Family Fun at Mammoth Lakes

Boating, hiking, and horseback riding in the Eastern Sierra 

I am not the outdoors type. I don’t like camping (too dirty), I get nervous when I think about hiking (too much chance of encountering a scary wild animal), and I’ve never managed to get the hang of kayaking (too wet and cold). My husband, John, and 10-year-old daughter, Natalie, are a lot like me: athletic, but more partial to gyms, paved running trails, and manicured soccer fields than to unfettered nature.

So why did I haul my family to Mammoth Lakes, that mecca for outdoor adventurers, for a long summer weekend? I was asking myself that question as we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5 a.m. to start the five-hour drive to the mountains. But once we’d passed through Lancaster and made our way onto State Route 14, and then US Route 395, I started to remember. We encountered breathtaking vistas, from red-rock formations to windswept green meadows to majestic mountains rising in the distance. When we stopped in Bishop to stretch our legs, the snap of the crisp, clean mountain air brought it all home: As stuck-in-our-ways city dwellers, we needed this dose of nature.

Mountain High

Mammoth boasts more than 300 miles of hiking trails, and many are accessible even for those of us who wouldn’t know a hiking boot from a rain boot. Natalie, John, and I set off on one of those routes, the 3-mile Crystal Lake trail, early one morning. As we climbed the gentle switchbacks, shaded by tall fir and pine trees, we were rewarded every few hundred feet with stunning views of the Crystal Crag, a distinctive rock formation, silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky. At one point, we took a break where the trees parted to reveal two lakes below, the clear blue water glittering in the sun. “I feel like I’m on top of the world, Mom,”Natalie said. Indeed.

Horsing Around

Buoyed by our hike, we decided to saddle up with Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit, a stable that leads horse and mule trail rides in the summer. We opted for a horseback ride through the remains of the Consolidated Mine, where workers dug for gold between 1927 and 1933. As we lumbered along paths that double as cross-country skiing trails in the winter, we saw what was left of the old bunkhouses and ore-processing mill. Interesting as they were, they were no match for what we witnessed near the end of the trail: a doe, standing in a sun-dappled clearing. Score another point for nature. $45–$180 for pack rides. Age restrictions apply. 1-760-934-2434;

Proud Mary

Take one look at the tiny shop at Lake Mary Marina, packed with fishing rods, reels, and tackle, and you might assume it’s an angler’s paradise. You’d be right. Co-owner Don Barrett is a recognized expert on local fishing, and the staff can tell you where the fish are biting on any given day. But the marina rents boats for recreation, too, including kayaks, rowboats, and motorized pontoons. We chose the latter, and when John wasn’t buzzing across the water doing his best James Bond impression, we took in the view of the mountains ringing the lake and agreed: It was a pretty great way to spend an afternoon. Pontoons start at $80 an hour; other boats start at $25 an hour. 1-760-934-5353,

Devil in the Details

When it comes to outdoor activities in Mammoth, winter and summer are neck and neck. When it comes to sightseeing, summer wins hands down. The reason: Devils Postpile National Monument, which is accessible only from June to October. The rock formation, created 80,000 years ago when lava pooled behind a natural dam and cooled into hexagonal columns, looks as if it could be modern art. And it’s not the only thing worth seeing in the national monument: Walk 2.5 miles south from the ranger station, and you’ll reach Rainbow Falls, a 101-foot plunge along the San Joaquin River named for the colorful arcs that form in the water’s mist.

Eat Out

When you’re planning to hike all day, you need fuel, and Old New York Deli and Bakery provides the perfect carb boost with its breakfast sandwiches: fried egg and cheese on a soft-toasted bagel. You can also pick up sandwiches for lunch; the staff will wrap them so you can take them along on any adventure. 1-760-934-3354;

A white-tablecloth restaurant above the town bowling alley? I didn’t believe it either, but the Mammoth Rock Brasserie is for real, and it’s the best restaurant in town. The filet mignon and rigatoni Bolognese will tempt meat lovers, but the daily fish specials are even better. 1-760-934-4200;

Sleep In

At the end of a long day of active pursuits, the Westin Monache Resort provided us with the perfect places for R&R: in our large, comfortable room, complete with a kitchenette; in the hot tub surrounded by tall pine trees; and in the on-site Whitebark Restaurant and Lounge, where we noshed on steaks, salmon, and a dreamy flourless chocolate cake. Summer rates start at about $185. 1-760-934-0400;

Let Us Help

Free Eastern Sierra maps are available at an Auto Club branch. For information about TourBook guides and TripTik Travel Planners, visit a branch or go to More information about Mammoth Lakes is at 1-760-934-2712 or