Hot springs. Hiking trails. Cozy village vibes. The longest ski season in America.

Whatever adventure you’re craving, this mountain town delivers—and it does it in an unpretentious, welcoming way. Mammoth Lakes offers both repose and adrenaline that are accessible and unexpected.

If you haven’t heard of Mammoth Lakes, you’re not alone. I didn’t know about the incredible ski town until I planned an epic California road trip. But now that I’ve visited, I realize part of its allure is the downplayed, easygoing vibe. From the attractive village centre to the nearby gushing waterfalls and majestic Sierra Nevada Mountain Range that beckons in the distance, this area screams “explore.” The atmosphere alone had me contemplating packing my bags and transplanting to the States (no easy feat for this patriotic Canadian girl).

So, what makes Mammoth Lakes so amazing?

Ski from November until August

photoJennifer Hubbert

It was mid-June when we arrived at Mammoth Mountain, and the skiers that shuffled into the gondola with us were sporting puffy jackets and gloves. Clicking into their skis at the summit, they soared over the mountainside while we penguin-walked across the fluffy white stuff in summer hiking boots. The sun was bright; the sky piercingly blue. Snowboarders and skiers ignored the encroaching summer season, elated at the opportunity to carve most months of the year.

Hike around a lake with a criminal past

photoJennifer Hubbert

Convict Lake is the site of a massive take-down, where a group of convicts absconded, engaged in a shoot-out and were eventually caught. But nowadays, it's much more tranquil; full of fishers, boaters and hikers. 

Our trio of explorers hiked around the turquoise shores, flanked by glacier-streaked silver mountains. The unreal turpentine-blue waters shimmered beneath the hot summer sun, a distinct contrast from the snowy mountaintop where we'd had an impromptu snowball fight just an hour ago. The wide, easy trail held families, dog-walkers and trail runners. Anglers stood knee-deep in the placid waves, casting lines to catch trout.

Soak in a heart-shaped hot spring

photoJennifer Hubbert

Wild Willy’s is a natural hot spring located just south of Mammoth Lakes. From the parking lot, we plodded the short boardwalk filled with pebbles towards two tepid pools. One was full of frolicking families, so we opted for the quieter, heart-shaped spring. With a backdrop of snow-tipped mountains, we soaked in the steaming water until all the world’s worries melted away.

Get immersed in the laid-back atmosphere

photoJennifer Hubbert

There’s something going on most weekends in Mammoth: an art festival, a jazz concert, a mountain bike race. In the village centre, we found America’s highest-elevation tiki bar and boho-chic shops selling locally made goods. We spotted PCT-thru hikers as we ate at a local, family-owned cafe before renting e-bikes. We cruised up Lake Mary Road along the paved bike path to Twin Lakes Vista. In every experience, the locals and tourists we met were jovial and relaxed. In a place like this, who wouldn’t be?

Learn the history in your hotel

photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

For me, the true moment I fell in love with Mammoth Lakes happened in our hotel. In the cozy, fireplace-clad living room of our apartment at The Village Lodge, I found a heavy, thick book baring a photo of skiers and the title Tracks of Passion: Eastern Sierra Skiing, Dave McCoy and Mammoth Mountain. I cracked open the stiff spine and began to read.

I was immediately drawn in. The immaculate photos, preserved history and meticulous research—including newspaper clippings, interviews and more—brought me to a little nowhere ski town years ago. I read about the humble beginnings of Mammoth Mountain and a ski legend named Dave McCoy who used old car parts to fashion a makeshift lift up the slopes, just so he and his friends could ski. I was touched by the earnest love of the sport and the area exuded by the photographs and adventurous souls in the book. This is what makes Mammoth special, I realized—I could feel the spirit from these original creators all around town.

 photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

More about Mammoth:

Mammoth Lakes is located in interior California in the Eastern Sierras. When Tioga Pass is open, it's about an hour drive from Yosemite Valley, making it the perfect adventure base. Nearby, you'll find saltwater Mono Lake, where eerie limestone formations jut out of the translucent water. It looks like another planet.

photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

Considered a "blue jean town," you don't need to dress up in Mammoth Lakes. The most upscale dining is likely the Tamarack Lodge, where we sliced into rare duck in the dimly lit log cabin restaurant. Outside is the cross-country ski center and yet another lake.

In Mammoth, there's a saying: "I came for the winter, but I stayed for the summer." I understand why—both seasons offer something special. The north-facing mountain carries almost entirely natural snow; storms dump light flakes that yield incredible powder skiing.

In the summer, the elevation of Mammoth Lakes cools off otherwise-sweltering afternoons. The village sits higher than the top of Whistler, at around 2,400 metres. An influx of tourists means the town is creating new summer activities, such as the Mega Zip that boasts the most vertical in the United States and the fastest zip-line in North America—up to 90 km/hour.

The mix of edgy, extreme sports (such as the 10-day motocross festival that just kicked off when we arrived) and more relaxed events (like the yoga festival that happened the weekend prior) create a place for campers, hikers, adrenaline junkies and wellness travellers alike.

photoAlison Karlene Hodgins

The most danger you'll face in town is the bears—there's a local animal welfare officer known as "the bear whisperer" who keeps track of the 40-some black bears that call this area home, too. It's the Bear Whisperer's modus operandi to relocate bears in a life-preserving way. Wildlife watchers might also glimpse bobcats, mountain lions, bald eagles and bighorn sheep.

If you're not convinced that this is America's best-kept secret mountain town, I implore you to visit—just don't be surprised when you change your mind.

 

Disclaimer: These activities were provided as part of a press trip through Visit California and Mammoth Lakes Tourism. All opinions are my own.

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