Mammoth Lakes is a winter sports mecca and home to one of the country’s largest ski resorts. Each year, 1.3 million visitors arrive here to ski, skate, sled, snowshoe, and more. Located in the Eastern Sierras, Mammoth is about a 5-hour drive north of Los Angeles and a 6-hour drive east of San Francisco. For those who prefer to fly, Advanced Air and United Airlines offer direct flights from several California cities.
Die-hard adventurers will be happy in Mammoth with activities like ice climbing and backcountry skiing, but there are plenty of low-key options as well, such as outdoor skating and scenic gondola rides.
Here are 10 fantastic things to do in Mammoth Lakes in the winter.
1. Ski Down The Mountain
Mammoth Lakes is best known for its skiing and snowboarding, and fortunately, there are more than 3,500 acres of skiable terrain and 150 named trails at the closest resort, Mammoth Mountain. On average, the area gets 400 inches of snow each year, making the conditions ideal. Before opening for business this year, Mammoth Mountain made more than $1 million in COVID-related improvements, including contactless rental services. Be sure to plan ahead, since advanced purchase of lift tickets is required.
Nearby is June Mountain, offering 1,500 acres of skiable terrain and 41 named trails. This is a good option for families looking to ski together in one location, since there’s a nice mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes. Advanced purchase of lift tickets is also required.
2. Go Cross-Country Skiing
Some people prefer cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing. Instead of speeding down the mountain, skiers glide across the snow, often on groomed trails. The Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center offers 19 miles of groomed trails in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Don’t worry if you’ve never tried this sport before -- the center offers lessons and equipment rental.
Or venture out on your own and explore the 140 miles of groomed and ungroomed trails throughout Mammoth Lakes and Inyo National Forest. If you don’t have your own equipment, head to Kittredge Sports and rent what you need. A great place to begin is at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center, which is close to the center of town and offers plenty of parking and easy access to a trailhead.
3. Slide Down The Mountain
If you’re traveling with the grandkids, consider tubing and sledding in Mammoth. Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play has groomed tubing runs and a lift to make the ascent easy. The runs here are known for being fast, so this is an ideal spot for adults and older kids looking for an adrenaline rush. Sessions last an hour and 15 minutes and should be booked online in advance. After tubing, relive your childhood with a snowball fight in the snow play area.
If you’re visiting with very young children and want a low-key sledding spot, head to Shady Rest Park with gentle slopes and a quiet, wooded area. The Mammoth Scenic Loop is another popular spot for sledding. While there is no dedicated sledding area, the forested areas off the scenic loop are open to the public for sledding and snow play.
4. Go Ice Skating Outdoors
Located behind the Mammoth Lakes Library is the outdoor Mammoth Ice Rink, which operates from November through February. Public skating sessions are available seven days a week. Bundle up and glide along the ice while admiring the surrounding mountains vistas. If you don’t have skates, don’t worry -- rentals are available. And if your own skates need sharpening, that service is available as well.
5. Walk Through The Snow
Hiking is among the most popular summer activities in Mammoth Lakes, but it doesn’t have to end just because there’s snow on the ground. Many of the area’s trails can be accessed at any time of year. The trail you choose will depend on the amount of snow on the ground.
Those new to town should try hiking the Town Loop, a fairly easy 7-mile trail that traverses both neighborhoods and wilderness. Try starting at Mammoth Creek Park. If you’re looking for a longer hike, just turn onto one of the several trailheads that can be accessed from this loop.
The Convict Lake Loop is a short but very scenic trail located just outside town. This fairly flat, 3-mile trail is frequently listed among the best hiking spots in the area. The trail hugs the lake, with the picturesque Sherwin Range providing a dramatic backdrop. The back section of this trail is sometimes inaccessible due to waterflow or snow, so it’s possible that you’ll need to turn back instead of completing the loop.
For trails covered in too much snow for hiking, try snowshoeing instead. From the Main Lodge at Mammoth Mountain, head to Minaret Vista. This 2.5-mile trail is considered moderate to difficult because of the ascent, but the views toward the end make it worthwhile. For something a bit easier, try snowshoeing the Inyo Craters. This 3.1-mile out-and-back groomed trail is also popular with cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.
6. Explore The Backcountry
If you feel the need for speed, then hop on a snowmobile and cruise through the snow. This activity lends itself to group gatherings, so if you’re on a multigenerational vacation or visiting with friends, you could easily spend half a day exploring the Eastern Sierras on a snowmobile.
7. Climb The Ice
The most adventurous visitors to Mammoth should consider climbing the ice. This isn’t an activity for the fearful, but it is definitely exciting for those in search of an adrenaline rush. Ice climbing is the sport of ascending frozen waterfalls. International Alpine Guides leads multiday trips to nearby Lee Vining and June Lake that include lessons and all the gear needed.
8. Get A Bird’s-Eye View
Combine relaxation and a great view by riding the scenic gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain. As you glide up 11,053 feet in the Panorama Gondola, you’ll get a 360-degree view of the Sierra Nevadas. At the top, snap a selfie with the summit sign. Be sure to allow time to check out the Eleven53 Interpretive Center to learn more about the geology of the area. You’ll want to purchase your gondola tickets in advance.
9. Have A Snowball Fight
Whether you’re traveling with the grandkids or not, playing in the snow should be on your agenda. Build a snowman, make a snow angel, or have a good old-fashioned snowball fight. And thanks to the generous snowfall in Mammoth each year, there are plenty of places to play in the snow. Mammoth Creek Park, Shady Rest Park, and the winter staging area off Sherwin Creek Road are all good options. But odds are there’s a large patch of snow to play in near your lodging.
10. Get Warm And Shop
After a day outside in the cold, it’s nice to spend time indoors in a warm shop. Before getting cozy in front of the fire, head to Booky Joint to choose the perfect new or used book. This popular shop has been in Mammoth since 1975 and has a nice selection of books about hiking, fishing, and local history.
Whether you ski, snowboard, bike, hike, or camp, Footloose Sports is ready to help. In addition to having a large selection of items for purchase, they also rent equipment during the winter and summer seasons.
Many visitors to Mammoth choose to rent condos during their stay, which allows them the use of a kitchen. Bleu Market and Kitchen is a popular place to stock the kitchen with gourmet items to enjoy after an active day, from fresh bread to charcuterie and seafood to craft beer.
What To Know Before You Go
With winter temperatures ranging from 17 to 40 degrees, it’s important to come to Mammoth prepared for the chilly weather and large amounts of snow. Bring plenty of warm clothing, and if you'll be in the snow, be sure it’s waterproof. If you’re not used to seriously cold weather, take plenty of breaks during the day to warm up inside. Frostbite can set in quickly if you’re not careful.
If you’ll be driving, the city of Mammoth Lakes provides safety tips) for preparing your car, including the need to bring a set of chains for your tires.
Mammoth Lakes is a beautiful destination at any time of year, but the blanket of snow throughout the region makes it especially fun and appealing in the winter.