10 Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes

Horseshoe Lake

A coworker just asked me, “Is it good to be back?”

I looked at him cross-eyed.

“Are you serious?”

“It is for me, too much family time,” he responded in his French accent.

Brice just spent the past week and a half visiting his family in France. We hit it off immediately when I told him my family survived a three-year overseas adventure in Paris.

When I returned to my desk, I wanted to clarify my statement so I didn’t come off like such an Ebenezer “hating life” Scrooge.

I IM-ed him, “I suppose it’s good to be back home, but does anyone ever want to come back to work after vacation?”

“Non, I guess you’re right. But not working can get boring,” he replied.

“Peut-etre.”

“Wow, you’re more French than you look!”

Mammoth Lakes was even more beautiful than I imagined and we had a wonderful time. A little bit of fly-fishing, hiking, lounging in PJs with NO television and lapping up sun on a lake is good for the soul.

My only regrets are we only got to use our bikes once (and MaineMan had specially ordered the dual bike rack for the roof of his car for this trip), we didn’t have two weeks there, the water wasn’t warmer in the lakes, and we didn’t make it to Sequoia National Park on the way back (I’ll explain later**).

But first, here’s my list of 10 things to be sure to do if you ever plan on making the trip to Mammoth. Think West Yellowstone with a dash of Aspen and Jackson.

10. Go to Kittredge Sports, ask for Joe, and gear up on all your outdoor needs, including maps of the area. I bought a pair of Teva water shoes (they’re actually really cute, I swear) and wore them all week. No matter what the desk clerk tells ya, do NOT buy the crappy bug spray without DEET. It may be good for the environment, but it won’t be good for your BODY. Kittredge also runs the concessions at Pokonobe Marina so rent your kayaks, paddleboards and boats from them there.

Ag and B checking out the view, top of Mammoth Mountain

9. Go to the Mammoth Adventure Center, buy your ticket to the gondola ($23 a pop) and cruise to the top of Mammoth Mountain (11,000 feet). Whether you bike or not, it’s worth the trip. And the gondola’s dog-friendly, though Agnes wanted to have nothing to do with looking out over the mountain mid-flight (she did have a blast frolicking in the snow, however, at the top). It’s about a 7-8 minute trip, maybe. MaineMan and I brought beer in our backpacks (22-ounce bottles) only to realize as soon as we got in we could see the top gondola station. We started chugging and MaineMan said, “That can’t be the top. That can’t be the top.” Lucky for us, that was the halfway point and you slow down, go through the station, the doors open — enough for you to say hello to the station agents while hiding your alcohol — before you continue on your ascent.

8. Get a massage from Simply Massage. I was directed there by my boss’s assistant and it was heavenly. Ask for Melanie. She was a cross between Lauren Hutton (sexy gap tooth action) and Jennifer Garner. At one point she was on top of me with her knees grinding into my gluteus maximus. Um, hello. She was horrified I hadn’t gotten a massage since the days of my working at the Aspen Club and Spa circa 2001 (yes it’d been 10 years) and I wished her luck with trying to de-kink me in one hour. My only complaint was I paid for an hour and it ended up being about 45-50 minutes. Though she absolutely had magic hands. I would do it again in an instant. They have an “early bird special” that’s $65 if you book sometime between 10a-1p.

Me and Ag, Horseshoe Lake

7. Hike up to McLeod Lake. McLeod was my second favorite spot in the Mammoth Lakes region. You may want to hit it up last, though, because every spot after it seemed not as cool (AHEM Lake George). You park at Horseshoe Lake and climb up an easy trail for about 20 minutes. The signage isn’t wonderful (read, there are no signs), but you can kind of carefully follow the heavily footmarked path to the top. MaineMan started getting a little uneasy, which is unusual — out of the two of us I’m the nervous Nelly — and I assured him we ‘d make it. Once we had and we were halfway around the lake I made the mistake of asking about bear spray. Just do yourself a favor, buy some at the local sporting goods shops and don’t leave home without it. Working in the news biz I read and hear about every hiking/mauling accident out there so I’m a little more on edge than the average Jane. We made it through the week with no bear incidents, but it’s always better to be safe. Every garbage can had black bear signs on them so we knew they were around somewhere.

6. Hit up Mammoth Brewing Company for some local beers. We found the brewery by mistake, trying to park at Mammoth Village (the apres-ski spot), and MaineMan practically ran out of the moving car to check it out. They have about 10 beers you can taste and we made it through the lighter five. We then purchased a growler to-go and drank the beer at our cabin the rest of the day. Their Golden Trout Pilsner was my favorite, along with the Floating Rock Hefeweizen. I decided to stay away from “Hair of the Bear,” while MaineMan loved their Epic brew. Super-friendly staff and they allow you to come in and booze with your pets. If you feel like you’re walking in a super sketchy parking lot, you’re in the right place. Don’t expect any lavish entrance. You’re literally walking into their warehouse.

5. Cruise north to June Lake. We took a rather quick dip in the water up there and it was beautiful. The waters in the lakes surrounding Mammoth are the clearest and bluest you’ll ever see. I could see the bottom of every lake we went to. Caribbean waters have a greenish tint to them, but the lakes in Mammoth are just a beautiful deep blue. I may be in the paint business after this trip. I’m feeling a Mammouth Blue color for our kitchen.

4. Paddleboard/kayak around at least one of the lakes. I didn’t want to end the week without getting on the lakes as much as possible (hence my insisting on jumping in, no matter how cold, at every chance). I jumped into June Lake, I sat on a stationary tube on Rock Creek, I rafted across Horseshoe and I paddleboarded with a dog around Lake Mary. Yup, that is correct. Well, it started with Agnes riding in MaineMan’s single-man kayak. I paddled close by. Agnes seemed miserable and I could hear her whining so I approached to say hello and that “mommy was ok.” Well, it appeared she thought the paddleboard was the better option so she jumped on. I impressed some people flying by on their power boats for the first 10 minutes, then it was all downhill from there. At one point I was close enough to MaineMan to ask, “Is she throwing up? Is she about to throw up?” The poor girl must have gotten seasick trying to balance on my board and the 90-minute excursion ended quite abruptly after that.

3. I’ve probably done yoga about 12 times in my entire life. But for some reason I had a severe hankering to do yoga while I was in town. MaineMan hopped into a cafe and while I stayed in the car with Agnes B, he grabbed pamphlets and took photos of events he thought I’d be interested in. One of them being “Yoga in the Park.” I told him I was doing it come hell, heaven or trouts falling from the sky. So Wednesday at 9 a.m. we hussled our way to Mammoth Creek Park, where I met Lindsey, the instructor, and a few townies. I was certainly the only inexperienced, non-local participant, but it was marvelous all the same. I made a promise to myself that morning that I would find a studio by me to start going to. Even if it was just once a week that’d be better than nothing.

2. The restaurant scene in Mammoth is a bit forlorn, though we managed to find a few diamonds in the rough. We passed Schat’s Bakery and we had to stop because a Twitter follower had recommended it to me. It was a beautiful bakery, the kind I remember walking in to with my dad and uncles on the Jersey Shore. Donuts and pastries for as far as the eye can see and all kinds of breads from floor to high ceiling. We grabbed a bear claw and a coffee and continued on with our morning hike. A necessary stop (or evil, however you want to look at it). Gomez’s at Mammoth Village. Mexican with a great big patio and they’re super dog friendly. We spoke with the owner Michael for about a half-hour and he brought out a Corona bucket filled with water for Agnes. They have hundreds of tequilas and an assortment of margaritas. We loved all their concoctions. Skip the healthy burrito though — it was dry and MaineMan looked sad trying to eat it. Old New York Deli & Bakery is awesome for bagels and sandwiches, though expect a wait and focus on your order number or they’ll mess you up. One day we were craving pizza, but wanted it by the slice. Nik-N-Willies is where it’s at. They have a thin crust pizza, though a bit greasy, that totally hit the spot. Our favorite place that we found by accident reminded me of Colorado’s kitschy Woody Creek Tavern off of Rt. 82 near Aspen. Tom’s Place is about 15 minutes outside of Mammoth, on Crowley Lake Drive, but it’s worth the trek, just for the atmosphere. The food was nothing to do back flips about (except the blueberry pie was outstanding), but I could have sat there all day people-watching, reading a newspaper and sipping on soda. For our last night in town, MaineMan and I decided to do it up fancy dinner date-style. We stopped by a few places, I was unimpressed and when I read about the Restaurant at Lake Convict, I decided to give them a call. Thank goodness! It was a lovely evening, very romantic (they sat us right by the fireplace) with the perfect mountain menu: trout, duck, salmon, lamb, etc. MaineMan tried the trout and I ordered the salmon. Our server was a doll (Danica pronounced Don-ETS-ka) and we’d go back in an instant. We ordered the roasted garlic for an appetizer and we got a halved garlic bulb with olive oil and balsamic underneath. In every cavity where the cloves were we found soft, warm, buttery garlic. I cannot wait to try this at home.

Rock Creek

1. I’m so lucky I’ve found myself a mountain man who knows so much about surviving the wilderness, every sport you could possibly attempt outdoors and one pastime that will always be dear to my heart (thanks, Dad) fly fishing. MaineMan’s parents sent him two rods and we’ve made pretty good use of them, though I know we want to get out with them even more. We were overwhelmed with choices when we arrived in Mammoth. We consulted a few grey-haired gents with fishing Ts and each one gave us a different answer:

“Well you’ll have to start at the lower Owens…”

“My spot is Rock Creek, just make sure you…”

“I caught some trout just yesterday in the lake…”

“Crowley is good but ya can’t go swimmin’!”

After a couple of recon missions, we came up with a few musts. The Upper Owens River. You turn off 395 going northeast and you’ll eventually hit a campsite and a lovely S-shaped creek, made for fly-fishing.

Rock Creek was beautiful, though we got there a bit late in the day. I was swatting flies like someone who was about to be exorcised. And I wound up with two enormous baseball mounds — one on my forehead and one shiner on my right cheek. We climbed about a half-mile up to another beautiful mountain stream, but it was getting dark and the flies weren’t letting up, so we called it fairly early.

Horseshoe Lake was hands down, my favorite lake of the whole area. Though it always appeared to be crowded by the looks of the parking lot, when you started to hike around you could have easily not run into a soul on the path. MaineMan fished here while I watched Agnes, then I sailed (on my trusty Rite-Aid blow-up raft) while MaineMan watched Agnes. Downing the Mammoth Brewery growler helped me warm up to make the swim.

Though we didn’t have our fishing gear, McLeod Lake had tons of trout that we could just see from the lake beds. I know MaineMan wished we had gotten back to fish there. Though we never caught anything, we did have several strikes and MaineMan flung a nibbler over his head (straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon) and back into the stream.

Back at the office, my coworker continued to pry about our trip. He’s a rock climber and I assured him, him and his wife and new baby should go to Mammoth.

“So where did you end up going?”

“Mammoth Lakes.”

“I heard about it, never been.”

“Gorgeous spot for hiking, fly-fishing, mountain biking…”

“I can understand why you didn’t want to get back to the civilization..”

“Nope.”

*I wanted to make an addendum to this list before explaining the Sequoia debacle. The most overrated stop of the whole trip was the Whoa Nellie Deli, AKA Tioga Gas Mart, AKA Mono Mono. About five different people told us to make the drive up here and I was less than impressed. The views were breathtaking — you’re miles away from entering Yosemite — but I could have done without spending $18 on a sandwich that didn’t blow my tastebuds. I had tuna, which was OK, but MaineMan’s steak looked like it would have barely passed for dog leftovers. The best part was I waited for 30 minutes only to discover when the clerk yelled in my face that it was a “CASH ONLY LINE!” And they forgot my french fries…

** We looked at a general map of the area and thought we could cruise across the Sierras from the east side and stop in at Sequoia National Park on our way home, thanks to a superb rec from FoxyLady. Not. So. Much. The only road that you can get to SNP from is on the west side and when I Google-mapped it, we suddenly had a 12-hour drive on our hands. That’s what I get for no planning. So we’ll go back to SNP another time, and devote the entire trip to that park. General Sherman will have to wait another day for our visit. We ended up stopping at Mount Whitney instead and it was one of the highlights of our trip, so much that I’m devoting another post to it entirely. 

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About Monica

L.A. transplant in S.C. I maintained the NYC-based food/restaurant blog "Mona's Apple" for seven years before transitioning it to "Wine + Quill" in Los Angeles. Now I'm back on the East Coast and will continue to blog about my adventures as a new Southerner. I'm a diehard UVA fan (CLAS '01) and I never say no to wine, tequila or a camping trip.
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4 Responses to 10 Things to Do in Mammoth Lakes

  1. Paz says:

    Haha! Love this line: “Wow, you’re more French than you look!” ;-)

    Looks like you had a really nice time. Agnes, too. That’s great you were able to take her with you.

  2. Danica says:

    Looks Beautiful!!

  3. Fashionista says:

    Sounds like an amazing trip!

  4. monasapple says:

    paz, i know, right? funny he said that. i’m like i look french?? weird. and it was awesome taking agnes. i was a little worried that it would be stressful having to worry about taking care of her the whole time but it was great. mammoth is super dog friendly – moreso than even los angeles!!

    danica, thanks, babe. it was!

    fashionista, so much fun. uva s’women could totally “camp” there one year :)

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