LocationMap of Mammoth Lakes
Snow-based action is concentrated on and around dome-shaped Mammoth Mountain
, a dormant volcano largely devoid of trees, which rises to 11,053 feet and forms part of the eastern crest of the Sierra Nevada. Around 400 inches of snow falls annually; this, and the wide variety of routes plus the good facilities make Mammoth one of the top ten ski centers in the US. Three gondolas and 24 chairlifts traverse the north and east slopes, based around 4 access points - Eagle Lodge, Canyon Lodge, Mill Cafe and Main Lodge
- this latter on Highway 203 (Minaret Road), 4 miles from the town center. All offer lodging and dining, and are linked to other places in town by a free transit system, operating between October and June. When the snow finally melts in midsummer, the mountain slopes are transformed into a large mountain bike park.
The lakes of Mammoth receive less attention than the mountain, despite being pretty, easily reached, and close to the Sierra Nevada backcountry, next to trailheads for several paths into the John Muir Wilderness.
At the main junction in the middle of town, Lake Mary Road
forks south, first passing (after 2.3 miles) the shallow Twin Lakes
then climbing to the next and largest (Lake Mary), looping all the way around the shore. Two spur roads lead to other smaller lakes, most westerly being Horseshoe Lake
, one of several locations in the Mammoth area where large numbers of pine trees have been killed by recent carbon dioxide emissions from underground vents - activity associated with the nearby Long Valley Caldera, the remains of an ancient volcano. Other evidence of the continuing geological instability of this region was a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in 1980, an event that caused local property prices to fall sharply and led the town to construct an alternative access route to US 395 (Mammoth Scenic Loop
), to be used for evacuation if the main road was blocked. This road passes through thick pine woodland for 6 miles, part of the Inyo National Forest, and has many side tracks leading to places suitable for free camping.
Besides the Sierra Nevada wilderness areas to the west and south, Mammoth Lakes is also close (within an hour's drive) of many other interesting sites, and because it has the best selection of hotels anywhere in the area, the town is the natural place to stay for those not camping. Notable attractions include Bodie State Historical Park
, Devils Postpile National Monument
and Mono Lake