California’s Favorite Mountain Town Is an All-Season Paradise

What to do in Mammoth year-round, from winter skiing and tubing to mountain biking, hot springs, hiking, and a surprisingly great group of wine bars and breweries.

Welcome to Two Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city—because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.

When people think of weekend getaways in California, they are often thinking about the beach. Even in the off-season California’s beach towns are a delight, but there are so many more places to see around the state, and that’s part of what makes California magical. We’ve got the desert, the forest, wine country, and beyond. But whether you’re visiting in ski season, the shoulder seasons, or the height of summer, the mountains are low-key some of the best places to visit in California. And with gorgeous pine trees and alpine lakes to explore, stunning hiking and mountain biking, incredible skiing that lasts through the spring, and the surprisingly great village full of bars and restaurants, Mammoth may be the best mountain town in California.

To make sure you get the most out of a trip to Mammoth in any season, here’s our guide to everything to do in Mammoth.

Travel time:

5 hours from LA
5 hours from San Francisco

mammoth mountain ski slopes covered in snow
Photo by Sammy Deleo, courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

If you don’t do anything else: Explore the great outdoors on and off the mountain

Skiing and snowboarding are always an option in the winter months—Mammoth’s 150 trails that span over 3,500 acres are a snow enthusiast’s dream. But if you feel like venturing off the beaten path, look into backcountry tours with the Sierra Mountain Center or Sierra Mountain Guides, which offer trips for different skill levels across seasons, including rock climbing, backpacking, and waterfall ice climbing, which is exactly as epic as it sounds.

In the summer, Mammoth Mountain ski area becomes Mammoth Bike Park, one of the best and most radical mountain bike parks in the country. And the area's many lakes open up for boating, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and waterskiing.

If you’re looking for family-friendly outdoor activities in Mammoth, the mountain has plenty of options too. In the winter, Woolly's Adventure Summit has tubing, snow play, and a mountain coaster. And in summer, the Adventure Center has a ropes course, zip line, archery, and a pump track. Or check out the Mammoth Lakes Earthquake Fault, a rare natural phenomenon nestled deep in the forest. The fault cuts through volcanic rock and reaches a depth of 60 feet. A short trail descends into the fault, and signs reveal information about its history. And other great hiking trails abound in the area.

sunset over mammoth lakes and village covered in snow
Photo by Sammy Deleo, courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

Fill Your Days:

Ride the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain

You can’t visit Mammoth without paying tribute to the man who made it the world-renowned adventure resort that it is today—Dave McCoy. Take the gondola to the Mammoth Museum at McCoy Station, which is the first stop on the way to the summit. Journey back to the 1950s, and trace how McCoy’s innovations made his vision a reality. Then hop back on the gondola for a trip to the top.

Eleven53 Interpretive Center is a visual treat 11,053 feet above sea level, offering 360-degree views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Range. Exhibits that highlight the region’s geology, wildlife, natural history, and climate are on display year-round. You’ll want to visit if you’ve ever wondered how the jagged peaks of the Minaret Range were formed, or wanted to learn more about the North American black bears that have made Mammoth their home.

wild willy's hot springs in mammoth with a view of the mountains
Flickr/Lars Dugaiczyk

Explore hot springs in Mammoth

There are several hot springs to be found along Highway 395, which may be the perfect place to rest your weary muscles after a day of adventure. There are a few located along Benton Crossing Road, and perhaps the most well-known of the bunch is Wild Willy’s Hot Springs. Make your way down a boardwalk and you’ll find two hot springs pools with steam rising above them. The Hilltop Hot Tub is a lot smaller but easier to get to from Benton Crossing Road. Crab Cooker Hot Springs is a rock tub that has water piped in from a mineral spring nearby.

The precursor to all of these hot springs is Hot Creek, a spot that both locals and visitors used to frequent back in the day. It’s now restricted to a geological site, but you can still hike down the paved path to marvel at the periodic geyser eruptions as you watch boiling water bubbling up from the creek. It’s located 15 miles south of Mammoth off Hot Creek Hatchery Road.

boat at silver lake just outside June Lake near Mammoth California
Flickr/Jan Arentdsz

Drive the June Lake Loop

If you’ve made it all the way to Mammoth, you might as well venture further along Highway 395 and drive the June Lake Loop. Also known as CA Highway 158, it’s a 16-mile horseshoe-shaped road that travels through the town of June Lake, which is also home to a family-friendly ski resort.

June Lake Loop winds its way around four lakes—after June Lake you’ll pass the trout-laden Gull Lake next, and then Silver Lake, which is lined with cabins and hosts one of the Sierra’s oldest fishing and vacation resorts. Grant Lake, the largest and most imposing of the four lakes, greets you before you reach Highway 395 again. If road conditions allow, you can also visit the otherworldly landscape of Mono Lake, which is just a short distance away.

mammoth brewing beer truck making a delivery in mammoth

Eat, drink, and sleep:

Bars and restaurants in Mammoth

For après-ski drinks or summer kickbacks, check out Mammoth Brewing Company. Shelter Distilling is another popular spot for snacks and cocktails, in addition to tastings of their house spirits. Visit Distant Brewing’s tasting room for casual good vibes, a dozen beers on tap, and regular live music nights.

In addition to their house-roasted coffee beans, Black Velvet Coffee has a cozy wine bar inside that focuses on small winegrowers with biodynamic and sustainable farming practices. For a spectacular selection of over 250 wines, Petra’s Bistro & Wine Bar is a sure bet. And if you’re craving a glass on the slopes, stop by DAOU Lounge at McCoy Station, where you can enjoy complimentary tastings from the Paso Robles-based winery during the ski season.

There are lots of great restaurants in Mammoth—we’ve actually got a whole guide for that—so it’s worth focusing on dessert. For an eco-friendly, organic masterpiece, check out Dessert’d Organic Bake Shop, which serves a selection of cakes, cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and ice cream. The assortment of cookies ranges from meringues to florentines to shortbreads and beyond, and the pies are a highlight. If that doesn’t scratch the itch, the best donuts in town are at Mammoth Coffee Roasting Co.

Hotels in Mammoth

Because it’s primarily a tourist-driven town in the mountains, there are plenty of places to stay in Mammoth. Of course the various home rental apps have everything from modern condos to cozy cabins, and hotels range from budget options in the middle of town to full-on glamorous lodges. There are options like the Mammoth Mountain Inn if you want to stay as close to the chairlifts as you can, or consider Outbound Mammoth for a recently-renovated hotel with cabins, villas, and individual rooms in a more central location.

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Danielle Bauter is a contributor for Thrillist.

Ben Mesirow is Thrillist's LA Staff Writer, and an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA Times, Litro, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.