Best Hikes in Mammoth Lakes California – Mammoth Lakes Hikes
Located on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is Mammoth Lakes, California. Mammoth and the surrounding areas offer some of the best hiking in the entire state and offer incredible views all around. There are endless outdoor activities to take part in such as skiing, hiking, kayaking, biking, rock climbing and so much more. Mammoth Lakes is truly an outdoor heaven for those looking to explore.
The area included in this article goes from Tom’s Place (south) to June Lake (north) which are each no more than 40 minutes away from the town of Mammoth. If you are going to spend a good amount of time in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, consider checking out Bishop and Lone Pine California for some more amazing hikes.
Whether you are on a road trip to Mammoth or flying into a nearby airport, we highly recommend a AWD or 4×4 vehicle to travel around the area. You can reach 90% of the hikes with a normal car, but a-lot of the roads leading to trailheads are often unpaved and would be rough and slow in a low clearance car. Anything from a Subaru to a Jeep or truck would be perfect for exploring the area. Even the roads leading to the Hot springs are rough and rutted up.
A great time to visit Mammoth Lakes is in late May or June to avoid the crowds and hot weather. The mountain tops will still be covered in snow, but the lower elevation areas will be melted off. This is Mammoth Lakes transitional period as skiing season is ending and their summer months are starting. If you decide to visit in late May or June, be prepared to be hiking in some snow on certain trails.
The Best Mammoth Lakes Hikes (Easy) – Sherwin Lakes / Rainbow Falls / Parker Lake Trail
Sherwin Lakes trailhead is located right outside of the town of Mammoth and could be biked to it if you are staying in town. The trail is a 4.5 mile out and back hike with around 850 feet in elevation gain. Depending on your fitness level and how often you hike this could be considered an easy or moderate trail.
It is a great low elevation hike to get used to the higher altitude in the area. The highest point in the hike is only around 8,650 feet, which is very low compare to some of the other hikes which start at over 10,000 feet. The trail starts off easy with the hardest part of the hike coming in the middle with switchbacks going up the mountain. I hiked Sherwin lakes on May 6th and there was barely any snow on the trail because of its low elevation and shorter than average winter season.
The water was not warm, but I decided to go for a quick dip because it was hot outside and I dried off quick. There are two lakes here, so be sure to check out the smaller lake which is on the far right side of the picture below.
Rainbow Falls is another must see hike in the area with a massive waterfall to explore. The trail is 4.9 miles long with only 500 feet of elevation gain, and can be made shorter if you decide to not walk to the bottom of the falls. This trail is great because it starts at the Devil’s Postpile Ranger Station, which means you can do this hike and go to the famous Devil’s Postpile with just a small detour.
The road leading to the ranger station is often closed until the mid June, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. You can access these trails during the winter by cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Be sure to arrive at the hike early because the parking lot and trail can become very crowded.
Parker Lake Trail is located to the north of Mammoth, right outside of June Lake. The road leading to the trailhead is gravel, but the ground is mostly level making it an easy ride. Parker Lake is one of the most gorgeous lake’s in the area, and is not all the crowded. If you start the hike early enough (7am) you could have the lake all to yourself.
The hike starts at around 7,700 feet and ends around 8,300 feet which means its a great hike to do in May or June. The trail is only 3.6 miles long and around 650 feet in elevation gain.
(Moderate) – Gem Lakes / Agnew Lake
The BEST hike in Mammoth Lakes has got to be the hike to Gem Lakes and Morgan pass via Little Lakes Valley. The trailhead starts at the Little Lakes Valley Trailhead, which is located right outside of Toms place. It’s a 40 minutes from Mammoth Lakes. This was our personal favorite for an easy / moderate day hike and only categorized it as moderate because it is 8-9 miles long. The hike starts a little above 10,000 feet and only climbs around 950 feet over the entire hike making it pretty flat.
There are so many different lakes and viewpoints to admire during this hike. The view at Morgan Pass is beautiful and offers a great view of the mountains and valley below, and is only an additional half mile from Gem Lakes. The Gem Lakes hike outside of Mammoth is a must do for any family trip or someone looking for a moderate day hike!
Agnew Lake trailhead starts right outside of the June Lake area located 20-25 minutes from Mammoth Lakes. The trail is a little longer than 4 miles round trip with over 1,200 feet of elevation gain and uphill the entire way. The hike starts at the same point for Thousand Islands (which is our favorite difficult hike), which means the trail can become decently crowded on weekends.
The trail to lake Agnew has some steep drop offs, and during the winter season can be very difficult to pass due to snow. Even with our visit in mid May, there were two snow crossings that dropped about 50 feet to the one side. The picture above shows Agnew Lake below, as we work our way to Thousand Islands Trail.
(Difficult) – Thousand Islands / Duck Pass
If you are looking to backpack in Mammoth Lakes or want to endure a tough long day hike (like we did) Thousand Islands is the best hike in the area. The trail is 14.5 miles long with 3,900 feet of elevation gain, which eventually leads to Thousand Islands Lake located right on the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail passes so many different landscapes and lakes. The Thousand Islands area was truly incredible, but the hike itself was just a fun.
The trailhead starts in the same parking lot as Agnew Lake, and you take the same trail past Agnew Lake to reach Thousand Islands. The first 3.2 miles of the hike are truly the most difficult as they climb almost 3,000 feet. The rest of the hike is pretty flat and honestly kind of easy! If we were to do this hike again, we would spend the night to enjoy the scenery and amazing clear night skies.
Duck Pass & Pika Lake trailhead starts right outside of Lake Mary in Mammoth. Depending on where you are camping or staying, you could walk or bike to the trailhead. The first 3.5 miles are a gradual climb of 1,800 feet, with the rest of the trail being mainly flat. This is one of the most popular hikes during the summer (July – September) so be sure to arrive early because you cannot park at the trailhead. You will need to park around Lake Mary and walk around .5 miles to the start.
Exploring Mammoth Lakes, California
After having lived on the road for over a year, and traveling all across the states. The Eastern Sierra’s is one of our favorite spots. There are only a handful of towns for around 300 miles with no big chain stores and so much open land to explore. Some of the best camping spots in the US are found in places like Lone Pine and Mammoth lakes. Towns like Mammoth and Lone pine have unique bars, breweries and shops to check out while in the area.