The First Fall Colors Were Just Spotted in This Gorgeous California Lake Town — How to Plan a Last-minute Trip

The leaves are officially turning in Mammoth Lakes, California. Here's how to visit this fall.

Fall foliage at Conway Summit in Mammoth Lakes

Courtesy of Mammoth Lakes Tourism

The arrival of fall always incites a flurry of excitement — summer is over, winter is on its way, and in the span of a precious few weeks, the greens of summer turn vibrant shades of gold, orange, and red. Mountain towns like Mammoth Lakes in California are often the first to welcome fall colors thanks to cooler weather and higher elevations. 

In fact, the tourism team in Mammoth Lakes is so excited about the onset of fall that they just released a batch of recent photos showcasing the early colors of fall — which are enhanced by a light blanket of snow. And while the fall foliage season has begun in Mammoth Lakes, it’s far from over. Visit Mammoth estimates that only about 10% of the leaves have changed so far, leaving plenty of time to plan a fall trip. 

What to Do

Fall foliage at Conway Summit in Mammoth Lakes

Courtesy of Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Leaf peeping can take on many forms in Mammoth Lakes. The town is situated at the foot of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which evolves into a hiking and biking destination in the summer and fall. 

Bikers can check out Mammoth Mountain Bike Park, or take the trolley up to Horseshoe Lake and ride the Horseshoe Lake Loop trail, which traverses seven bridges before hitting the Lakes Basin Path, a paved trail leading back to town. Hikers will find some of the best fall colors along one of the many trails criss-crossing Mammoth Lakes Basin. From the Lake George Trailhead, hikers can access the higher alpine lakes of Crystal Lake (2.7 miles round trip), Barrett Lake, and TJ Lake (both 1.5 miles round trip). 

If you’re interested in checking out the leaves from the comfort of your car, head to the June Lake Loop (Route 158). The 15-mile route passes by dramatic Sierra peaks, a chain of gorgeous lakes, and some of the best fall colors in California. Highlights include a stop at the Oh! Ridge Campground, where you can look out over high alpine lakes surrounded by colorful trees and gaze up toward Carson Peak. 

If the fall foliage season is just getting started when you arrive in Mammoth Lakes, head north to Conway Summit or make your way south to Rock Creek Canyon. Both sites have some of the area's earliest fall colors. 

Where to Stay

The all-suite Westin Monache Resort has airy one- and two-bedroom accommodations, the latter with full kitchens. You can catch the fall colors from your private balcony or hit the heated outdoor pool. Nearby, the Mammoth Mountain Inn keeps things simple with standard hotel rooms and great fall savings — you can save 25% by booking a stay for three or more nights.

Where to Dine

For the tempting pairing of views and high-end cuisine, head to Skadi, which seamlessly masters the elevated ski lodge feel. Toomey’s is noticeably more casual but is just as well-loved — plus it’s Mammoth’s go-to place for Southern food staples like jambalaya. For a post-leaf-peeping cocktail, head to Shelter Distilling, which makes a stellar gin using Mammoth’s mountain-fresh water (they say it’s their secret ingredient). 

How to Get There

Mammoth Lakes is surprisingly accessible for a destination that can feel so remote. From Southern California, take Route 395, which passes by Mt. Whitney, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and Death Valley. Visitors from the north can make their way to Mammoth Lakes on Routes 120 or 108, which are stunning in the fall. The highways traverse mountain passes and make their way past sights like Yosemite National Park and Mono Lake.

Those flying in can take United Airlines' flights to Eastern Sierra Regional Airport (45 minutes from Mammoth Lakes). The smaller Mammoth Yosemite Airport (10 minutes from town) is serviced by Advanced Air, a scheduled commuter and private charter airline with flights from Southern California. 

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