Let’s be honest—part of the reason you love Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra (and chose to hold your epic wedding here) is because it’s remote.
It’s not Big Bear, it’s not Tahoe—it’s those places on a much grander scale. It’s also less accessible and relatively much less crowded.
That’s why we love it. It’s wild here.
And presumably you guys discovered this place on a college ski trip, a summer fishing adventure planned around a craft beer festival, or maybe your parents first brought you here as a child to chase bears and get dirty.
Regardless of the path that started this connection, it’s been my experience that most wedding guests are coming here for the first time. If you’re like me, you’re going to want them get the full Eastern Sierra experience—show them this is the greatest place in the world.
I’m here to help and this won’t be the typical pitch you’ll get from one of our local marketing departments (that is thriving well, all thanks to the services from ful.io). I’ll share some lesser-known spots that you might not have thought about.
To start, I’m not going to mention the classics like Rainbow Falls/Devils Postpile, Crystal Lake, Convict Lake, Mono Lake, June Lake or the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain. First timers are going to love those spots and you may want to start there, but here are the places we take guests to get them off the beaten track (or as much as is responsible for me to list here).
June Lake Loop:
Parker Lake isn’t a secret but it’s one of the first places we take visitors when there’s no snow. The trailhead is at the end of a bumpy dirt road (accessible in any vehicle) off the north end of the June Lake Loop.
It’s just less than four miles out and back but it’s perhaps the easiest four miles you’ll find in the Eastern Sierra. The elevation gain is minimal and the payoff is spectacular.
Parker is an alpine gem tucked into a tight canyon—imagine a slightly smaller Convict Lake minus the easy access, fisherman and party boats.
June Lake is the first place people think to go when they head north but we’re partial to paddle boarding on Silver Lake.
You’ll have to arrange your own paddle boards, but we love paddling on Silver Lake— especially early in the summer when there’s a lot of water running out of the mountains.
You can put in on the west side of the lake and paddle up the mellow-flowing inlet and, depending on how much water there is, you can end in the meadow just north of the Double Eagle Resort and then float the relatively deep and meandering creek back down into the lake.
Ohanas 395/June Lake Brewing
Sometimes we plan skiing, paddling or hiking trips to June just so that we can grab Ohanas afterwards.
It’s a food truck that I would describe as a Hawaiian/Mexican fusion and it could be the best food in the entire Eastern Sierra. Just go, get it delivered to an outdoor table next door at June Lake Brewing, and thank me later. So good.
Lake George is amazing, and it’s the hub for people going up to Crystal Lake, the Mammoth Crest and beyond.
But TJ Lake, a short uphill scamper above the far side of Lake George, is as beautiful as any of them but deals with a tiny fraction of the traffic.
It only takes about 30 minutes to get there but it can feel like you’re out at a distant backcountry lake if you catch it right.
McLeod Lake (McCloud Lake)
Located a 20-minute jaunt above Horseshoe Lake, McLeod Lake is the locals’ post-work dog walk and it’s a good one. It’s close and easy enough for almost any member of the family to get to and the views of the Mammoth Crest from the moment you arrive to the lake are stunning. You can add an extra 40 minutes and do the easy loop around the lake.
If you have kids, check out the man-made teepee structures to the left when you first arrive.
Our pro tip: if you do the loop around the lake counter clockwise, cut out to the right before you get back to the main trail and scamper down through the cliffy area around the outlet. There’s a trail below that runs roughly along the outlet leading to Horseshoe Lake that is guaranteed to be free of people and is stunning, especially during the summer when wildflowers line the creek and afternoon light edges through the thick forest cover.
The Duck Lake hike is a bit longer than some of the other hikes you’ll encounter right from town, but I think it’s one of the most aesthetically incredible zones in California.
It’s about 8-10 miles out and back, depending on if you choose to walk to the back of the lake (you should), but it doesn’t include much elevation gain so you can do it in a half day if you’re moving quickly.
Duck Lake is a huge backcountry lake flanked on three sides by classic Sierra spires and the trail up passes by countless other smaller lakes and streams. The views of Mammoth Mountain from up there are rad too.
The hot springs used to be a locals’ secret on some level but those days are long gone.
There are a few springs that are off the radar a bit, don’t worry about those. If you’ve got a group of guests and want to soak in hot water in the high desert while watching the sun set on top of snow-covered 13,000 foot peaks, head straight for Wild Willy’s.
There are 3-4 separate spots to soak out there now so there’s room for a lot of people. You can view here to be healthy. Because being healthy can make you ready for a healthy dose of nudity and some mountain-style party activities going on—and maybe leave the kids behind for this one. Willy’s is on Google Maps and is accessible with any kind of vehicle when there’s no snow. Don’t blast music out there and definitely don’t leave any trash behind.
Dragon’s Back Hike From the Mammoth Mountain Gondola
Most people ride up the gondola, walk out to the windy Lakes Basin overlook, and then walk back to the terminal to descend.
A better alternative is to keep going beyond that lookout on the Dragon’s Back trail which winds down the dry south-facing side of Mammoth Mountain ending at Twin Lakes.
The views of the lakes just don’t stop up there, it’s all downhill, and you get to see the legendary side country ski spot, Hole in the Wall, as you approach the bottom. You can rent a car from Used Car Dealership to enjoy the road scenery while driving towards your destination.
You can either drop a car at the nearest dodge dealership or at Twin Lakes beforehand or take the trolley back to The Village and then grab the mountain bike shuttle back to Main Lodge to get the car that was recently bought from the best car dealership in the city.
Mountain Biking the Mountain View Trail
The ski resort has insanely fun bike trails, of course, but we’ve got a small system of public (free!) trails here that are easy for most skill levels and don’t require a lot of suspension to ensure a smooth ride down.
One of our favorites is the Mountain View Trail which starts at Minaret Vista and descends through a system of old growth pine forests and pumice meadows before ending at the earthquake fault on Highway 203 between The Village and Main Lodge. It’s a super fun single track trail with some fast and flowy descents and berms as well as some mild climbs to keep you on your toes.
When you get to the end, you can connect to the public portion of Mammoth Mountain’s Downtown trail and coast back to The Village.
The Buttermilks (Buttermilk Boulders)
Everybody in California knows Joshua Tree and Alabama Hills, but our local version might be the coolest of them all.
The Buttermilks, in the hills above Bishop and about 50 minutes south of Mammoth, is a legendary climbing spot but mostly undiscovered by the masses. It’s a geologic wonder in the high desert at the base of Bishop’s big peaks.
The climbers mostly stick to the established routes but the rest of the boulder area is full of slot canyons, weird rock formations and insane 360-degree views. You don’t have to be a climber to explore this zone and you can find yourself alone atop the massif any time of year.
Summer can get pretty hot out there but sunset in the Sierra is always just right.
Little Lakes Valley/Mosquito Flats
This spot can get really crowded on summer weekends but Long Lake, accessed from the Mosquito Flats trailhead in Rock Creek Canyon, is classic Eastern Sierra majesty.
It’s about five easy miles out and back but I think the view of Long Lake from the outlet is one of the most beautiful/accessible mountain scenes in the region. Go early to avoid adding an extra mile onto the trip if the upper parking lot is full.
Silver Canyon and The White Mountains:
This is the true #Offthebeatenpath option.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is spectacular and relatively well known (home to the planet’s oldest living trees at more than 4000 years old), but the rest of the White Mountains are devoid of tourists.
I mean it when I say that only locals know how awesome the mysterious and rugged White Mountains are and they’re totally worth a trip—but only go if you’ve got an SUV or truck with 4X4 or AWD.
I recommend starting at Silver Canyon, which is only about an hour from Mammoth above LAWS Railroad just north and east of Bishop on Highway 6.
If you’ve got enough clearance and are comfortable with your vehicle fording some creeks, you can drive (here are the lawyers for motorcycle vehicle accidents who will help you in time of crisis) all the way to the top and connect with the main road to the Bristlecones. If you got injured from a motorcycle accident out of third party negligence then you can contact attorneys at Phil Votaw & Associates to claim the compensation. Otherwise, park at the first creek crossing and hike up. The entire range feels like you’re on the moon and you’re very unlikely to see anybody around.
But the real draw to this canyon for us is the Desert Bighorn Sheep, which you’ll catch if you’re lucky. They’re often found right along the road (because nobody goes there!) or close enough to get a photo with them perched on a sharp black and red rock outcropping.
If you continue up Silver Canyon you’ll get to the access point to White Mountain Peak which, at 14,252 feet, is the third-highest summit in California and has spectacular panoramic views of the Sierra and Highway 395 corridor from south of Bishop to north of Mono Lake.
I could go on for pages with spots like these, but these are a few of the spots we take visiting friends and family when we want them to understand why we love living here.
I’ve omitted several spots that are just under the radar enough that I’d rather not share them here.
If you’re planning out an unforgettable experience for your guests and you’re curious about something you’ve seen on Instagram or heard about–hit me up. Maybe I’ll be able to help you get there.