Off-Road Travel: Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
One of our favorite spots for cool off-road fun is Mammoth Lakes, California, which is located in the Eastern Sierra mountain range. This picturesque alpine town offers the perfect base camp to over 4,000 miles of dirt roads accessible on 4x4, dirt bike, ATV, UTV, mountain bike or on foot.
Mammoth had its beginning in 1877 when a group of prospectors looking for the “Lost Cement Mine” found gold in Mammoth Creek. Shortly thereafter, Mammoth Mine opened, along with a 20-stamp mill, which later grew to a 40-stamp. In 1879 there were 1500 people living in three mining camps in the area (Mammoth City, Mill City and Pine City).
By 1881, the Mammoth Mine had produced $200,000 in gold. This was a hefty sum back in the 1800s. Even then, the expense to process ore and mine was more than the net return. The Mammoth Mine closed, and the mine settlements dwindled as prospectors moved to the next big gold strike.
Today a new prospector comes to Mammoth Lakes—those looking to get away from the rat race and seeking a simpler, peaceful mountain place that offers wilderness and adventure.
TRAILS AROUND MAMMOTH LAKES
There are enough trails and adventures to keep you in Mammoth year round. That said, we share some of our favorite places in hopes that you too will get the excitement for adventure and visit Mammoth Lakes someday.
OHVs displaying green or red Off-Highway sticker are allowed in this area. Out-of-state OHVs will need a visitor pass, which can be obtained at the Forest Service office in Mammoth Lakes, CA.
A free OHV map can be obtained from the Mammoth Lakes Visitor center that highlights trails of the area. For a more detailed map with updated OHV trails, we recommend the Mammoth-Mono region map from Sierra Maps available at the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center and at any good sporting goods store along Hwy 395.
One of our favorite off-road guidebooks for the Eastern Sierra is Sierra Nevada Byways by Tony Huegel. The guidebook includes mile-by-mile directions to historic mining camps, ghost towns, picturesque meadows and lookouts. There is a map for every route and the new third edition includes extensive GPS waypoints. You can either pick this book up through Wilderness Press or at Tony’s site at http://www.backcountrybyways.com/.
This trail is rated easy. The road is maintained. Less traveled side roads and spurs connect active logging roads and livestock grazing areas east of Hwy 395.
You can either access this trail directly off Hwy 395 on 3S06 or start in the town of Mammoth Lakes. From the town of Mammoth Lakes, travel on Sawmill Cutoff road 3S08 and then cross under Hwy 395 through access tunnels. The clearance of the tunnels is good for ATV, dirt bike, UTV and some small 4x4s. There is a drive around over Hwy 395 for larger vehicles.
Don't be surprised if you find obsidian, a black volcanic glasslike stone, on Lookout Mountain. This area is surrounded by volcanic terrain and even volcanoes.
For those looking for something longer and more challenging, Tony Huegel’s Sierra Nevada Byways lays out a 53-mile run that starts in Mammoth Lakes, passes through Lookout Mountain, and then heads northeast up to Bald Mountain through the Long Valley Caldera, ending on Hwy 120 near the Town of Benton Hot Springs.
INYO CRATERS & KNOLLS TRAIL
Inyo craters can be reached via the Mammoth Scenic Loop, which is a paved road. A more interesting way to go is off-road from 3208 Sawmill Cutoff, across the Knolls trail 3S33, then crossing onto 2S22 that leads to the Inyo Craters. The craters can be accessed by 4x4 and OHV.
The last stretch on 2S22 is maintained, and there is a dirt lot to park for the last one-mile hike to the Inyo Craters.
The roads found in this area are mainly old logging roads used today by off-roaders, snowmobilers, mountain bikes and hikers. The terrain will range from dirt, rock and even silt.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE & DO
Take a drive up to the Mammoth Lakes Basin where the spring-fed Twin Lakes and Lake Mary await. The historice Twin Lakes Lodge has an interesting and picturesque history with photos and art at the main lodge. From a bridge spanning from one end of the lake, a view of a 100-foot waterfall coming from Lake Mary above is amazing.
Follow the road up to Lake Mary for some great fishing. If you’re more of a history buff, put on your miners cap and hike up to the Mammoth Consolidated Gold Mine.
In the 1920s, a regained interest in the area’s gold was captured by A.G. Mahan, who began mining a claim on Red Mountain above the town of Old Mammoth. This gold mine was in operation through the 1980s and still has a good number of wooden structures that include miner’s cabins, a mill, compressors, generators and mine shafts that can be accessed via a short hike. The structures and equipment were donated to the Forest Service, which now maintains the grounds and offers an interpretive tour.
EAT & SLEEP
Since Mammoth Lakes is a four-season resort town, there are many places to get some good food and beer. One of our new favorites is Base Camp Cafe. You can enjoy good-portion-sized sandwiches, and they even have the local Mammoth Brew on tap. The Double Nut Brown will go good with your meal, but beware of the high elevation. The town is at about 7,900 feet, so beer can definitely give you a quick buzz if you're getting acclimated to high elevation.
For those of you that like to camp, Mammoth Mountain RV Park (http://www.mammothrv.com/) is an off-road friendly park that has full hookups and is located across the highway from the Sawmill Cutoff trailhead. It is also located across the highway from the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center and Forest Service.
The town has both diesel and unleaded fuel stations, along with mechanic shops and an auto parts store if you should need to make repairs.
For more info on Mammoth Lakes, visit http://www.visitmammoth.com/.
You can also learn more about the Eastern Sierra at US Forest Service – Sierras website
Until the next adventure – Happy Trails!