Inyo Craters

How To Hike Inyo Craters Trail In Mammoth Lakes

Planning to visit Inyo Craters in Mammoth? Inyo Craters is a short and interesting wilderness trail that leads to a set of volcanic craters hidden deep within the forest. This trail offers a look into the unique geology makeup of Mammoth Lakes and has amazing views along the way.

In this guide, we share everything you need to know to hike the Inyo Craters trail year-round. This guide includes where to park, what to expect, and know before you head out there!

Rim trail along the top of Inyo Craters

Table Of Contents:

Inyo Craters Trail Location & Parking

If you’re planning to hike the Inyo Craters Trail in the summer, you can drive on Dry Creek Road Spur all the way up to the trailhead. From there it’s only 1.6 miles to visit the craters and hike around them.

In the winter the Dry Creek Road Spur that leads to Inyo Craters trailhead is closed and you will need to park off Mammoth Scenic Loop and hike an additional 1.4 miles each way. I’ve done this hike in the winter and even with the additional distance, it’s still a relatively easy and mostly flat trail.

Map of Inyo Craters Trail:

Most recently I visited Inyo Craters in early April and the road was still covered under heavy snow so I parked my car in a small lot off Mammoth Scenic Loop. There is an area that can fit around 5-6 cars and I had no trouble finding a spot.

Inyo Craters trail starting point in the winter

While this is a popular hike to do in the summer, in the winter it doesn’t get as many visitors. From the parking area, I walked along Dry Creek Road Spur for 1.4 miles until I reached the Inyo Craters Trail.

Google Map Location: Inyo Craters, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

About Inyo Craters Trail

Dry Creek Road in April

I would classify the Inyo Crater trail as easy because it has little elevation gain and it is short making it a good choice for beginner hikers, and families.

But while most of the road to Inyo Craters is well marked, the last section goes through a forest with no clear path, especially in the winter. There are blue markers on the trees indicating the general direction for hikers to follow.

This section of the trail consists of rugged terrain with uneven surfaces, fallen trees, and tree roots, especially as you near the craters. Be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots and watch your step.

In winter the Inyo Crater Trail is covered under snow so be sure to follow the blue markings

Thankfully there was some reception in the forest and I was able to pull up hiking maps to see if I was going in the right direction. I used the AllTrails hiking app to keep track of the route.

Inyo Crater in winter

Inyo Crater History

The interesting part that sets this trail apart from other Mammoth Lakes hikes is the volcanic craters that you can visit here. The funnel-shaped Inyo Craters were formed by a series of violent steam eruptions, one after the other. Inyo Craters are only 550-650 years old which is relatively new compared to other geological wonders that you can visit in Mammoth.

Inyo Crater in winter

Inyo Craters are oval in shape and their bottoms are filled with emerald-green water from the surrounding minerals. Once you reach the destination, you can walk on a narrow path along the rim to enjoy different angles of the craters. There is also a designated viewing area with a resting bench and rails for safety.

Inyo Crater viewing area

The craters are located within one of the largest Jeffrey pine forests in the world. According to visitor signs interestingly Jeffrey pine bark is supposed to have a scent similar to vanilla. I stopped to smell a few Jeffrey pine trees and they really do smell like vanilla!

Visiting Inyo Craters In The Winter

If you plan to do this trail in the winter here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Come prepared with the right gear. Winter trails often require snowshoes, skis, or microspikes to complete them in snow. I hiked the Inyo Craters Trail in early April and I used microspikes to prevent myself from slipping on the snow and ice.
  • Wear insulated waterproof hiking boots. It’s easy for your shoes to get soaked from snow, mud, and slush. Waterproof hiking boots will keep your toes nice and cozy even in wet, chilly conditions.
  • Bring extra layers. It can get very cold in the mountains as soon as the sun starts setting. Bring an alpine jacket, gloves, and a beanie in case you get chilly.
  • Don’t do this hike at night. The Inyo Craters Trail requires you to follow blue markings on the trees and you won’t be able to see these markings in the dark. If you do plan to stay out past sunset, be sure to bring a headlamp and a portable charger for your phone.
  • Pack an emergency kit. I always carry a first aid kit in my backpack for wilderness treks, even on short ones.
These microspikes from Amazon work great on winter hikes!

My Hiking Experience

We were visiting Mammoth for a quick weekend getaway in April and I decided to solo hike the Inyo Craters trail while my husband was snowboarding. I’ve done plenty of solo hiking trips in Mammoth Lakes over the years and this trail was short enough that I felt comfortable doing it by myself, even in the snow.

Inyo Craters trail starting point in winter

Since Dry Creek Road Spur was still closed in April, I parked next to Mammoth Scenic Loop. From there you can easily find the starting point along the wide road.

Snow-covered trail to Inyo Craters

The first section was pretty uneven with slush and snow so you’ll need good hiking boots in the winter and spring to keep your feet dry. In 0.8 miles you will need to make a right and follow signs for Inyo Craters.

In 0.8 miles make a right

The next part follows a well-groomed road that is also used for snowmobiling in the winter. At the 1-mile marker, you will need to make a right again.

In 1.4 miles you will see a bathroom on the right and the Inyo Craters Trail will start to the left shortly after.

Inyo Crater Trail

Next, you will need to start making your way through the forest but there isn’t a straightforward path to follow. At this point, I pulled up the Inyo Craters trail map on the AllTrails hiking app and followed the blue markers on the trees until I reached the destination.

Walking along the crater rim

Once I reached the craters, I took in the views and started hiking along the crater rim. Unfortunately, both craters were covered under a layer of snow and ice so I couldn’t see the emerald color that they are so popular for. Summer might be a better time to do this hike if you want to see the stunning color at the bottom of the craters.

Emerald water color slightly visible under the ice

It took me a while to walk around the first crater across snow and rocks. Once I reached the second crater I was starting to feel a bit dizzy from the altitude so I took a quick break at the main visitor area.

After a short rest, I tried to go around the second crater as well, but the snow was too steep and dangerous. Even with microspikes, I didn’t want to risk slipping and sliding down the 200-foot crater wall as it was difficult to see where the rim ended under snow.

View of Inyo Crater

After checking out both craters I started making my way back the same way that I came. Altogether the hike to Inyo Craters was around 4.4 miles long out and back.

Other Visitor Tips

  • I recommend downloading an offline map before you head out to hike the Inyo Craters trail. While this is a short hike, there are a few turns you will need to make and it can get confusing if you’re not familiar with the route.
  • There was some phone reception in the forest and I was able to send messages and pull up the AllTrails hiking app.
  • There is a restroom by Inyo Craters trailhead that was open and stocked with toilet paper even in springtime.
Vault restroom along the hike
  • If you’re planning to hike this trail solo, be sure to share your location with someone before heading out into the Mammoth Lakes wilderness.
  • This hike does allow dogs but they must stay on leash and be cleaned up after.
  • There are no water sources on this trail so come prepared with plenty of water for the hike. Altitude can make you feel more dehydrated so bring extra water for yourself and your pets.
  • This is a multi-use trail. You’ll need to keep an eye out for mountain bikes in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter.
Be sure to keep an eye out for snowmobiles in the winter.

Where To Stay In Mammoth Lakes

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

The Village Lodge

Photo by The Village Lodge

The Village Lodge is an upscale hotel in Mammoth Lakes that puts guests right in the heart of the action. Guests can choose between one, two, or three-bedroom condo units to accommodate between four and eight guests.

Impressive amenities are a major draw at this contemporary resort and include a heated outdoor swimming pool, three gyms, and five hot tubs. There are also two restaurants onsite for convenient dining that serve American dishes and pizza.

Click here to book it!

Tamarack Lodge

Photo by the Tamarack Lodge

This lodge has a cozy and rustic atmosphere and is surrounded by fantastic views of the mountains and Twin Lakes. This historic Mammoth Lakes establishment was founded in 1924 and is an ideal choice for those who seek a more quiet locale immersed in nature.

There are many booking options available that include one or two bedrooms and the opportunity to book a cabin with a sofa bed. Most cabins at the Tamarack Lodge come equipped with a fireplace and a kitchenette.

Click here to book it!

The Westin Monache Resort

Photo by The Westin Monache Resort

For a relaxing and upscale experience, consider The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth. This trusted hotel brand is ideally situated at the base of Mammoth Mountain and features luxury amenities such as airport pick-up and a 24-hour gym.

There are suites of differing sizes, but most can accommodate groups of four and six. On the hotel grounds, enjoy a soak in one of two hot tubs or take a lap in the heated outdoor swimming pool.

Click here to book it!

Read More: 10 Best Hotels In Mammoth Lakes, California

We hope this guide has helped you prepare for a wonderful visit to Inyo Craters in Mammoth! Looking for more things to do around Mammoth Lakes? Check out these posts next:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links which helps me run this blog. Thank you!

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