Hikes Mammoth Lakes

7 Incredible Day Hikes In Mammoth Lakes

Filled with stunning alpine lakes, dramatic mountains, lush forests, and incredible hiking trails, Mammoth is a true California treasure.

Mammoth has over 100 lakes from which many are easily accessible through short day hikes. Mammoth Lakes is one of the best places in California to explore the Sierra Nevada mountains and enjoy outdoor recreation activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and swimming.

If you’re planning a trip to Mammoth and are looking for easy hikes to do in the area, this post has you covered! We share 7 of our favorite Mammoth day hikes plus other great hiking tips to make the best of your trip.

Psst! Before you embark on your upcoming adventure, these 10 best hotels in Mammoth Lakes will ensure you’ll have a cozy experience!

Here are 7 of the best day hikes at Mammoth Lakes in California:

Crystal Lake Trail

Crystal Lake Trail is on top of the list for almost anyone heading into Mammoth. This scenic trail features multiple lakes and ends at Crystal Lake that’s known for having pristine, clear water. This is a short-day hike that offers incredible views for somewhat little work.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake Trailhead starts by Lake George in Mammoth Lakes Basin. There is parking near the Crystal Lake Trailhead but it’s pretty limited and shared with Lake George visitors and those staying at the nearby campground. This is a very popular trail so come early to secure a parking spot, especially on the weekends.

Crystal Lake Trail is a straightforward 3 mile out and back trail that can be rated as moderate. This trail is very short but can be a bit strenuous due to the altitude and 800 feet elevation gain. The trail starts with many switchbacks that continue steadily until you reach Crystal Lake.

As you gain more elevation, you will be able to see views of Lake George and Lake Mary appear through the trees. The higher you go, the better the views will get!

At the highest point, you will have a clear, unobstructed view of Mammoth Lakes Basin below. You can take a break here, eat a snack and enjoy the views before you keep going to Crystal Lake.

You will reach Crystal Lake shortly after which is named after its crystal clear, turquoise water. If you’re brave enough, you can jump in for a swim, but the water here is freezing cold!

Trail Summary:

  • Length: 3 miles out and back
  • Elevation: 800 feet
  • Time Needed: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
  • Starting Point: Crystal Lake Trailhead

Read More: Crystal Lake Trail In Inyo National Forest

Convict Lake Loop

Convict Lake is a picturesque lake near Mammoth that features turquoise water, mountains, hiking trails, and secluded beaches. This area is also popular for fishing, swimming, boating, and backpacking.

Convict Lake

Convict Lake is a drive-up lake that is easily accessible from Highway 395. We usually take Highway 395 when driving up to Mammoth and we’ve passed through this area numerous times without realizing that this lake is here.

One of the most fascinating parts about Convict Lake is the unique name that was given to it after a group of criminals escaped prison and took refuge here in 1871. Now the lake is known for offering incredible outdoor recreational activities and camping.

The most popular day hike at Convict Lake is a 3-mile loop that goes around the entire lake. The trailhead for the Convict Lake Loop starts by the boat dock and travels next to the lake for the entire time. Some side trails lead down to the lake if you want to fish or jump in for a swim, but much of it is overgrown with thick bushes.

The dramatic mountain landscape that surrounds Convict Lake is the result of ancient glaciers that shaped this region. While the glaciers are long gone, the beautiful scenery remains including a rocky shore and turquoise water that looks especially blue on sunny days.

Trail Summary:

  • Length: 3 miles
  • Elevation: 200 feet
  • Time Needed: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
  • Starting Point: Convict Lake Marina

Read More: Convict Lake Hike In Inyo National Forest

Skelton Lake Trail

If you’re looking for an excellent day hike in Mammoth, the Skelton Lake Trail is an easy 3-mile-long hike that leads to a pristine alpine lake. You also have the option to do this trail as a loop and visit three different lakes including Arrowhead Lake, Skelton Lake, and Emerald Lake.

Skelton Lake

This is a trail that I’ve hiked several times including an overnight camping trip by Skelton Lake itself. It’s an incredibly rewarding hike that is great for beginner hikers, families, and dogs. Along this trail, you can expect to see dramatic mountain landscapes, crystal clear lakes, and just overall incredible scenery.

The Skelton Lake Trail starts at the Duck Lake Pass Trailhead, next to the Coldwater Campground. This trailhead can be easily accessible from Mammoth Lakes town within a quick 20-minute drive.

The trail starts with a steady climb across sandy, rocky terrain through a covered forest. About a mile in, you will reach a junction for the first lake along this trail – Arrowhead Lake. Don’t miss this turn and be sure to go on a quick detour to Arrowhead Lake!

Arrowhead Lake

About 1.5 miles into the trail, you will reach Skelton Lake where you can walk around the shore and enjoy the scenery. If you reserve a backpacking permit ahead of time, you can even camp near this lake and wake up to some jaw-dropping sunrise views.

From there you can turn around and visit Emerald Lake on the way back which has a deep green color to it and is surrounded by jagged mountains as its backdrop.

Emerald Lake

Trail Summary:

  • Length: 3 miles out and back
  • Elevation: 900 feet
  • Time Needed: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
  • Starting Point: Duck Lake Pass Trailhead

Read More: Hiking Skelton Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes

Sherwin Lakes Trail

Located on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes, Sherwin Lakes is a secluded wilderness trail that doesn’t get as busy as some of the other day hikes in Mammoth. This is a serene 4.5 miles long wilderness trail that travels through a forest up to a mountain lake.

Sherwin Lake

The Sherwin Lakes Trailhead is located slightly southeast of the Mammoth Lakes town. There is a large designated parking lot for Sherwin Lakes visitors and wilderness hikers.

The trail starts on a narrow dirt path that travels through low shrubs and bushes. Soon after the trail turns into an alpine forest and stays like that until you reach the lake. As you go higher, the trees will start thinning out and you’ll be able to see mountain views in the distance.

Sherwin Lake has a greenish-blue tint to its color that looks especially stunning in the daylight. Sherwin Lake is a lovely lake, but in recent years the water level has dropped significantly due to droughts that we experience in California.

When you reach the lake, there is a small area on the north end of the lake where you can access the lake, hang out, or even get in for a swim. I tried walking around the shoreline but much of it was difficult to navigate due to large rocks and boulders.

Trail Summary:

  • Length: 4.5 miles out and back
  • Elevation: 900 feet
  • Time Needed: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
  • Starting Point: Sherwin Lakes Trailhead

Read More: Sherwin Lakes Trail In Mammoth Lakes

McLeod Lake Trail

If you’re looking for a relatively easy and quick day hike in Mammoth – put McLeod Lake Trail on top of your list! This trail is only 1.8 miles long so it’s perfect for kids, dogs, families, and beginner hikers.

The McLeod Lake Trail starts at Horseshoe Lake in Mammoth. There is a large visitor parking lot where you can leave your car for the hike.

McLeod Lake Trailhead

The trail starts in an area with many fallen, dead trees. Due to earthquakes, high amounts of CO2 can be found around Horseshoe Lake causing the trees to die. Once you head into the McLeod Lake Trail, you will soon start climbing in elevation where the wilderness returns to a healthy pine forest.

The trail to McLeod Lake is only 0.5 miles each way so you will arrive at the lake very quickly. You can extend the hike by taking a loop around the entire lake before heading back.

McLeod Lake is made of clear water with a shallow sandy shore scattered full of rocks, fallen trees, and boulders.

Despite being such an easily accessible trail, it wasn’t overly crowded, especially around sunset. The entire hike felt very serene and peaceful.

If you come up here on a hot, sunny day – bring your bathing suit so you can jump in for a refreshing swim! Swimming is allowed in Mammoth Lakes and nothing feels better for cooling down on a hot hike than a quick swim in an alpine lake.

Trail Summary:

  • Length: 1.8 miles out and back
  • Elevation: 350 feet
  • Time Needed: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
  • Starting Point: Horseshoe Lake Parking Lot

Read More: McLeod Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes

Horseshoe Lake Trail

The Horseshoe Lake Trail starts at the same area as the McLeod Lake Trail. The Horseshoe Lake has interesting geological features that are different from other lakes in Mammoth.

After a recent earthquake in 1989, high amounts of carbon dioxide gas were released killing the trees in the surrounding area. What visitors can now experience at Horseshoe Lake is an eerie setting with over 100 acres of fallen or cut-down dead trees.

Because of these toxic gases, it’s not recommended to spend a lot of time by Horseshoe Lake and avoid sitting down in depression areas where the gas might collect. However, this is still a popular lake to visit as long as you take caution, don’t camp here overnight, and stay out of any danger zones.

After parking, you can walk down to the lakefront where the Horseshoe Lake Loop starts. You will see a wide trail entrance and a trail marker. The Horseshoe Lake Trail travels in a counter-clockwise direction around the entire lake.

The hike starts in an area that has the biggest concentration of fallen trees from high levels of CO2 gasses in the soil. The scenery here looks pretty surreal and a reminder of the unpredictable forces of nature.

As you go deeper into the trail, the path travels through a lush pine forest again around the lake offering different perspectives of Horseshoe Lake and the Eastern Sierra mountains.  

Trail Summary:

Read More: Horseshoe Lake Trail In Mammoth Lakes

Heart Lake Trail

The Heart Lake Trail is a secluded wilderness trail in Mammoth that is short in the distance and rarely crowded. This hike leads to an alpine lake that’s shaped like a heart with an option to go on a quick detour to a historic mining settlement in the forest.

Heart Lake

The Heart Lake Trail starts at the end of the Coldwater Campground in Mammoth. There is a paved road that leads to the trailhead which can be easily accessed from Mammoth Lakes Town within a 15-minute drive.

At the beginning of the trail, you can head left into a 0.5-mile-long loop and explore the Mammoth Consolidated Gold Mine where you can see historic artifacts, ruins, and remnants of a gold mining community that was built as part of the great Gold Rush.

Mammoth Consolidated Gold Mine

Here you can see buildings where miners used to live, cook and sleep. Keep going along the loop and you’ll come across old gold mining equipment and engines from an ore processing mill along with some office buildings. Eventually, the mines closed due to The Great Depression, and the Mammoth economy switched from mining to tourism.

Once you’re done exploring these historic buildings and artifacts, you can connect back with the Heart Lake Trail and continue your trek to the lake.

The trail continues to travel partially in open space and partially in an enclosed, shaded forest giving you plenty of places for resting breaks. You’ll also have the opportunity to see some beautiful wildflowers and possibly wildlife like deer.

The trail ends at the Heart Lake that has a beautiful blue color to its water. I tried walking around the lake to get different perspectives of it but much of the trail was really overgrown.

Trail Summary:

  • Length: 2.5 miles out and back
  • Elevation: 550 feet
  • Time Needed: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
  • Starting Point: Duck Lake Pass Parking Lot

Read More: Hiking Heart Lake Trail In Mammoth

Where To Stay

If you plan to camp at Mammoth Lakes overnight, there are many great campgrounds to choose from in Mammoth. Some of the most popular ones are:

Coldwater Creek Campground

If you’re looking to stay at a private rental instead of camping, check out this list that covers 10 amazing vacation rentals in Mammoth Lakes, California!

Other Visitor Tips

  • It’s free to visit and day hike in Mammoth Lakes. If you plan to backpack or camp in Mammoth, you will need to book wilderness permits and campsites ahead of time.
  • Most trailheads have designated parking lots with bear-locked trash cans and restrooms.
  • Carry plenty of water. I always carry several bottles of water, even on short day hikes. Our California summers are just getting hotter and hotter so it’s important to bring plenty of water. If you don’t want to carry heavy water bottles, you can also bring a Sawyer water filter and get freshly filtered water from the alpine lakes and rivers in Mammoth.
  • Bring bug repellant. The lakes in Mammoth attract tons of mosquitos and they are very persistent. I even saw people turn around and exit trails because the bugs were too much to handle.
  • I always bring a first aid kitheadlamp, and a portable phone charger, even on quick day hikes. It’s always best to go prepared!
  • It’s easy to get sunburned on elevation hikes, even on trails that pass through a forest. Nothing ruins a trip more than a bad sunburn. Pack mineral sunscreenlip balmpolarized sunglasses,and a hiking hat to help with the sun.
  • Use trekking poles. Overall, these are not technical day hikes but trekking poles can always help when you start getting tired.

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