Last Updated on March 8, 2023

A scenic drive to Mammoth Lakes lies before you when renting a car in Reno and driving down Highway 395. This 3.5-hour trip is dotted with winding roads revealing pristine mountain views as you snake your way up and down mountain passes.

Often, I was in awe at the flatland lying before me as I came around a curve. Small towns were sprinkled along the roadway, so no need to be concerned about gas or finding a snack along the way.

The variety of activities is unlimited in this area. Hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, hunting, skiing, kayaking, and even ax-throwing are available. It would be difficult for a family to find activities members of the family would not enjoy.

PRO TIP: Remember, the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, is at a 7,000-foot elevation. There are two things to plan for.
1. Your breathing may be challenged sometimes, so don’t expect to walk and run like you are used to at a lower elevation.
2. The sun is intense. Keep applying the sunblock and wear a hat.

With those two precautions in mind, you will never regret a visit to this area with its stunning views, crystal clear streams, and gracious people.

A Centrally Located Hotel

Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa-min
©Kathy Condon

Mammoth Lakes is a sprawling town with a population of 9,000 and has many directions to explore. The Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa turned is a great home base. Recently remodeled, this resort has everything you need on premises. It is an easy stride to numerous restaurants and shops.

The rustic luxury suites make you smile, for the mountain theme is carried out with superb reproductions of old Mammoth Skiing scenes. Less one forgets this area is known for excellent fly fishing, the desk lamp with its fishing basket and net provides the perfect place to sit if you need to do business on this getaway.

Go to the Top of the Mountain

Gondola Ride at Mammoth Lakes
©Kathy Condon

The scenic gondola ride to the top provides a relaxing and magnificent way to reach the 10,000-foot elevation of Mammoth Mountain. Tickets are required and are purchased at the foot of the gondola. The ride takes approximately 15-minutes. The enclosed gondolas hold six people if there is no bicycle accompanying the many visitors who choose to ride their bikes down the mountain.

Mammoth Mountain is a volcano. You will see mounds created by mini eruptions over many 100s of years on the ride up. Those mounds are stops for chairlifts for skiers, hikers, or bikers since riding a bike from the top of the mountain to the bottom is possible.

Explore the Top of the Mountain

View from Mammoth Mountain
©Kathy Condon

Once you step off the gondola, you will see signs directing hikers and regular visitors to one lane and a separate lane for people with their bikes.

You will notice there is a place to get refreshments. However, if you are like most of us, you are eager to see the panoramic views at these 10,000-foot elevations surrounding the building. A photographer’s paradise. The question is which direction to capture.

If you are a hiker, you have already mapped out your descent. There are knowledgeable guides from the US Forest Service ready to answer questions for people interested in the geology and development of the tourism aspect of the mountains. If you have plenty of time, sit down and watch the films on everything from Dave McCoy, who dreamed of this mountain resort, to the animals making the mountain their home.

Fly Fishing Mammoth Lakes Style

With crystal clear, cold streams, trout have found this a perfect habitat to make their home. If you have ever wondered what it was like to fly fish, here’s the ideal opportunity to learn. Head to Trout Fitter and make an appointment with a guide.

They will outfit you with everything needed from waders, poles, lures, and nets. Keep in mind that this area is known for its catch and release fishing sport.

Not only will you learn how to use a rod and reel, but your guide is also a wealth of information on the environment, the antics of trout, and local stories about the people that help make this such an exciting place to visit.

Visit a Gorge with Bubbling Water

Hot Creek - Mammoth Lakes
©Kathy Condon

Ten miles from downtown Mammoth Lakes, Hot Creek is a geological setting you will not want to miss. Park your car, grab your hat and water and start the descend into this small gorge and be ready for some magnificent scenery.

Small hot springs are bubbling up in various places, but the three large ponds capture your attention for their azure blue color. Posted signs warn no swimming, for the temperature in these ponds can rise to 200-degrees in a very short time.

If you want to cool off before you ascend the somewhat steep trail, sprinkle yourself with the cool water from the stream that is also a habitat for trout due to the various insects that thrive in this mineral-rich environment.

Mammoth Lakes Cabin Filled with Art & Antiques

When is the last time you pulled up in front of an art gallery and there welcoming you is a decommissioned firetruck? That is only the beginning of the surprises that await you as you walk up the stone path and open the door of the Gallery at Twin Lakes.

You can’t help but wondered if you have gone in the wrong door, for you feel like you have entered someone’s living room. You have, for Robert and Sue Joki, make this building their home during the summer months.

With giant smiles, the couple welcomes you to come in and explore. Everywhere you look, there is art and antiques, all available for sale. As attractive as the physical place and objects are in the gallery, it’s the owners and their willingness to share their knowledge, making this a must-stop on any adventure to Mammoth Lakes.

Enough of sandwiches? Time for a Nice Meal

The food must be good when locals advise you to make reservations at least a day in advance, particularly if you want to eat outside. Located in the Alpenhof Lodge, Petra’s Bistro and Wine Bar does not disappoint.

After eating seafood for numerous days, the craving for beef was prevalent in this diner’s mind. However, first, it was time to peruse the extensive cocktail list. A Wisconsin brandy old fashion was a nice change from the various IPAs served at many restaurants in the area.

The staff was extremely accommodating and took my order for a New York Strip steak. When it arrived, it was not only tender, cooked to perfection, the accompanying cabernet demi sauce was one of the most intriguing and delightful I have eaten.

Learn Mammoth Lakes’ History

In the 1920s, Emmett Hayden, a mapmaker who had drawn detailed maps of the area, decided to build the first log cabin and use it as a hunting and fishing lodge.

Today, this cabin has been preserved, and its contents help reveal how the earlier settlers lived. It is now called the Mammoth Museum at Hayden Cabin.

Knowledgeable docents happily share information while they tour you through this impeccably built structure. If you ever wondered how Mammoth Lakes got its name, wonder no more. It turns out gold was discovered in the area, and the miners wanted a name that meant big because it was such vast and filled with lakes. Thus, the name Mammoth Lakes stuck.

Hit the Trail

Once you park your car and start walking toward the Horseshoe Lake Loop, you will observe land with no vegetation. Gases from the Mammoth volcano have effectively killed trees and plants at the foot of the trail.

You will find Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access staff standing ready to answer your questions near the trailhead and information signs. They help educate people on navigating the Mammoth trails safely and inform people about activities happening in the town.

In addition, you can ask them how you can honor this land while hiking. The trails offer unparalleled views of an area that looms high against the brilliantly blue skies

End Your Mammoth Lakes Visit at the Spa

All the physical activities you have been doing may take a toll on your body. The solution? Book a massage at Double Eagle Spa, located in Snow Creek Athletic Club. With your massage, you receive a pass for all parts of this massive structure for the day. It houses a gym, swimming pool, a room for Pilates, another for dance, a coffee shop, and a gift shop.

The serenity of the area where massages are given is a most welcoming place to sit back and contemplate your adventure in Mammoth Lakes over the last few days.