Considering Fresno’s location in California, it’s crazy to limit one’s travel opportunities to just the summer. All year long there’s something fun for everyone in the Eastern Sierra mountains—the question is, have you discovered it?
During the summer, it’s a short and beautiful four-hour drive directly through Yosemite to Mammoth Lakes. (Of course, the trip gets longer if you stop along the way to see Yosemite wonders like Bridal Veil Falls and Glacier Point, or if you visit during snow season.)
Once you’re down the Tioga Pass, you’ll notice a high desert landscape vastly different from Fresno’s western agricultural side. It’s a great piece of California to visit, any time of the year.
Last weekend, I was in the Eastern Sierra with my kids, soaking in the fall colors and the quiet before the busy ski season. It’s hard to say which season is my favorite to visit Mammoth Lakes. If you like peace and quiet, beautiful leaves, and the slight but exciting chance that the Tioga Pass will close from a light snow and leave you with an eight-hour drive around the mountains, fall is the time to visit.
We spent our time hiking along creeks and earthquake faults. Since there’s lots of volcanic activity in those mountains, it’s a geologist’s dream to visit.
You can hike Panum Crater and hoist giant chunks of pumice over your head—a lightweight igneous rock that makes even the wimpiest person look good (you don’t have to tell anyone that when you share vacation pics.)
Or you can simply take a walk. There are hikes for all levels of ability. Since I had a three-year-old with me, we walked along the Town Loop Trail along Mammoth Creek. The kids searched the paths for shiny, black obsidian, and they found handfuls. They also tried to find gold, since Mammoth has an old abandoned mine (also a hike) and a history of gold mining. Sadly, they didn’t find handfuls, but you never know, right?
Besides hiking, you can fish in multiple lakes, but beware: on Lake Mary it’s known that bears will walk up and take the fish away from you. Finally, there’s always a hot springs adventure to take. Travertine hot springs is a popular one, and one of the easiest to get to. Find directions to it here.
In the winter, Mammoth is a snowboarding and skiing destination. Southern Californians flock to it, though it seems like Fresnans generally stick to local spots that are a shorter drive away. However, if you want to take a few days for a winter vacation, consider Mammoth Mountain. You have to drive down to Bakersfield and around the mountains during the winter because the Tioga Pass closes. But, you can visit Manzanar and Red Rock Canyon along the way.
During winter months, the town of Mammoth Lakes is bustling with activity. In addition to world class skiing and snowboarding, there are activities for the smaller set. For example, you can buy a ticket to Willy’s Tube Park and send your children flying down a gigantic inner tube hill. There’s a tow rope that drags you and your tube up the hill, which is a total win for parents everywhere.
Snowshoeing, sledding, dog sledding, and snowmobiling are also available. So although the drive is longer in the winter, the list of activities when you arrive is longer, too.
Spring and Summer
Once the snow melts, it’s bike time. The mountain transforms into a mountain bike paradise. But if riding down a mountain on two wheels isn’t your thing, you can hike to Devil’s Postpile National Monument. It’s a weird and wonderful rock formation you have to see to believe.
From there you can continue to Rainbow Falls or continue to the lower falls, which are less crowded and a great picnic spot.
Other summer activities include golf, kayaking, fishing, and camping. Although I was just there for a few days last week, you could easily stay a month and only scratch the surface of activities and places to explore.
Depending on your budget and interests, the cost of visiting the Eastern Sierra varies widely. You could camp for a small fee (not in the winter though, of course), or you could stay at a world class hotel, or rent a condominium. Hiking is free, and other activities range from the cost of a fishing license to hundred-dollar lift tickets.
As you can see, there’s something for everyone all year long. Have you headed to the Eastern Sierra yet? What’s your favorite thing to do?
To plan a trip or to find out more information, click here to visit the Mammoth Lakes website.
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