Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

24 Hours in: Mammoth Lakes, CA

Mammoth Lakes Insider Guides
by Sarah Park Nov 8, 2011
What do you do at a ski resort with no snow?

Known primarily for epic skiing and snowboarding conditions, Mammoth’s off-season typically includes mountain biking, climbing, and fishing. Mountain biking is terrifying, I’m afraid of heights, and last time I went fishing, my boyfriend hooked me in the arm.

So, here’s what I do instead:


Wake up to hysterical children screaming, laughing, and running up and down the stairs on the other side of the wall right next to your head. Apparently, there’s a mound of bear feces in the parking lot and this is a remarkable occurrence.

Drag yourself out of bed and order the eggs benedict at Good Life Cafe. Order 2 mimosas, then change your mind and just have them bring an entire bottle of champagne over. When the server asks what you’re celebrating, answer “Sunday.” She will remind you of this almost every time you return thereafter, and while you will pretend to be embarrassed, you will secretly love being reminded of the awesome time you had an entire bottle of champagne with your breakfast. (Confession: I’ve done this more than once.)

Overhear an older couple wearing cable-knit sweaters talk about the fall colors. Decide that maybe you could enjoy some fall colors yourself. Wonder aloud why morning boozing always makes you want to see some nature-y shit.


Grab a camera and leash up your dog for a trip to June Lake. Have your designated driver drive the loop with your sunroof open, and watch the oranges and yellows flash overhead.

Park and get out several times to stomp on crunchy leaves with your dog. Before you leave, stop at the general store for Cheetos and ice cream.

On the hunt for more nature-type activities, head back to Mammoth and toward the Lakes Basin. There’s a pretty incredible bike trail (the Lakes Basin Path) that leads from town all the way to Horseshoe Lake that you’d take if you were feeling especially athletic. You rarely are and today’s no exception: drive or take the trolley.

Stop at the end of Lake Mary Road and use the bathroom at Horseshoe Lake. Don’t mind the dead trees in the water (it’s only the poisonous gas, nothing to worry about), and take the trail to McLeod Lake. It’s a mellow half mile, nice for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

During the peak of summer, McLeod gets pretty popular with timid day hikers who aren’t interested in gasping for air on a more challenging trail. Today, you pass only one other couple and their two dogs on their way out. Perfect. The lake is yours.

Walk along the edge of the water to the patch of sunny boulders on the other side and laugh as your dog rolls around like a fur seal on a patch of snow that’s left over from last winter. If you brought a flask or a joint, now is the time. Stretch out on a rock and enjoy.

Back in Mammoth, say what’s up to your favorite server in town at Base Camp Cafe and grab a Sierra Slurpee. You’ve only learned of their existence last month, but she claims they’ve been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1998. You called bullshit and almost cried over all the years you wasted not ordering strawberry-raspberry slurpees.


Depending on how much you’ve already had to drink today, pay a visit to the Mammoth Brewing Company. Talk barley and hops with them (they know a lot more about beer than you do), and let them laugh at you when you make a face after tasting the Charley Wine.

Sample the rest of their beer selection (free!) and take some growlers of Golden Trout to go. Set a calendar reminder on your phone to return for First Wednesday (the first Wednesday of each month) for a half-price growler fill.

If the sky is clear — or even if it’s not — pack your beers, your board shorts and bikinis, and take the 395 out of town. Head south past the airport and make a left at the green church. Count 3 cattle guards, then turn right off the road and follow the dirt until you reach a parking lot. Trek along the wooden walkway until you see the steaming hot springs ahead.

Strip down, make new friends, and share your beers. Don’t freak out if a fat old man dips his balls into the same hot spring you’re in — apparently, it’s completely socially acceptable out here.

Relax your (nonexistent) muscles in the warm water, lean your head back, and pray for snow.

…Oh, and don’t ever return in the daytime. You do not want to know what that water really looks like.

10 tips for 24 hours in Mammoth Lakes
  1. Come in the fall — nobody comes in the fall.
  2. If you’re visiting from sea level, slow the fuck down on the booze.
  3. Don’t sweat driving (especially if there’s drinking involved). The town is small enough that walking, biking, or skateboarding will do just fine.
  4. Geez, lazy. There’s also a free trolley service that can get you just about anywhere you need to go.
  5. Keep your wallet in your pants. The best things around here are free.
  6. Don’t take food recommendations from locals overly seriously. The longer you live here, the more the line between great food and food that won’t kill you becomes a blurry one.
  7. You can go to Starbucks anywhere. Keep it local and swing by Stellar Brew or the Looney Bean instead.
  8. Keep it local on the booze-front also. Order Mammoth brews.
  9. The weather in Mammoth is the least predictable thing I’ve ever encountered. When in doubt, add a layer.
  10. Bring your dog.
Other activities to try
  • Drive down to Red’s Meadow. Take a deep breath and keep your eyes on the extremely frightening road — you can do this. Don’t get killed by a widow maker. Once you’re down there, check out the Devil’s Postpile: it’s a completely different experience when busloads of people aren’t being dropped off at the trailhead. Once the snow starts falling, though, forget it.
  • Watch the 9-year-olds destroy your self-confidence at the Volcom Brother’s Skate Park. Afterwards, take your skateboard and push around at the smaller, way less intimidating Shady Rest Skate Park, but be sure to wear a helmet. This town doesn’t have much money and a cop just might jump out from behind a tree.
  • When the sun goes down, stare at the stars. It never gets old.

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