Looking like a lumber pile left over by the gods, the 60-foot/18-meter basalt columns at Devils Postpile National Monument induce a lot of head-scratching and pondering. How did these amazingly flawless columns get here anyway? Truth is, they formed right where they stand, the result of volcanic eruption that sent lava flowing down the mountainside here, leaving behind an impressive wall of columns. Glaciers played a part too, exposing the columns and naturally polishing and enhancing the lava’s natural hexagonal patterns.
No matter how they were created, these columns are cool, and well worth exploring, as are other sites here. Follow the 2.5-mile/4-km trail to breathtaking 101-foot/31-meter Rainbow Falls; you can also go on a slightly shorter (1.5-mile/2.4-km hike to the 150-foot/45-meter Minaret Falls to the north. Also check out current evidence of volcanic activity at the monument’s soda spring area.
In summer (mid-June through Labor Day), driving into the park is restricted, but it’s easy to catch the shuttle from Mammoth Lakes. (Bonus: The San Joaquin river, despite being small and shallow, offers exceptional fishing, with plentiful rainbow, brown, and brook trout.) In winter, roads are generally closed, so you’ll need to Nordic ski or snowshoe into the park. Other times of year it’s okay to drive in: just know that some may find the road to be intimidatingly steep in places, and the parking lot often fills by mid-morning on sunny days and weekends, so get there early.
Know before you go: Devils Postpile is accessible by both wheelchair and stroller.