Mammoth Lakes, California: The ultimate American adventure?

Roshina Jowaheer
·8-min read
Woman sitting in the Mammoth Lakes in the summer
Woman sitting in the Mammoth Lakes in the summer

Think California and you probably conjure up pictures of Los Angeles, Big Sur or San Francisco, but America's Golden State offers loads more than vibrant cities and scenic coastlines. Travellers in search of an epic American adventure should look no further than the postcard-perfect Mammoth Lakes, located around a five-hour drive north from LA.

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This beautiful mountain town is a place you need to see to believe - not just for its amazing landscapes and plethora of natural wonders, but for the wonderfully friendly atmosphere, unrivalled outdoorsy lifestyle and the marvellous mountain community. The Mammoth Lakes is where you can experience being active every day and enjoy unforgettable day trips, from visiting an official ghost town to an eerie salt lake.

With WOW Air flying from London Gatwick to LA for as little as £139 each way, this picturesque part of California is open to everyone, even those on a budget who wish to experience a US adventure like no other. Getting to Mammoth is a treat if you love a road trip and the drive along the Sierra Nevada mountain range provides outstanding views of the 14,000ft mountains and open valley. Along the way, you'll pass the otherworldly Vasquez Rocks, which has been the setting for many a film including Planet of the Apes and Star Trek. Make a stop in Lancaster for lunch at In-N-Out Burger, a California institution, before passing through the Mojave Desert, spotting abandoned planes at America's aviation graveyard and arriving at the Mars-like Red Rock Canyon. In the little town of Lone Pine which is backed by majestic Mount Whitney, you'll find the Lone Pine Film History Museum, a must for fans of country westerns and movie memorabilia. Next, the small town of Independence is worth a stop for a quick snap of its cute post office, while beef jerky lovers will want to stock up on the salty treat in Bishop.

As a top winter destination, Mammoth invites skiers far and wide to come and play, with the likes of Adam Sandler, Quentin Tarantino and Pink spending their ski holidays here. But the summer is just as exciting (if not more!), especially when exploring the great outdoors involves hiking, mountain biking and stand-up paddleboarding. It is also when Mammoth is more picturesque as nature comes alive and the town is filled with an alpine aroma.

On arrival to Mammoth, check in to upscale mountain hotel The Village Lodge, which affords a fantastic location in the centre of town, close to the restaurants and nightlife. A terrific base and a lively hub for couples and families, the hotel features an outdoor heated pool, a fitness centre and is just steps away from the shops. The two-bedroom condos (from $149 per night) are ideal for relaxing after your adventures and feature large open-plan living and kitchen spaces, a fireplace and spacious rooms boasting elegant, mountain-style décor. From The Village Lodge, you can enjoy early morning walks along the Lakes Basin Path to the Twin Lakes, where you might be lucky enough to spot a black bear as there are around 30 of the shy omnivores in Mammoth. The glorious trail makes for a scenic walk with lovely viewpoints for stopping to capture the moment.

When it comes to eating out, Campo in the Village serves up delicious wood-fired pizzas, fresh salads and homemade pasta. For a taste of Greece, Jimmy's Taverna, on Old Mammoth Road, offers seafood specialties such as scallops and wild salmon, along with tasty mezze. If you fancy fun with your food, you'll experience one of the best nights out at Mammoth Rock n' Bowl, where you can drink, dine and bowl. Its Brasserie is a great spot to feast on classics like Black Angus steak, elk medallions and braised Australian lamb shank, while after-dinner entertainment is in the state-of-the-art bowling alley. Beer lovers should also check out the Mammoth Brewery, just moments from The Village Lodge, where you can taste regular and seasonal brews as you relax in the beer garden.

Mammoth's incredible views are like nowhere else and one of the most spectacular ways to enjoy them is with a gondola ride up Mammoth Mountain. The Scenic Gondola Ride takes visitors to the summit at 11,000ft, offering 360-degree views of the Sierra and beyond. At the top, you can snap a selfie at the summit sign, witness the legendary Minaret spires, the Red Cones and the Long Valley Caldera, as well as learn about the local wildlife and nature at the Eleven53 Interpretive Center.

For true Mammoth-style action, hit the dirt track on two wheels at the Mammoth Bike Park, taking on some of the most radical terrain in America, or the vast beginner zone with its own chair lift. An activity for travellers of all ages, mountain biking provides a superb day out for every level of rider, with downhill trails combined with pavers and sharp twists and turns delivering a terrific alpine riding experience. Once you've worked up an appetite, enjoy a Bavarian après-experience at restaurant Yodler, where you can grab a giant pretzel or schnitzel and chill out on the sundeck overlooking the mountains.

Those who fancy hitting the water and making the most of Mammoth's many lakes can spend an afternoon on picturesque June Lake. The Caribbean-like turquoise waters and dramatic mountain backdrop create a pristine location for stand-up paddleboarding. With Mammoth Kayaks and Paddleboards, you can rent stable boards for seasoned paddleboarders and beginners. It takes just moments to find your balance before you're paddling out to one of the most beautiful mountain settings in the region.

Mandatory Mammoth sightseeing involves a hike to the natural wonder that is the Devils Postpile National Monument, California's answer to the Giant's Causeway, featuring thousands of hexagonal basalt columns formed 100,000 years ago when a lava flow slowed, before cooling and cracking. Once you marvel at this outstanding site, you should walk to the top of it to take in the views and stop for a picnic lunch. When you've refuelled, head for the 101ft Rainbow Falls, famous for its colourful rainbow created by the mist. Midday is the best time to experience this epic site, when the sun is at its highest.

Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument

Day tripping from Mammoth is not to be missed thanks to the plethora of weird, wonderful and inspiring places that will amaze you. Start with a drive to Mono Lake, just 30 minutes from town. Its salt waters are 2.5 times saltier than the ocean and this magnificent attraction sustains a unique biosphere which allows tiny brine shrimp and alkali flies to provide food for millions of birds. The odd-shaped tufa towers make Mono Lake Insta-perfect, with some towers reaching up to 30ft. The tufa, or limestone, is formed by underwater springs rich in calcium mixing with lake water rich in carbonates and growing over decades. It is an unusual and eerie place you must visit during a trip to Mammoth.

Equally unmissable is the ghost town of Bodie, situated an hour and a half's drive from Mammoth. The largest unrestored ghost town in the West, sprawling Bodie is located in a desolate valley north of Mono Lake and reached by a rocky road that was once only trodden by horses. Between 1877 and 1888, Bodie produced over $35 million in gold and silver. It was known as the most lawless town in America, home to saloons, bordellos and gambling dens. The remote town, which swelled to 10,000 residents, had its own school, hotel, dairies and even a graveyard.

Old wagon in ghost town of Bodie, California
Old wagon in ghost town of Bodie, California

Today, you can visit the tremendously preserved town, peeking inside the church, family homes and tour the mill which processed more than $14 million worth of gold and silver. Don't miss a glimpse through the windows where you can spot dusty globes and desks in the school, and tins of food and the old cash register in the general store. There is an intriguing find round every corner and many stories to hear on a guided tour.

Get there:WOW Air flies to Los Angeles from London Gatwick with fares starting from £130 each way.

Getting in: Arriving into LAX in the evening means you can check out vibrant Los Angeles at night: nearby Manhattan Beach is a fantastic destination to dine and drink before your big adventure in the morning. Spend the night at super-stylish airport hotel the Hyatt Regency Concourse. The trendy rooms feature design-led furniture, lighting and artwork, as well as huge comfortable beds that are ideal for sinking into after a long flight. The Concourse doesn't feel like an airport hotel and with its excellent soundproofing you won't believe you're just metres from the runway - even the pilots are said to be a fan of its sleek décor and city-centre vibe.