Planning Your Road Trip to Mammoth Lakes, California
If you have never been before, we highly recommend planning a Mammoth Lakes California Road Trip. It offers views from jaw-dropping mountain peaks in the eastern Sierra, to lush green meadows, to steamy hot springs, to gorgeous blue glacial lakes. It truly has activities and landscapes to please everyone.
Timing: We highly recommend checking out the Mammoth Lakes area in either Fall or Spring. All seasons are actually gorgeous, but in the Summer it’s a little too populated and in the Winter it can get quite cold. If you are an avid snowboarder or skiier, you should definitely hit the slopes on nearby Mammoth Mountain, or try to get backcountry skiing permits in the area because there are some amazing routes.
Packing List: Make sure to check out our Gear Guide for what to pack with you. For road trips, we always like to pack extra snacks, sunscreen, comfy shoes/sandals for when you are in the car, and a comfortable pillow. If you plan on backpacking, make sure to read our secret tips before you go!
Adventure Itinerary: Here’s our top itinerary for a weekend Mammoth Lakes California Road Trip!
For the adventurers, we highly recommend Duck Pass. The Duck Pass trail goes along the forested hillside behind Coldwater Campground and goes past Arrowhead, Skelton, and Barney lakes before arriving at Duck Pass. This is another area where you can camp next to the lake with a backcountry permit. We opted for the day hike and it was absolutely gorgeous! However, be warned as it is about an 8-9 mile hike and it took us a few hours; plan accordingly!
Convict Lake is one of the most popular sunrise destinations along our Mammoth Lakes California Road trip itinerary. Every time we have been here, it has been packed with photographers early in the morning. So, we decided to visit here in the afternoon and do the 2.5-mile hike around the lake instead. It definitely is worth fighting the crowds off for sunrise, but make sure to get there early (like really early) to reserve a good spot! It’s a fairly big parking lot, you can cook up breakfast there for a nice view, and the alpine glow is incredible and worth the early morning. If you can plan your trip in the fall, the trees changing colors here are insanely beautiful as well.
Owens River Valley
Although we had been to Mammoth before, this was the first time we had added the Owens River to our Mammoth Lakes California Road Trip itinerary. The lush greenery was absolutely stunning. This spot is very popular for fishing, but we loved it for a sunset full of film photography and relaxing. Next time, we definitely would recommend bringing stuff for a picnic. The sunset overlooking the Mammoth Lakes area was a beautiful mix of the semi-snow covered mountains and the meadows.
Wild Willy’s Hot Spring
There are several natural hot springs out in the middle of the Mammoth Lakes area. HOWEVER, they are pretty tiny and can’t hold that many people. We found it best to scout out the several springs the night before we decided to go, and found that Wild Willy’s was the least populated since it has about a mile hike to get to it! After scoping it out the night before, we got up for sunrise and had the hot springs almost all to ourselves! You can actually also camp right next to the hot springs on BLM land. For more info and specific directions check out this link!
Bree’s Lookout & Hot Creek Geological Site
Unfortunately, you can’t swim in the springs by Hot Creek geological sight because the water is too hot and contaminated with arsenic. However, the view is 100% worth checking out. There are some bright blue springs mixed with gorgeous greenery right around the area. When we go back, we’d love to snatch a campsite next to Bree’s lookout which overlooks this whole area. It’s on BLM land, so it’s totally free to camp there!
Tom’s Place: Chickenfoot Lake
Saving the best for last! Tom’s Place (with the Chickenfoot Lake hike) is one of our favorite destinations in the Eastern Sierras. Without fail, it always makes our Mammoth Lakes California Road Trip to-do list.
The hike itself is about 3 miles with an elevation gain of about 500 feet gradually. The trail passes through Little Lakes Valley, an area dense with lakes such as Heart Lake, Box Lake, and Long Lake. All of them are great opportunities for photography, fishing, and relaxation.
We have done this hike 4 times now, and every season it is stunning. We love going in the spring because the temperature is perfect, the summer crowds haven’t come in yet, and the snow-covered peaks are absolutely stunning
BONUS IF YOU READ THIS FAR: If you have more time, we also recommend checking out McGee Pass Trail, especially during the fall. It’s a more unknown hike that turns so yellow and red during the seasonal change. It is a must-see if you are going to experience the seasons.
We hope you enjoyed our weekend Mammoth Lakes California Road Trip itinerary! Let us know if you have any other questions or favorite places nearby that we didn’t cover in the comments! Happy adventuring!