When you think of California, what comes to mind? Surf, celebrities, maybe the first few chords of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys? Set in the high Sierra Nevada mountains on the eastern border of the state, Mammoth Lakes avoids just about every Californian cliché.
From world-class beers to high-altitude mountain biking, via a peculiar national monument that looks like it may have been crafted by the devil, here are six reasons to visit Mammoth Lakes, California.
If you’re the kind of person whose idea of a perfect holiday includes lazy lie-ins, early doors aperitifs and nights in the hotel streaming Netflix, you can stop reading now. If you’re coming to Mammoth Lakes, you’ll want to make the most of the great outdoors.
Perhaps top of Mammoth Lakes’ roster of summer outdoor activities is the Mammoth Bike Park. When the snow melts and the Californian sun starts to do its thing, Mammoth Mountain offers some of the best single track runs in the country. There’s 128 kilometres of track across 1416 hectares of alpine mountains; plenty for both wobbly beginners and death-wishers to enjoy.
For slightly slower-paced adventure, you can paddle board or kayak in one of the many lakes in the region (June and Mono Lakes being the most impressive and photogenic of the bunch), or go hiking through wildflower meadows and pine forests. Just keep half an eye out for the black bears and elusive mountain lions that roam these parts.
Based 2500m above sea level, the Mammoth Brewing Company ferments the highest altitude beers on the west coast. Founded in 1995, they use straight-from-the-mountain alpine water in the brewing process, and the resulting beers are lauded as being some of the best in Western America.
The supremely hoppy Epic IPA is our pick of their brews, although at 6.5% ABV you may want to start with a lighter option. The grassy and crisp Sierra Trout Pilsner is a solid alternative, named after the golden trout that is native to the Sierra Nevada mountain waters. For those staying off the hooch, the ultra-sweet root beer should do the job.
Mammoth Lakes is, first-and-foremost, a place to carve up the snow. Over the long winter the top of Mammoth Mountain gets an average of nine metres of the white stuff.
Most people come here to ski or snowboard down imaginatively named pistes such as Gremlin’s Gulch, Wipeout Chutes and Paranoid Flats, but there’s always snowshoeing, snowmobiling or dog sledding if you’re up for trying something different.
If you’ve ever read one of those ‘Spooky Abandoned Places’ lists online, there’s a good chance that it featured the gold mining town of Bodie – about 65 miles north of Mammoth Lakes.
In its heyday the town had a population of over 10,000, but about a century ago the gold industry began to dwindle and the locals left in their droves. Today, it is suspended in a state of arrested decay, with gold mines, banks and schools left just as they were in the early twentieth century.
The park rangers runs ghost walks on select nights, just in case the experience during the day wasn’t eerie enough for you.
Ten miles or so from Mammoth Lakes, the Devils Postpile is one of 123 national monuments in the USA, and it’s well worth a visit. Judging by its uniform structure – each 18-metre column is an almost perfect hexagon – it’s hard to believe that this is a feat of nature and not man (or devil). But, alongside the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, this is one of the finest examples of columnar basalt in the world. Be sure to walk up to the top to get a close up look at the beautifully symmetrical patterns and the super smooth glacial polish.
While here, look out for the ubiquitous chipmunks, who will happily pose for your next Instagram post.
One way of getting to Mammoth Lakes is to take a propeller flight from Los Angeles or San Francisco into the region’s tiny airport, a rare chance to see the Californian landscape shift from surf, to desert, to snow-capped peaks in just eighty minutes. But if you have time on your hands, you could consider incorporating Mammoth Lakes into a longer road trip.
One possible circular route, manageable over a leisurely two weeks outside the snowy season, starts in San Francisco before driving east, over the scenic Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park.
From here, it’s a short journey to Mammoth Lakes, where you can settle in for a few days of high-altitude tomfoolery before heading south to Lone Pine, a one-horse town where Western movies used to be filmed (as showcased in the Lone Pine Film History Museum). A drive through dusty desert plains takes you to Los Angeles, from where you can head up along the Pacific Coast Highway back up to San Fran.
Greg flew from London to Los Angeles with Wow Air; one-way flights start from £139. He stayed at the Hyatt Concourse at LAX and the Village Lodge in Mammoth Lakes Village. Check out mammothmountain.com and visitmammoth.com for more information.
Top image © melissamn/Shutterstock