For my birthday this year, I wanted to hike Big Pines Lake. I kept seeing pictures and videos of the gorgeous glacier lakes all over social media. So I planned a weekend (Thurs-Sun) trip with my boyfriend back in August to visit Mammoth Lakes so we could hike Big Pines Lake (more details below). We only wanted to do a day hike so we figured Mammoth Lakes would be a suitable place to stay in and explore for the weekend. 
Mammoth Lakes is about a 6.5 hour drive from San Diego. We departed San Diego on a Thursday, immediately after we got off from work at 5pm, and drove all night until we arrived in Mammoth - which was around midnight. We stayed at Mammoth Mountain Inn - one of the big ski/snowboarding resorts in Mammoth. The chair lifts to the mountain top were directly outside the inn so that was pretty cool.

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Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes

Over the weekend, we were able to fit several activities to our itinerary. Here's what we did.

➤ Enjoy the various lakes

Lake Mary

It's not called Mammoth Lakes for no reason because there are so many lakes in Mammoth to explore. Spending the day at the lakes is a great summer activity. There's so many things to do at or around the lakes so it's worth checking out the different lakes. Please keep in mind that some lakes do not allow swimming so check before you go. Some of the lakes are boating only so they don't allow swimming in order to prevent people from getting injured by the boats.

If you like water activities, there are a lot of activities for you and the whole family. Almost all of the lakes have a marina so you can rent gear from them (boats, fishing gear, jetskis, canoes, pontoons, kayaks, paddleboards, etc.). I definitely recommend calling the marinas in advance if you can to make a rental reservation as they sell out pretty quickly, especially on the weekends. There were some places that said "first come, first serve" when it came to the rentals, but when we got there - everything was sold out. So I would still call ahead to confirm and not risk it. 

You can also go fishing, wake boarding, water tubing, etc. They allow you to bring your own boats but you'll have to pay a boat launching fee (usually $10, but it varies depending on which marina you're launching from).  

Below is a list of the most popular lakes in Mammoth:

➤ Check out Devils Postpile National Monument

Photo Credit: National Park Service 

Devils Postpile National Monument is an iconic Mammoth natural attraction. The history behind the origin of the Devils Postpile is not completely clear but it's definitely an interesting site to see. 

To get to the Devils Postpile is a short hike. Usually people would hike Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (see below) on the same day as it's about 6 miles round trip to hike both. 

➤ Hike Rainbow Falls

Photo Credit: Fotospot

Rainbow Falls is a 101-foot waterfall that is a part of the Devils Postpile National Monument. It is known for the colorful rainbows that appears from the mist. The best time to experience the rainbows is midday, when the sun is the highest. 

The hike is about 5 miles round trip and you can take several trails to get there. It's a fairly easy hike and some people take a dip at the bottom of the waterfall.  

➤ Take a dip in the hot springs

 The heart-shaped natural hot springs at Wild Willy's.

Hands down one of my favorite things that we did in Mammoth was visit the hot springs. There are tons of natural and unnatural (man-made) hot springs all over Mammoth but the most famous natural one is Wild Willy's Hot Springs. It is known for it's natural heart-shaped hot springs. I definitely recommend going super early so you get the whole place to yourselves. We got there at 6am on a Friday morning and got to enjoy the beautiful sunrise while soaking in the hot springs. 

There are several other hot springs down the road to Wild Willy's (Crab Cooker Hot Tub and Whitmore Hot Tub) and plenty of others nearby (Crowley Hot Spring, Pulkey's Pool, Travertine Hot Spring, and Buckeye Hot Spring). You can spend the whole day exploring all the different hot springs. Although it can be very warm in Mammoth during the summer months, the hot springs didn't feel that hot once you get used to the water. It can feel a little hot at first but trust me, the water feels amazing. And the views around the hot springs are spectacular so even if you don't get in the water, you can enjoy the views.

➤ Go horseback riding

Mike, my new friend that I met.

On the last day of our trip, we decided to go horseback riding. There are a lot of options when it comes to horseback riding so there's something for everyone. We went with Frontier Pack Train and opted for the one-hour trail ride, which was only $45/per person so it was a really great deal. We rode through the mountains and along a river by June Lake. The views were amazing! 

➤ Visit Hot Creek Geological Site

We drove past the parking lot to a small road on the left and pulled over on the side to take this photo. 

Hot Creek Geological Site is a pretty unusual spot and some people describe it as a mini "Yellowstone". According to the Visit Mammoth website, it describes Hot Creek as "a scenic wonderland containing dozens of natural hot springs bubbling up within the rocky walls of a river gorge and in the shadows of towering Eastern Sierra mountain peaks. It is a breathtaking place where boiling, bubbling water rich in dissolved minerals emerges in turquoise pools rimmed by layers of travertine rock and shrouded in veils of steam. A short drive and hike is all it takes to meander along trails that run alongside the creek. From here sightseers get a first-hand view of the geological processes actively shaping the distinctive Eastern Sierra landscape."

It's easily accessible (just type in "Hot Creek Geological Site" in your GPS) and there's a small parking lot at the top. There's a small trail from the parking lot that leads to the hot creek at the bottom. It is fenced to prevent people from getting to close to the creek. There are several warning signs posted all over the area warning people not to touch the water in the creek. The water can get pretty hot (up to 200°F), so it's not safe to touch. There have been 14 reported serious injuries or deaths. 

➤ Explore Inyo National Forest

Second Lake

Inyo National Forest covers most of the Eastern Sierras, including Mammoth. One of the most popular hikes there is called Big Pines Lake. It's a a 16.2 loop trail that consists of seven beautiful lakes including some of California's most beautiful glacier lakes. 

You don't need a permit for a day hike, but you do need a permit if you're camping overnight. Camping (aka Wilderness) permits can be obtained online here up to 6 months in advance. We didn't need a permit as we did a day hike, but most people usually camp several days so they can explore all seven lakes. 

We only hiked to the Second Lake due to time since it took us about 5 hours to get there. We took our time and also took a lot of breaks. There's very little to no shade at all on the hike and it gets very hot in the summer months so pack a lot of water. We plan on coming back someday and camping so we can explore the other lakes. 


I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Let me know what other posts you want me to write. I'm always open to suggestions.