feeling awestruck by its beauty—can reduce stress, improve your mood, change your perspective, and boost your creativity. One of the best places to get your fix? Mammoth Lakes’ jagged peaks, sprawling valleys, and cascading falls. The alpine playground is especially awe-inspiring in the fall, when empty trails and vibrant colors make it the perfect spot to relax, reset, and recharge.
1. Tap Into Your Joy
Standup paddleboarding on glassy Convict Lake—gliding over crystal-clear alpine water and moving through reflections of colorful Sevehah Cliff and Laurel Mountain—isn't just a good workout in a stunning setting. It’s good for your spirit, too. A 2015 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that people who spent time outdoors had fewer negative feelings about themselves afterwards. Another study in 2013 found that spending time outdoors near "blue spaces," which include lakes, rivers, and oceans, improved overall happiness. Rent a board at Convict Lake Resort and soak up the good vibes.
2. Experience Solitude
In a truly shocking series of 11 experiments in 2014, researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard found that for most participants, being left alone with no phone, fidget spinner, or companion for just 6 to 15 minutes was truly agonizing. But a few hours in solitude can clear the head, focus the mind, and allow room for new ideas to blossom. The lightly traveled Tamarack Lakes Trail, which begins at the popular Rock Creek Lake trailhead, is the perfect trek for solo hikers. The 9.8-mile round-trip hike offers incredible views of the peaks surrounding Little Lakes Valley, meanders through meadows, and climbs steeply up switchbacks before dropping you at an alpine lake backed with jagged ridgeline. If the views don't inspire you, then the serenity is sure to give you enough time to mull over your aspirations.
3. Boost Your Focus
Numerous studies suggest that spending time outdoors boosts your ability to concentrate, and at least one shows that getting kids outside more could be a natural treatment for ADHD. A good place to work on your focus is the 5.5-mile Mountain View Trail and the 5-mile out-and-back Mammoth Rock Trail. Both highly scenic trails include moderately technical singletrack, panoramic views, and a few exposed sections. The latter passes below the iconic Mammoth Rock, a 250-million-year-old limestone and marble formation.
4. Feel the Power of Awe
John Muir, cofounder of the Sierra Club and high prophet of the wilderness, spent his life trying to explain in words the majesty of the Sierra to those who might never have a chance to see it. The world may be a different place than it was when he first explored Yosemite Valley and surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains, but his descriptions still ring true: “[It] is full of charming company, full of God’s thoughts, a place of peace and safety amid the most exalted grandeur and eager enthusiastic action, a new song, a place of beginnings abounding in first lessons on life, mountain-building, eternal, invincible, unbreakable order; with sermons in stones, storms, trees, flowers, and animals brimful of humanity.” Even better, a 2012 study suggests feeling the type of awe that Muir expressed is great for the soul, making people more altruistic, more satisfied, and more in tune with the moment.
5. Decrease Stress
The Japanese term “forest bathing” might sound funny to our American ears, but anyone who likes to take leisurely walks in the woods will agree with the conclusion of a 2010 study on the topic: that hanging out in the forest promotes “lower concentrations of cortisol [a stress hormone], lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure… than do city environments.” One of the best places to feel the stress melt away is Little Lakes Valley, a 7-mile loop starting at the Mosquito Flat Trailhead full of craggy peaks and peaceful mountain ponds including Heart Lake and Box Lake. In the fall there’s a bonus: The groves of aspens and grassy meadows light up with soothing fall colors.
6. Stay Smart
The Lakes Basin Path is perfect for runners, a nice 4.4-mile paved, off-road, gradual uphill climb that will get your heart pumping as you move out of town and into the open vistas of the Mammoth Crest. That run will linger in your mind longer than you imagine. According to a 2012 study in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, pounding the pavement or engaging in other aerobic exercise keeps people sharper as they age than their non-exercising peers. Which is great, because you’ll want to remember the view from Twin Lakes Vista along the trail for a long time.
7. Feel Better
Everyone knows that eating well makes you feel better, but a study released by the British Medical Journal Open in March showed that people who ate three to seven servings of vegetables per day had lower stress than people who ate zero to one serving. While in Mammoth Lakes, you can get your five-a-day pretty easily at places like the Good Life Café, whose The Good Life’s Favorite vegetarian sandwich includes avocado, tomato, and sprouts. At night, take it upscale at Skadi, an intimate Norse-themed restaurant with a Scandinavian-influenced menu that includes crepes with mushrooms and Jarlsberg cheese and pork belly confit and roast spiced tenderloin of pork.
8. Connect with Friends
Golf can be stressful, especially after a couple of flubbed tee shots. But it’s also a great chance to hang out with friends, and studies confirm what we all feel: Deep friendships make life better. In fact, a 2010 study showed that people with strong social relationships decreased their odds of dying early by 50 percent, which is even better than quitting smoking. Sierra Star is built for high-alpine bonding. The 18-hole, par-70 course is located at 8,050 feet and ringed by pine forests and the Sherwin Range—the greatest hazard is getting distracted by the view.
9. Reset Your Internal Clock
It’s easy to let all the artificial light from binging on Netflix and checking email in bed wreck your sleep patterns. It’s hard getting back to normal. But a 2013 study in Current Biology suggests a great solution: Leaving the screens behind and camping in the wild for as little as one weekend (though a week is better) can reset your circadian rhythms. A great place to get yourself back in sync with nature’s cycle? Camp High Sierra, a century-old campground in the middle of Mammoth Lakes. Dust off your tent and spend a screen-free weekend hiking, reading, playing ping-pong, and sitting around the stone fireplace in the historic day lodge. But don’t stay up too late—you’ll want a full dose of sunrise to get yourself back on a natural schedule.
10. Boost Your Creativity
Trying to finish (or start?) the great American novel or come up with a killer new app? Take a hike. A 2012 University of Utah study showed that a four-day backpacking trip boosted subjects’ scores 50 percent on a creativity test. The researchers aren’t sure if it’s the time under the stars or away from Facebook that led to the change, but we’ll take it either way. A good place to boost your creative spirit is the Thousand Island Lake Loop, a 22-mile roundtrip through the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Start at the Agnew Meadows trailhead for a long stretch on the Pacific Crest Trail before setting up camp near the lake, one of the largest in the Sierra. Cast a line for rare golden trout as you get a Technicolor recreation of Adams’ famous photo of a sunset at 12,936-foot Banner Peak, one of the pinnacles of creativity.
Mammoth Lakes is an epic adventureland full of majestic, natural beauty and truly unbelievable moments—and fall is the season of awe. From the radiant transforming colors and the sprawling green valleys to the cascading falls and sun-soaked lakes, the unbelievable side of autumn is just a few steps, pedals or paddles away. For more information about adventuring in Mammoth Lakes, please head over to Visit Mammoth.