Several weeks ago, I got a random text from my brother asking if I wanted to housesit for him and his wife in Mammoth Lakes, California for 10 days starting that Thursday (the text came in on Tuesday). Since I work from home, I jumped at the opportunity of getting out of the city for two weeks and spending some quality time in the mountains with two loving kitty cats and sunshine. My plan was to do just enough work to get by and spend the rest of my time exploring the nearby trails and outdoor playgrounds. If you don’t know anything about the Mammoth Lakes/Bishop area, there are plenty of adventures to keep anyone occupied. Here are my highlights:
THE ANCIENT BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST
Located deep within the White Mountain wilderness, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a spectacular day trip from Bishop or Mammoth Lakes. It took me about an hour and a half to get there – you have to climb several thousand feet before reaching the trailhead. Along the way there are several vista points where you can stop and snap photos of the stunning snow capped Sierra Nevada’s to the east, but be careful because the road is not for the faint hearted! Once I arrived at the trailhead, I found two trails through the Bristlecone Forest (one is 4.5 miles, the other is 1 mile). I recommend doing both. The longer one is a pretty good hike, especially if you’re not used to the elevation (around 9,500ft). The path will wind you through the 4,000+ year old bristlecones and award you with some great views. The shorter hike is still a good climb, but not as long (obviously). It also has spectacular (but different) views and informational plaques about the ancient forest. Take plenty of water, snacks or a lunch, and sun protection
LITTLE LAKES VALLEY TRAIL TO MORGAN PASS
If you’re looking for a high-altitude, moderate hike that has incredible views of the snowy Sierra Nevada’s and glistening alpine lakes, the Little Lake Valley Trail is the way to go. I found the trailhead by taking Rock Creek Road all the way to the end to the Mosquito Flats parking area. Once you’re on the trail, stay left toward Morgan Pass. The length of trail all the way up to the pass is about 3.5 miles one-way with options to explore side trails like Gem Lake (definitely recommended) and Chickenfoot Lake (take or leave). Note that this trail is above 10,000 feet, so even though it’s pretty flat and short, it does take some extra effort. If you can, I recommend going in the shoulder season (early spring or late fall) to avoid high temps, bugs, and crowds of people
LAKE CROWLEY COLUMNS
The Lake Crowley Columns are a cluster of super cool stone formations on the east side of the lake. They’re a bit tricky to get to and not many people get to see them, so they’re definitely a highlight if you can make your way out there. I actually biked to the columns from Sunny Slopes and it was a fun adventure. Not one I would recommend to the average traveler, but a great undertaking if you’re the intrepid type. You can also get out there if you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. There are some places where the road gets pretty rough, so don’t try it in any old car. Seriously. To get to the columns, follow Owen’s Gorge Road all the way to where the pavement ends past the dam. Then take a sharp left onto a fire service road. Keep following that road until you come to a three way ‘intersection’. Go straight through down the middle road and park at the end. You’ll see the columns down to your right. If you do bike, leave your bikes at the top! I made the mistake of bringing mine down to the beach and it was a b*$@$ to get back up.
The Buttermilks (named for the road that takes you there) is a pretty well-known bouldering and rock climbing destination just outside of Bishop, CA. I’m not big into rock climbing (heights are not my thing), but I found it just as fun to hike among the huge boulders and scamper my way up on top of the more accessible granite rocks and down into narrow canyons. Crowds can get crazy during peak climbing season (summer and late fall), but once you hike out of the main climbing area the place is pretty much yours to explore. There aren’t any trails in the Buttermilks, but it’s pretty difficult to get lost because of the open expanse outside of the rock formations. If you go, take plenty of water, wear good shoes and stretchy pants, and only go up what you can come down 😉
LOWER ROCK CREEK MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL
I’ve ridden a lot of mountain bike trails over the years and this is one of the best around! It’s super flowy, not too technical, and runs along a beautiful rushing river that traverses some pretty cool and diverse scenery. The trail is technically a downhill and if you do the whole thing from top to bottom it’s about 9 miles one-way, but I parked at the third parking area down Lower Rock Creek Road and huffed it back up to the top. It’s actually not a bad climb if you’re acclimated to the elevation and it makes you feel better about the 5-9 miles of super fun downhill ahead of you. You can also park two cars (one at the top and one at the bottom) or have someone shuttle you back and forth if you’re not feeling up to the climb, but it’s really not that bad. Promise 🙂 If you’re not into mountain biking, this is a great trail to hike or run. Just watch out for the crazy’s.
VOLCANIC TABLELANDS PETROGLYPHS
Google “Sky Rock Bishop” and you’ll come up with dozens of photos of the iconic petroglyphs in the Volcanic Tablelands just outside of town. I won’t tell you exactly how to get there because it’s the kind of place that you need to discover on your own and most of the fun is trying to locate the art amid the large boulders and barren expanse anyways. Plus there are shameful people out there who would like to deface the ancient art or chisel it out of the rock for their own personal galleries. My brain can’t fathom why. Anyway, no one really know who made these drawings or exactly how long they’ve been there, but estimates are around 1,500 years. There’s is also the “13 Moons” petroglyph in the area as well. See if you can find them! Hint: Chalk Bluff Road