Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the west, folks in this laid-back mountain town know they’ve got a good thing going. It’s a land of serious outdoor lovers, who take to the slopes of signature Mammoth Mountain (actually a massive volcano surrounded by granite peaks) and nearby June Lakes resorts in winter, then head out on trails when the snow melts to fly-fish in clear mountain streams, hike and mountain bike through wildflowers in high alpine meadows, and dip into natural hot springs. Join the locals for craft beer and listen to bluegrass music during summer’s Bluesapalooza festival (typically held in late July). For a high-mountain town, Mammoth Lakes is surprisingly easy to get to too, especially during the ski season, when daily flights zoom in from San Francisco area airports as well as Los Angeles.
In winter, Mother Nature is good to Mammoth Lakes. The mountain town’s signature peak, Mammoth Mountain, gets, on average, more than 30 feet/9 meters of snow, and lifts and gondolas continue to zoom up the mountain longer than any resort in the state. Visit the base village for shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Even if you’re not a skier, you can take advantage of Mammoth Mountain’s gondola, which climbs to the mountain’s summit at 11,053 feet/3,369 meters for jaw-dropper views of surrounding high-altitude peaks. Wintry splurges abound—choose from motorized Snowcat tours to guided full-moon snowshoe treks. Go tubing with the kids. Glide through the wilderness on a dogsled. Get an après-ski massage at area resorts, such as Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa or Snowcreek Athletic Club. Finish with dinner at cozy Lakefront Restaurant, surrounded by snowy pines.
After Mammoth Lakes, catch a shuttle from Mammoth Lakes for a day visit to fascinating Devils Postpile National Monument. (Note that this destination is closed in winter, when snow blocks all access roads and trails. The park typically opens June through September, but call ahead to get updates on access—the season can be shorter, or longer, depending on snow pack.)
Head north to Mono Lake and Lee Vining, then travel over Tioga Pass to Yosemite National Park. (Note: this route is typically closed by snow from November through early May, so check road conditions via Caltrans, Caltrans.org.)