Mammoth Lakes - Hike Convict Lake - Mountain Bike - Mono Lake


Wild and Wooly

Just beyond Yosemite, the resort town of Mammoth Lakes still retains a laid-back, off-the-beaten-track vibe. But the less-heralded Eastern Sierras are on the cusp of a boom. Check out Mammoth's sawtooth peaks and sublime lakes before their secrets go the way of its big wooly namesake.  


Duck Pass

Stairway to Hiker Heaven

There are no rolling foothills in Mammoth, just straight-up, dramatic mountains. Trailheads point in all directions. Casual hikers, make a beeline for Convict Lake for a scenic walk around a fresh alpine lake. Encircled by enormous peaks, the trail loops the lake's edge, threading through aspen trees on the back side and offering views of canoeists paddling on the lazy emerald waters. For a more robust trek that will stretch your hiking boots and spur your endorphins, go to Mammoth Lakes Basin and take on the 11-mile roundtrip Duck Pass (start early!). Quite possibly among the five finest day-hikes in America, the long trail passes multiple crisp blue lakes, including Arrowhead Lake, with its tempting (but "at your own risk") cliff-jumping opportunities. Continue along the tree-dotted path, reaching lake after lake and crossing a few shallow streams; then go up, up and further up, along a granite mountain staircase that takes adventurers to the glory spot: Duck Pass (pictured), hovering high above a turquoise necklace of lakes you passed along the way.

Convict Lake is 9 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes on Hwy 395. The Duck Pass Trail is accessed from the back of Coldwater Campground at the end of Lake Mary Rd. Allow from five to eight hours to go all the way to Duck Pass and back.

Paddle the Tufas

Mark Twain called it "one of the strangest freaks of nature in any land." But we prefer to call it a high-desert sea. Mysterious, tranquil, and ancient, Mono Lake is the second oldest lake in North America and a vital habitat for millions of migratory and nesting birds. It's famed for its bizarre, salt-white "tufa" towers, rising up from the lake like craggy fingers pointing skyward. These limestone formations prominently appeared in the 1940s, after Southern California began tapping the lake. Get up-close to the ethereal "tufas" by paddling right to them. The Mono Lake Committee and Caldera Kayaks rent canoes and kayaks and lead guided tours, elaborating on the lake's history, controversy, and peculiar mystique. And don't worry if you fall out of kayak (a highly unlikely occurrence): the lake's vigorously salty water will help keep you afloat. All the more reason to wonder what timeless secrets lie beneath….

The Mono Lake Committee (760-647-6595) offers canoe tours starting July 5 through the summer. The cost is $22 per person. Caldera Kayaks (760-934-1691) leads four-hour kayak trips on the lake for $75 per person most weekends through the summer. For either trip, call ahead to reserve.

Topic 2 photo courtesy of Buck Forester

Mountain Bike Mammoth Mountain

Beacon for all Bikers

Old schoolers and newbies unite at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Trails are rated just like ski runs (green circle to black diamond), and some are reached just like a ski run, too: A gondola will whisk you and your bike to 11,053 feet, where you'll find awesome scenery and the beginning of a grin-inducing descent. A favorite for first-timers, families, and even experts is the Uptown/Downtown Trail. This singletrack endeavor starts at the new Mammoth Village and weaves gently up through piney woods for 4 miles, all the way to the rustic Main Lodge. Take a break and fuel up on ski-cafeteria grub. Then it's time to switch gears, fasten your helmet, and push off. The ride down is rollicking, semi-speedy fun on a dirt trail filled with twists and turns. It's challenging but not treacherous—just don't try the "Look, Ma! No hands!" approach.

If you need some wheels, the Adventure Center at Mammoth Mountain's main lodge has bikes to fit every rider (and every rider's style). To access the trails in the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park, pick up a Pedal Pass ($10, no chairlift or gondola access) or Park Pass ($42, chairlift and gondola included) at the Adventure Center at the Main Lodge. Look for the Uptown trailhead at the northwest corner of Minaret Rd. and Forest Trail.

TIP: Mammoth is on the rise. Positioning itself to be the destination ski resort in North America—something akin to Aspen or Whistler—Mammoth has condos popping up like rental prices in San Francisco. To be in the middle of the action, stay in the recently built Village at Mammoth (800-MAMMOTH), a hot-spot inspired by Swiss ski-resort architecture. The Village is bustling with restaurants, bars, a coffee shop, and a market. Or for a big selection of condos and cabins, contact the Mammoth Reservation Bureau (760-934-2528); they represent over 40 properties.

Topic 3 photo courtesy of Extremeline

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