There is today a renewed interest in road-trips, to drive across scenic routes, interesting terrains, and explore destinations at your own pace. All of this becomes easy and exciting when you opt for road-tripping in Mammoth Lakes, California, either solo or in the august company of friends and family. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mammoth Lakes is a lesser-known adventure-land where you stay amidst nature and away from dense cities, making it an ideal social distancing vacation destination. Here’s how you could plan your next holiday driving amidst natural breathtaking beauty that will leave you mesmerized. 

Driving to Mammoth Lakes, California

Located in the heart of the breathtaking Sierra Nevada Mountains, Mammoth Lakes is easy to access by car from anywhere in California. Road tripping to Mammoth Lakes is an experience in itself. From Southern California, you’ll pass by iconic natural wonders, including Mt. Whitney, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and Death Valley. Traveling from the north, be sure to stop by Bodie State Historic Park or the other-worldly Mono Lake. No matter where you’re driving from, once you hit the scenic Hwy. 395 you’ll instantly feel like “the mountains are calling” as towering Eastern Sierra peaks dominate the horizon.

Car Rentals

Car hire is available throughout the state; most major companies have offices at the larger airports and in convenient city locations. To hire a car in California, you must be at least 25 years old (in most cases) and have a valid driver’s license and credit card (used as a security deposit). Non-US citizens must have passports. Rates may vary, with factors including location, car size and style, accessories (a child seat or in-car GPS, for example, maybe extra), and the day of the week that you hire it.


We’ve compiled a list of reputable companies with offices statewide-

ADVANTAGE

ALAMO RENT-A-CAR

AVIS RENT-A-CAR

BUDGET RENT-A-CAR

DOLLAR RENT-A-CAR

ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR

E-Z RENT-A-CAR 

FIREFLY CAR RENTAL

FOX RENT-A-CAR

HERTZ CAR RENTAL

MIDWAY CAR RENTAL 

NATIONAL CAR RENTAL

SILVERCAR, INC

SIXT RENT-A-CAR

THRIFTY CAR RENTAL

UNITED AUTO RENTAL

TRAVCAR

UNITED AUTO RENTAL

Car Rentals Within Mammoth Lakes

Rental cars are available at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport from Enterprise Car Rentals and National Car Rental. Reservations are strongly suggested as rental car supply is limited. The hours of the reservation desk may change seasonally to align with flight arrivals. Call ahead to confirm your reservation and pick-up time.  

Driving From Southern California To Mammoth Lakes

Nothing beats the freedom of the open highway, and a road trip to Mammoth Lakes from Southern California takes travelers from the cactus-studded landscape of the Mojave Desert into the broad Owens Valley. Flanked by some of North America’s most impressive mountains and lined with ancient glacial lake beds, it is easy to see why Hwy. 395 to Mammoth Lakes is considered a Scenic Byway. Once out of the city, the traffic density dwindles and you are able to revel in the region’s impressive natural beauty.

Along the way, several quaint high-desert towns remind visitors of the rural Old West while providing full services to travelers. From chain restaurants to locally famous eateries and charming hotels, visitors are able to find suitable meals and rest areas along the drive.

On the way to Mammoth Lakes, you will pass these iconic Eastern Sierra landmarks and scenic areas. 

  • Mt. Whitney
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
  • Manzanar Historic Site

Driving From Northern California To Mammoth Lakes

Exhilarating mountain highways loaded with scenic viewpoints are part of the adventure of driving from Northern California to Mammoth Lakes. But traveling over mountain passes to this quaint mountain town changes drastically from summer to winter due to snow, so be sure to check road conditions and closures before you plan your drive. 

Once the winter’s snow melts in late May to early June (although sometimes as late as July), many of the high-alpine passes that cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains open for travel. Each route has its own distinct natural beauty that begs to be explored. With several options on hand, you may want to consider taking a different route home so you can see more of the area.

On the way to Mammoth Lakes, you will pass these iconic Eastern Sierra landmarks and scenic areas. 

  • Yosemite National Park (summer-only)
  • Bodie State Historic Park (summer-only)
  • Mono Lake

Scenic Drives In And Around Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Scenic Loop to Sherwin Creek Road

This 2-hour drive begins at the outskirts of town on the Mammoth Scenic Loop. Lined with stands of quaking aspen, the paved roadway is awash with color during the autumn season. Along the way, several dirt roads lead into numerous aspen stands and to the Inyo Craters interpretive site. Combine this loop with Valentine Lake which is an often-overlooked hiking destination in Mammoth Lakes’ backyard. The secluded alpine lake is situated beneath rugged 12,000-foot peaks and the trailhead is located just a few miles south of town on Sherwin Creek Road. 

The Scenic Loop is located off State Route 203, just west of the Village at Mammoth, and descends to US 395 over a distance of 7 miles. When you reach US 395, turn right to head south. Magnificent views of Bloody Mountain and Laurel Mountain are visible from the highway, each adorned with a diverse collection of colorful deciduous trees and shrubs. In 5 miles, turn back onto State Route 203 toward Mammoth Lakes and take an immediate left onto Sherwin Creek Road. This well-maintained gravel roadway winds along Mammoth Creek and is often inundated with endless fall color. As you pass the Sherwin Creek Campground, be certain to note the contrasting aspen and willow shadowed by the perpetual greens of towering ponderosa pine and white fir. 

Mammoth Lakes Basin

An autumn vacation to Mammoth Lakes would be incomplete without a visit to the nearby Mammoth Lakes Basin. Surrounding the many alpine lakes, isolated groves of fluorescent aspen stand out against the expansive pine forests. Along the slopes of the rapidly rising mountains, many deciduous shrubs splash their red, yellow and orange foliage against the rocky backdrop.

Reaching the Mammoth Lakes Basin is easy. Follow Main Street past the Village at Mammoth, continuing as the road turns into Lake Mary Road. Heading west and gaining elevation, you will reach the first lake in 2 miles. For more information on visiting the Lakes Basin in the fall, visit the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center. 

Driving to Yosemite National Park


A spectacular day trip from Mammoth Lakes, California, Yosemite National Park is just a 45-minute drive from Mammoth Lakes. Hike through the famous Tuolumne Meadows and dip your toes in Tenaya Lake. Iconic Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Valley waterfalls are a scenic 1.5-hour drive through the park from Tuolumne Meadows.

Driving to Mono Lake

Ancient Mono Lake covers more than 65 miles and is over a million years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. Mono Lake has no outlet, so water leaves only through evaporation, causing the lake to be 2.5 times saltier and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean. In 1941 Los Angeles began diverting water from the streams that feed the lake, causing lake levels to drop precipitously. Conservation efforts and litigation to reduce water exports in the last two decades have succeeded and today the lake has come back from its historic low, although prolonged drought continues to keep lake levels down and reinforces the need for water conservation throughout the state.

There is a lot to explore here that is easily accessible by car from Mammoth within 45 minutes to an hour of driving. You may choose to spend an entire day visiting various sites around the lake or combine a shorter visit to the lake with a trip to the ghost town of Bodie or the eastern entrance area of Yosemite National Park.

Driving to June Lake Loop

The June Lake Loop (State Route 158) contains some of the most awe-inspiring displays of fall foliage accessible by automobile. From the Oh! Ridge Campground just off the roadway, visitors can gaze over an endless sea of colorful trees rimming high alpine lakes, their reflections mirrored by deep blue alpine waters. In the distance, the flanks of Carson Peak are aflame with the reds and oranges of deciduous high alpine shrubs. Further down the loop, along the banks of Reverse Creek, groves of aspen and cottonwood shower public picnic areas with a display of golden yellow.

Reach this scenic drive by heading north from Mammoth Lakes on US 395 for 17 miles. Take a left onto the 14-mile June Lake Loop (State Route 158) at the green general store and gas station. After passing Silver Lake and paralleling the banks of Rush Creek, then reaching Grant Lake, the June Lake Loop merges with US 395. Turn right to return to Mammoth Lakes, or for an additional adventure, turn left to reach Mono Lake and the village of Lee Vining.

About Mammoth Lakes, California:

Welcome to Mammoth Lakes, where “no way” is never far away. Majestic in scale and awesome in its natural beauty, the year-round adventure! and of Mammoth Lakes is one of those rare places that you must see to still not totally believe. The name speaks to the size of the mountains, the expanse of the valleys, the incredible number of crystal-clear mountain lakes and the endless opportunities for adventure just outside your door. But what makes this place really unique are the surreal storybook scenes that drop jaws, spark the imagination, and make every moment feel like a brush with the truly incredible.

Also read: Here Is The Guide To A Perfect Family Vacation In Mammoth Lakes

Getting there:

There are direct flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Mammoth Lakes, so you can be in the mountains in just about an hour. These daily flights are available all year round.

You can also find seasonal flights from San Francisco, Burbank and Denver

Mammoth Lakes by road is 420 kms from San Francisco, 223 kms from Lake Tahoe and 495 kms approximately from Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

For more information visit: www.visitmammoth.com

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