After the Alabama Hills, we drove north and had an amazing time in Mammoth Lakes. Despite some lingering snow from a harsh winter, we did some lovely hikes and saw some amazing views! I highly recommend checking out this incredibly beautiful area. Keep reading below to find out what we did!
The last blog post I wrote was about the Alabama Hills (click here to read it!), located in Eastern Sierra. Our original plan for this part of the trip was to quickly see the Alabama Hills and then rush west to the California coast. Our plans changed for a couple of reasons and we ended up spending a week in Eastern Sierra. First of all, we were absolutely in love with this area. For me personally, being surrounded by the snow-capped Sierras was waking up a part of my soul that had missed the mountains dearly. We weren’t ready to leave this amazing place. The second thing that changed our plan was that there was a historically huge landslide on Route 1 near Big Sur. We were planning on driving all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway but the landslide made this impossible since the road was closed in several spots. So we had to change plans, as often happens in life on the road. While we were pretty bummed that McWay Falls and a few other iconic spots in Big Sur were inaccessible (for at least a year!), we were also excited to head north and explore more of the Eastern Sierras.
We drove north up route 395 to an area called Mammoth Lakes. I had heard of this area as a ski town and that’s about it. I didn’t have any expectations going in and was very pleasantly surprised! The drive from Lone Pine to Mammoth was incredibly beautiful with more snow capped mountains popping up every few miles. Mammoth Lakes is a very adorable area. We stopped by the visitor center and got some great advice for what to do in the area. There were a multitude of free camping options: several spots with dispersed camping and even a real campground with pit toilets and fire pits, free of charge! This is an amazing area for van dwellers. Although some of the areas around Mammoth Lakes were inaccessible due to the snow that hadn’t melted yet, there were so many awesome spots we were able to check out. Keep reading to find out more!
The first thing we did in the area was the 6-mile roundtrip hike to Sherwin Lakes, sub-alpine lakes in the Muir Wilderness. The hike was really lovely. After being in the desert for so long, the sound of wind in the trees, the shady trails, and the forest smells were greatly appreciated. We meandered through tall pine trees, across a rushing river, and up many gentle switchbacks to get to there. The path was mostly dry, though we did have to hike through a few snow patches, and quite easy. Surrounded by snow covered mountains, the lake was one of the loveliest sights from this whole trip. We spent a while exploring the shore, taking photos, and I waded into the chilly water out to a log propped up on some rocks (see below).
We didn’t end up getting to the other lake because it was getting late, but overall this was an easy and awesome hike! The hike took us 3 hours total, including a long stop for photos and relaxing by the lake.
The next day we woke up early in the morning to watch the sunrise at Convict Lake. This is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. It is named after an incident that occurred in 1871, when a group of convicts escaped from prison in Carson City and were caught near the lake. I am typically not a morning person and love sleeping in, but watching the sunrise in the mountains is always worth waking up for!
Hot Creek Geological Site
We then checked out Hot Creek Geological Site. There is a beautiful flowing river with brilliant blue steaming geothermal hot springs (NOT for swimming!) and beautiful mountain peaks in the background. When you follow Google Maps, it takes you to an area with a neat view of the steaming pools, some informative signs, and pit toilets. However, it was not obvious how to get the view in the photo below.
The views from the marked area are nice, but the best view (seen in the photo above) is not well advertised. We had to wander around for a while to find this exact perspective. To get to this viewpoint you need to keep driving east on Hot Creek Hatchery Road past the pit toilets and gate at the far end of the geological site, and turn left down a dirt road with no signs. At the end of the road there is a small clearing with a stone fire pit (possibly a camp site!). There you will find this stunning view! See the map below, the approximate location of the viewpoint is indicated by the red circle.
Driving the June Lake Loop
After the beauty of Hot Creek, we continued our drive north to the June Lake Loop. This is a beautiful road that winds through mountains, cute towns, and several lovely lakes. June Lake itself looked very pretty from the road, but we didn’t find a good viewpoint so we continued driving.
We stopped at Silver Lake, which was really beautiful. Unfortunately, it was very windy so the water was choppy and full of waves. I think this spot would have looked even more beautiful with still, reflective water.
We also stopped by Grant Lake, a dazzling blue lake nestled in the mountains and rolling hills. This spot felt so similar to some of the hikes we did in the fjords of Norway!
After spending a couple hours on the lovely June Lake Loop, we drove down a bumpy dirt road to the trail head for a hike to Parker Lake. This was a relatively short and easy hike, only 3.6 miles roundtrip, and took us two hours. There were hardly any other people on the trail and it was a very peaceful hike. Just before getting to the lake, there is an amazing shallow river winding through a pine forest. It felt like something out of a magical fantasy world.
The lake itself was really beautiful. The water was a dazzling shade of turquoise and the tall rocky mountains loomed just behind the lake. I tried to wade in the freezing cold water, but the rocks were sharp and slippery- I almost fell in!
Leaving Mammoth Lakes
Aside from these lovely lakes and hikes, we enjoyed some tasters at the two local breweries: Mammoth Brewing Company, which had delicious beers and the best logo of a smiling black bear, and Black Doubt which is one of the more clever brewery names I have ever seen.
We also stopped briefly at Mono Lake on our way out, but we weren’t really feeling this area so we didn’t stay too long. Most of the mountain roads were closed so we had to drive north and then west to get over to the California coast.
What we skipped
One thing we did not explore in Mammoth Lakes was the hot springs. I have seen so many amazing photos of these springs and wanted to check them out. For some reason we were busy with all of the hiking and driving, we ended up not doing the hot springs. Sorry not to have any info on these! We also tried to spend some time at Lake Tahoe on our way out, but found it not to be very van-friendly. We saw some nice views as we drove around, but had trouble finding places to park or sleep for free. We will have to plan another trip to this area!
Since writing this blog post we have already explored much of the Califoria coast. I can’t wait to share photos and stories from our adventures on the Pacific Coast Highway and in the redwood forests! Until then, you can keep up-to-date by following along with my posts and stories on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).