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Mammoth Lakes, the Gateway to the Eastern Sierra
Old-time prospectors may have had limited success in this former gold rush town, but Mammoth Lakes' sparkle is far from faded. Set in the foothills of California's mighty Sierra Nevada, Mammoth Lakes wows visitors with its natural beauty, offering an incredible array of attractions in an equally stunning setting. This town is a magnet for outdoor sport enthusiasts, but those who prefer a more sedate itinerary won't be left out. While shopping and eating opportunities abound here, a dip in any of the area's natural hot springs offers a tamer way of experiencing the natural beauty of Mammoth Lakes.
The Lay of the Land and a Geology Lesson
Main Street – also known as California State Route 203 – runs almost directly up to the snow-capped bulk of Mammoth Mountain and is Mammoth Lakes’ major thoroughfare. In addition to an array of lodging and hotel options, this street is lined with a selection of eateries and retail outlets. If you’re facing Mammoth Mountain, you’ll find that Main Street first branches off into Old Mammoth Road on the left before winding into Minaret Road further up on the right. These areas also offer a wide choice of accommodation, eating and shopping opportunities. But for all of its modern amenities, Mammoth Lakes is today visually dominated by its incredibly active geology. Indeed, the town now sits in the natural bowl of the Long Valley Caldera, an area formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. This legacy is reflected in the region’s towering mountains and clear lakes as well as in its fantastical tufa and basalt formations, craters, geysers and bubbling hot springs.
Natural Highs and Outdoor Pursuits
Mammoth Lakes’ vibrant geological landscape has made it a favourite playground for outdoor sport enthusiasts. The town’s eponymous mountain is one of California’s most famous winter sports spots, attracting both skiers and snowboarders alike. However, those who’d prefer to stay off-piste will find that Mammoth Lakes offers more than enough to keep busy. Cyclists can take their pick from a range of local tarmacked routes or tackle the area’s more challenging mountain paths. For travellers who’d rather stay bipedal, the region boasts a huge array of trails and paths, with many winding their way around some of the area’s top beauty spots, including Convict, June, Emerald and Sherwin lakes as well as Devils Postpile National Monument and Rainbow Falls. But if all you want is a great view, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than a trip to Minaret Vista, which offers spectacular sunrise and sunset panoramas in a striking setting.
Shop ‘til You Drop (Into a Hot Spring)
While the attractions of Mammoth Lakes are stunning, hard-core outdoor activities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you fall into this category, that’s OK, because this town offers enough to keep even the most urbane travellers happy. For example, discerning shoppers will find plenty of boutiques dotted along the Minaret Road and Main Street areas. Even if you haven’t been on the slopes, there’s no reason why – given the area’s range of eating and drinking venues – you can’t enjoy an après-ski. From Mexican cafés and cocktail bars to Tiki lounges, visitors will find that Mammoth Lakes offers plenty of places to unwind. But for those who want to dip their toes in the region’s natural attractions, a trip to any of the area’s hot springs is the ticket to relaxation. The nearby Benton, Travertine and Keough hot springs offer visitors the chance to soak away the stress after a long day on the slopes or in the shops.
Sleeping Under the Slopes
For those looking for a place to stay, a lack of accommodation is certainly not a problem in this California resort town. Despite its relatively small size, the area is absolutely awash with beds. From chain hotels and cosy B&Bs to rustic inns and alpine-inspired resort lodges and cabins, Mammoth Lakes offers digs to suit every budget, every taste and every itinerary. There is a vast array of accommodation options dotted around the town’s major thoroughfares, with the chain hotels in Mammoth Lakes’ California State Route 203/Main Street area offering potentially good value to those on a budget. But if you’re intent on a swanky ski resort experience, it’s best to head up toward Mammoth Mountain, an area that boasts an array of sleek and well-appointed chalets and lodges. Back in town, the hotels and resorts set just off of Old Mammoth Road offer a good alternative for those looking to stay off of Mammoth Lakes’ busy Main Street.