48 Hours in Mammoth Lakes, California: The Perfect Itinerary

A family of four with a mother and father and their two daughters on an easy hike in the Twin Lakes area of Mammoth Lakes, California.

Layland Masuda / Getty Images

Smack in the middle of the eastern Sierra Nevada is one of the ultimate playgrounds for outdoor enthusiasts: the town of Mammoth Lakes, home of Mammoth Mountain. While skiers know it as a winter wonderland, once the snow melts, the trails surrounding the town—most of which are well above 8,000 feet in elevation—offer nearly every outdoor activity you could think of (well, maybe not surfing).

There's much to choose from in the lively town, from hiking and mountain biking to climbing via ferrata, fly fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, kayaking, or even soaking in natural hot springs. And there is no shortage of nearby breweries, summer festivals, and cool local shops to browse in your downtime.

It's best to stay in Mammoth for more than a few days, especially if you plan to spend a night backpacking in the woods. But if you only have a weekend to spare, it's still possible to get a taste of everything offered on a Mammoth Lakes summer trip in 48 hours. While you can fly into nearby Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop in the winter, you'll need to drive (or fly into Reno and drive approximately three hours south) to reach Mammoth Lakes in the summer months. The drive to Mammoth takes roughly five and a half hours from Los Angeles or approximately six hours from San Francisco.

01 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

A climber ascending the Mammoth Mountain via ferrata

Courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

Since you're driving to Mammoth, you'll most likely arrive midday, leaving the afternoon free for exploration. You could try to check into your hotel first, or you could head right to your first activity: the Mammoth Mountain Via Ferrata. Like a mix of climbing and hiking, the via ferrata uses a system of ladders, rungs, and wires to assist climbers in traversing the rock face. There are six different routes of varying difficulty, and your climbing guide will provide all of the necessary gear, like harnesses and helmets. Via ferrata is a safe activity that allows people with absolutely no climbing experience to still experience Mammoth's epic views. And at more than 11,000 feet above sea level, you can be sure the views are truly epic.

It's best to book your session in advance as there's a 1:4 guide-to-guest ratio, so it books up quickly.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Picture of the tap handles at Mammoth Brewing Company

Courtesy of Mammoth Brewing Company

Just a few miles down the road from the starting point of the Mammoth Mountain Via Ferrata is Mammoth Brewing Company, one of the best places in town to socialize for a few hours. The brewery frequently has lawn games and live music on the outdoor stage on summer evenings, and there are almost always a few friendly dogs hanging out, too.

Mammoth Brewing Company has been making beer in town since 1995 and offers a dozen beers on tap that change with the seasons. It also provides a fairly robust food menu, so it's a good stop whether you're interested in beer or just interested in having a bite to eat.

If you haven't already, check into your hotel after dinner. Book the Sierra Nevada Resort and Spa for a vintage feel with in-room fireplaces, an outdoor jacuzzi, and free mini-golf. If you want a more luxurious experience, check out the Westin Monache Resort or the Juniper Springs Resort if you prefer condo-style accommodations. The latter is ski-in, ski-out in the winter, but you can sometimes find good deals on the multi-room units come summer.

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03 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Man biking at California's Mammoth Mountain bike park

Courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

The Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is the place to be in the summer. While it has a reputation for being geared toward advanced bikers, the mountain has more than 80 miles of trails, half of which are beginner or intermediate, including the gentle 'Discovery Zone" section. If you don't have your own mountain bike, you can rent bikes (or e-bikes) at the bike park ticket office. You can also take a beginner or advanced bike lesson, hang out at the base to pan for gold, grab a brew, or take the kids to the Mammoth ropes course.

While you don't have to do too much pedaling at the bike park (you'll ride to the top in a gondola or on a ski lift), you'll still want to wear a hip pack or backpack with water—the heat and 11,000-foot elevation make it easy to get dehydrated.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

July 2017 long-exposure image of Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes, California.

Ernest Kung / Getty Images

You might be exhausted after spending the morning at the bike park, so plan to do something a little more relaxing on the afternoon of your second day. Grab lunch near the bottom of the gondola (at the bike park) before hopping on the shuttle to the Devils Postpile National Monument. The shuttle takes about 35 minutes each way, and you can buy tickets at the retail shop in the bike park.

Devils Postpile is a 100,00-year-old rock formation with such perfect 90-degree angles that it looks unnatural, but it's the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. From the shuttle drop-off point, it's only half a mile to the base of the formation. If you're feeling good after biking, add the 2 1/2-mile round-trip hike to beautiful Rainbow Falls.

If hiking isn't your thing, skip the trip to Devils Postpile and head instead to the marina on nearby Lake Mary, where you can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, or fishing rods (you can even bring your own Mammoth Brewing Co. six-pack). The water is usually calm, making it an excellent place for first-timers or anyone looking for a leisurely paddle. Consider grabbing lunch on your way out of town at one of the Mammoth Village's outdoor restaurants or the tasty and vegetarian-friendly Elixer Superfood.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Evening

A crowd watching a band at the Mammoth Mountain Margarita Festival

Josh Wray / Mammoth Lakes Tourism

When it comes to evening entertainment, summer visitors are in luck: Mammoth Mountain has a packed schedule of weekend events. There's live acoustic music in the village every Friday and Saturday night, though most weekends have other festivals on top of that. There's a classic rock and food festival in late August, usually followed by a whiskey and music festival a week or two later. Other options include the Mammoth Margarita Festival with late-night music and tastings, jazz and reggae festivals, and even a weekend-long silent disco.

If you'd prefer something a bit less crowded, treat yourself to dinner at one of Mammoth Lakes' fine-dining options. Head to Mammoth Rock and Bowl to bowl a round before heading upstairs for dinner at the Brasserie, a highly rated mountain-view restaurant with a lovely patio space. If you're lucky enough to get a reservation, try Skadi, a 10-table restaurant where dining is an extended experience; budget at least two hours. And Jimmy's Taverna serves up excellent Mediterranean food at pretty reasonable prices.

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06 of 06

Day 3: Morning

A group hiking on the gentle trail at Convict Lake

Courtesy of Visit Mammoth

You'll be heading out of town this weekend, but you might as well stretch your legs before starting the drive. Grab a coffee, a breakfast sandwich, or an açaí bowl at the popular Stellar Brew & Natural Cafe, or see if you can find a parking space at the always busy Shea Schat's Bakery.

Get your coffee to-go and head to one of the easy hiking trails surrounding the town, all of which are gentle enough for sore legs. Good options include The Convict Lake Loop Trail (a 2 1/2-mile-long route along the permitter of Convict Lake) or the Minaret Vista Trail (which is 2 1/2 miles and leads to fantastic views of the Minaret Ridgeline).

If you'd rather experience California's geothermal wonders, take the 20-minute drive to the Hot Creek Geologic Site. The interpretive trail is about half a mile and leads to pools of bubbling turquoise water tucked into a valley. It's a stunning sight, but swimming is prohibited because the pools are so hot (around 200 degrees Fahrenheit). There's a 3-mile gravel road to reach the pools, but it's relatively flat and even, and most cars should have no trouble making the drive.