The hiking trails of Mammoth Lakes, California, offer something for everyone who wants to explore the outdoors. You can walk in the shade of pine trees, stroll through flowered meadows, and enjoy lakefront views. The volcanic peaks provide craggy rocks that rise up against the sky to frame the vistas. With more than 300 miles of trails, Mammoth Lakes covers parts of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the John Muir Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail, and it features the Devils Postpile National Monument. The lakes are scattered around the base of Mammoth Mountain, known for its winter skiing. But in spring, summer, and fall, the lakes and surrounding mountains beckon you to hike to your heart’s content.
Mammoth is in the Sierra Nevadas just south of Yosemite. You can reach Mammoth from Los Angeles in about six hours and from San Diego in seven hours. Go for a long weekend or summer vacation and choose from the many trails for your hiking adventures. Mix it up with some strenuous climbing and then some walks around one of the lakes. Here are some favorite Mammoth hikes of different levels to get you started.
1. Crystal Lake
If your time is short and you are limited to one hike, head for the Crystal Lake trail. This showcases the best of Mammoth, with paths shaded by fir and pines and views of the pristine lakes below. Be sure to look up as well as down, too. The famous Crystal Crag, a jagged granite rock, is clearly seen above you.
The steep path winds up to an altitude of 9,600 feet and you are rewarded with a spectacular alpine lake. Relax on the rocks around Crystal Lake, munch on a picnic lunch, and marvel at the reflections in the clear water.
Crystal Lake Trail is 3 miles out and back. Park at the lot for Lake George and enter the trailhead on the right end of the lot. The trail is generally open June through November, but check for snow conditions before you head out.
2. Horseshoe Lake Loop
On my last day at Mammoth, I wanted to be out in the pines but on a hike that didn’t involve a strenuous climb. The Horseshoe Lake Loop turned out to be a perfect choice. The 2-mile flat loop meanders through forest with views of the lake. If you prefer, you can walk on the wide, beachy shore. And you can even jump in the water for a swim.
Off the parking lot is a stand of dead trees. My first reaction was to leave and go to a more attractive lake. A friendly ranger told us that these trees are victims of CO2 emissions underground. But these trees are just at the entrance to the trail. Soon, the hiking path enters the tall green trees, and you are in a world of creeks and wooden bridges with constant views of the lake. I also found the chimney to a burned-out cabin, an echo of times gone by.
After a while, you emerge onto the road. Cross the street to see Twin Lakes from the viewpoint. Then continue on the paved path back to the lake and parking lot.
3. Lake George Trail
For a moderate hike, Lake George Trail is fun and beautiful. The trail is not strenuous, as it is at lake level, but it calls for some climbing over boulders. And streams run across the path, making some areas wet and slippery. If you are fit and up for a bit of a challenge, Lake George is great.
Park at the Lake George parking lot and begin the 1.5-mile loop trail from there. It’s always an option to go part of the way and turn back if the trail is too muddy. The trail is open June to November most years.
Pro Tip: For the Crystal Lake Trail and the Lake George Trail, the shared parking lot tends to fill up, especially on the weekends. Go early if you can. Parking spreads along the streets when the lot fills, but you may have to walk a ways to the trailheads.
4. Devils Postpile And Rainbow Falls Trail
Devils Postpile National Monument offers about 8 miles of trails near the main attraction — stunning rock columns 60 feet high. If you are visiting Mammoth Lakes, be sure to include this in your itinerary.
Take Highway 203 that runs through Mammoth near the Village and follow the signs. In about a half hour you’ll reach the ranger station and parking for Devils Postpile.
Take the easy 0.8-mile hike to the base of this wonder of nature. The amazing rock posts piled here formed about 82,000 years ago when basalt lava cooled. Somehow the columns formed in hexagonal shapes and they lean against each other as they reach upward. Some have fallen or lean against others, making this geological oddity even more interesting.
Be sure to follow the signs to the steep path up above the postpile. Here you’ll see the top of the columns, along with lovely views.
Two trails lead from the postpile. If you have a half day to spend in the area, the trail to Rainbow Falls is memorable. The falls are 100 feet tall, and you can dip your toes in the cool water after a warm hike. The hike out and back is 5 miles. You can also go an additional 1.3 miles out and back to reach the Lower Falls.
Another trail option from Devils Postpile is the hike to Minaret Falls. This 1.4-mile hike takes you up from the postpile, across a creek, and to a small waterfall. If you are going in the late summer or fall, the water may have slowed to a trickle. I took this trail partway up and then turned around, as other hikers reported the “waterfall” was out of water. In the spring, it should be beautiful.
I still recommend the Minaret Falls trail, even if you go only on a portion of it. The creek and wooden crossing bridge are picturesque. And it’s a nice hike to add-on to the easy hike to Devils Postpile. On this trail, I met a couple who had hiked from Yosemite there and were obviously exhausted but still enjoying the outdoors!
5. Agnew Wildflower Loop To Agnew Meadows
Feeling like relaxing? The Agnew Wildflower Loop is a 0.6-mile meadow trail that allows you to stroll through fields of wildflowers with no uphills involved. Lupine, larkspur, lilies, and many other colorful blooms fill the field in season. This is near Devils Postpile and is a good place to unwind after a day of hiking. With picnic tables at the edge of the field, you can also enjoy lunch here before or after your visit to Devils Postpile.
A note on the Reds Meadow Shuttle: Sometimes a shuttle runs from the Mammoth Adventure Center in the ski area of Mammoth. When in operation, the shuttle can drop you closer to some of these hikes in the Devils Postpile region. When I visited, the shuttle wasn’t running and the ranger station was closed. Figure out your trails before you go so if services aren’t open or running, you still know how to spend your day.
6. Minaret Vista Trail
This trail begins at the Mammoth Adventure Center and heads uphill for 1.2 miles. Breathtaking views of the San Joaquin River Valley along the Minaret Vista Trail will make the climb easier. At the top, you arrive at the Minaret Vista Summit. Look out to the jagged peaks in the Ansel Adams Wilderness that resemble minarets. Then head back downhill to Mammoth.
Pro Tip: The minarets are most spectacular at sunset. If you want to drive instead of hiking to the vista, follow the signs out of the Village and park in the small lot. If you plan to hike up then go down after sunset, be sure to have a headlamp or flashlight with you.
7. Convict Lake
This hike involves driving about 2 miles south of Mammoth on Highway 395. Follow the signs to Convict Lake and hike as far as you wish or all the way around the 3.3-mile loop. Enjoy epic views all the way. This easy hike is wonderful for all ages, so if you have small children in your party, this is a good choice.
You may wonder how the lake got its name. Back in 1871, prisoners escaped from the Carson City, Nevada, jail. The convicts were caught in the lake area.
Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding wilderness offer so many fabulous hikes. Whether you feel like tackling a steep mountain trail or leisurely wandering through a meadow of wildflowers, you are sure to find just the hike you’re looking for. And with so many trails to explore, you’ll want to plan a return trip to Mammoth soon. For seasonal inspiration, read up on The Best Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes During The Summer and 10 Fantastic Things To Do In Mammoth Lakes In The Winter, too.