With a break in some home town responsibilities, we threw some stuff in the car and headed off to Mammoth Mountain for a quick getaway, and boy what a spectacular getaway it was!
Twin Lakes Vista
It’s a long drive from San Diego – about 7 hours – but despite the length of time already in the car we wanted to see some of the lakes and get an idea where some of the hiking trailheads are.
We dashed off to the Welcome Center, picked up maps, and headed straight for the lakes, stopping at the first viewpoint – Twin Lakes Vista.
THIS was our first view! With the late afternoon sun shining on the snowy mountains, the scene was just spectacular. If we had to leave tomorrow, the long drive was worth it just for this one perfect moment.
The Twin Lakes Vista point has interesting information on the geology of the area, like how the landscape was carved from fiery volcanic activity 760,000 years ago, followed by massive glaciers moving and shaping the land to create its many lakes.
A stunning scene, the huge rock standing out in the landscape is called Crystal Crag – 10,305 feet above sea level!
Our first full day in Mammoth we decided to see the National Monument Devil’s Postpile, but first – a look at the famous Minarets formation, a spur road off from the Minaret Vista Entrance Station.
Fun Fact: The 17 huge granite peaks were collectively named the Minarets because they reminded the guy who named them of the Minarets of a mosque. Later, individual peaks were named after first ascent climbers.
The reason we had this lucky little detour to the Minarets Viewpoint was because the road to Devil’s Postpile National Monument is closed to most traffic during the peak summer season. The ranger at the entrance station to the Postpile road directed us to take the shuttle bus at the Mammoth Mountain base.
Worth the detour to the Minaret Vista!
If you go after Labor Day you can drive yourself down to the valley floor, but frankly, the shuttle was terrific! The steep winding road is one lane in many places and leaving the driving to someone else gives everyone a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Tip: Save some money a get a combo ticket for the shuttle AND the gondola. You can use the gondola ticket within 4 days.
Devil’s Postpile to Rainbow Falls Hike
The shuttle bus drops you right a the Devil’s Postpile ranger station where you can fill up your water bottle and use the WC. There are other shuttle stops in the valley, but most of the passengers (like us!) got off at the Postpile stop for the easy half mile walk to the Postpile.
On the way to Devil’s Postpile you shouldn’t miss a quick detour to a bridge to see the beautiful Soda Springs meadow next to the San Joaquin river.
Why’s it called Soda Springs? Sometimes you can see bubbles in a flat section of the riverbank, and like bubbles in carbonated beverages these bubbles are from carbon dioxide gas – CO2!
Devil’s Postpile National Monument
You’ll see a sign pointing to the top of Devil’s Postpile, but don’t go up there – not yet… keep going on the main path just a little further to the bottom of the fascinating geological formation that is the Devil’s Postpile.
Fun Fact: The Devil’s Postpile is one of the world’s finest examples of columnar volcanic rock called basalt, towering 60 feet!
A marvel of the natural world, I was amazed at the hexagon shape to the columns that had split off from the hillside.
After oggling this amazing sight all along the base, backtrack to the sign pointing to the top of the Postpile.
Fun Fact: These fascinating columns were created when the cooling molten lava contracted to solid rock, with cracks forming at 120 degree angles to absorb stress, creating hexagons, one of natures most efficient and stable shapes (think honeycombs!).
Through being amazed at the honeycomb top of the Postpile? Keep going on the path at the top of the Postpile, it loops back down to join the main path to Rainbow Falls.
At the bottom of the loop path there are more basalt columns – this time poking out of the side of the mountain.
San Joaquin River
The hike from Devil’s Postpile to Rainbow falls is only a couple more miles on an easy level trail with some beautiful views, particularly one section where you get a nice look at the San Joaquin River.
One thing you have to be aware of in the mountains is the potential for altitude sickness – Devil’s Postpile elevation is 7,500 feet. Coming from sea level in San Diego we took this hike slower than we normally would at home, really noticing the difference in elevation by a little shortness in breath and dragging a little bit – all minor side affects of the high elevation.
It’s called Rainbow Falls with good reason! It’s amazing to see this 101 foot drop that the San Joaquin river has carved out of the volcanic rock over the centuries – and when the sun is out the rainbow in the mist.
The Rainbow Falls trail head – where we caught another shuttle bus to go back to Mammoth – is about a mile away from the falls, the entire hike about 4.5 miles. A perfect first hike in Mammoth!
Mammoth Mountain Gondola
Have you been up a gondola on a ski mountain…in the summer? We took the Mammoth Mountain gondola up to the top just for the fabulous 360 degree views over the entire Sierra Nevada range, even the ride up has spectacular views.
There’s an interesting interpretive center at the top with telescopes and interactive exhibits, a welcome relief to be inside looking at the view – out of the cold wind that was blowing in from the west.
One of the hugely popular Things To Do is to ride a mountain bike down the mountain – they even have lessons! It looked like great fun and I’d love to try it sometime. To prevent any collisions with hikers, the bike trail is separated from the hike trail.
The perfect end to the day was a meal and a beer at the Bavarian style restaurant and bar the Yodler back at the Mammoth base. We had a great tip from our hotel guy to try the Celebrator Beer, an iconic Bavarian dark lager from the old Ayinger Brewery in Aying, Bavaria. Delicious!
Horseshoe Lake Hike
The road up to the Mammoth Lakes has it’s own beautiful views, like this view point above Twin Lakes.
Our morning hike was around Horseshoe Lake, an easy 1.5 mile path for hikers and bikers with beautiful mountain and lake views.
Aside from the beautiful views, one of the striking things in this area were the dead and dying trees, killed – not by humans! – but by high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) gases in the soil that was suffocating the roots of the trees, the result of shallow earthquakes beneath Mammoth Mountain in 1989.
It’s the only lake you can swim in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, but with the CO2 danger – no camping!
Not missing one view point on our way out of the Mammoth Lakes, we stopped at Lake Mamie to see what they were catching.
“Rainbow Trout” a fisherman told us, “This isn’t fishing, it’s just catching!” – the California Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks this lake every week for fishing fun.
Scenic Loop Drive
The rest of the day was one more quick hike and a scenic drive up to June Lake to see what that area looked like.
The geology of this region is simply fascinating. Off of the road called Mammoth Scenic Loop is a gravel road to the Inyo Craters parking lot and trail head.
There’s a couple of trails to get to the two craters, take the first trail across from the pit toilets, and after seeing both viewpoints at the first Inyo Crater, continue to the second crater and then back down the other trail to get back to the parking lot – nice loop hike!
Fun Fact: Inyo Craters were formed by a series of steam blasts that happened when rising magma came into contact with the water table under Deer Mountain. The explosions progressed from north to south, forming a chain of funnel shaped craters one after another in quick succession – sometime between 550 and 650 years ago – practically yesterday in geology time!
June Lake and Silver Lake
We continued the scenic drive a little farther – up to see what June Lake looked like and on for a view stop at pretty little Silver Lake.
The landscape becomes more barren after Silver Lake, we headed back to Mammoth for one last night.
Spectacular Scenery, Hikes, and Fascinating Geology
Before this quick trip I’d only been up in Mammoth for skiing. But that’s only one side of this terrific year round resort area – I fell in love with the spectacular scenery, the amazing hikes, and the fascinating geology. It definitely won’t be the last time we have a Mammoth getaway!
- Mammoth Getaway map
- Stop at the Mammoth Welcome Center on Highway 203 on the way in to Mammoth to pick up some maps.