Ah, fall in the Sierra. Crisp, cool air in the mornings; warm, golden light in the afternoons; and the blowing breeze making the bright yellow and orange aspen leaves dance in the wind. There really isn’t anything like it.
In a resort town like Mammoth Lakes, fall is known as the shoulder-season, and it is drastically less crowded than any other time of the year. But just because the mountain is still closed for skiing and the air is getting cooler does not mean that there are less things to do during your visit – if anything, if you are looking for solitude, fall is arguably the best time to visit Mammoth! Here are twenty-five of my favorite activities to do in Mammoth Lakes during the fall:
Of course, the first thing that you should do when you visit Mammoth Lakes in the fall is find that fall color and go leaf-peeping!! Leaf-peeping in the Sierra is truly stunning, and I try to make a trip out there at least once a year to check out the fall colors. Peak is usually around mid-October, but that truly depends on the weather that year. Find the Eastern Sierra Fall Color Report here.
Catch Fall Colors Around the June Lake Loop
The Sierras may be one of the best places in the country to check out fall color, but within the Sierras, there’s nothing like the June Lake Loop during peak color. Drive through miles of bright yellow leaf tunnels and watch as color explodes from the mountainside as it follows a creek-bed. The June Lake Loop is sixteen miles of beautiful road, and during fall, the drive is incomparable.
Fall may possibly be my favorite season to hike in. The air is much cooler, the sun less intense at those high Sierra elevations, and the trails are practically empty. Add in some various fall color, and you have the perfect recipe for a perfect hike. Check out trails like Crystal Lake, the Deer Lakes Loop, Thousand Island Lake, or Sherwin Lakes for some hikes close to Mammoth Lakes.
June Lake Autumn Beer Festival
The June Lake Autumn Beer Festival is, hands down, one of my favorite events in the Mammoth Lakes area. The Festival is held every year on the banks of Gull Lake at the beginning of October, usually when the fall colors are at their peak. The event is essentially a tasting festival, and breweries from near and far come to June Lake to pitch a tent and serve festival-goers their most popular beers. Tickets are much cheaper than what you would normally expect for unlimited tastings at a beer festival, and events throughout the day (like stein-holding competitions!) provide plenty of entertainment. It’s honestly just a great day of beer and sunshine in the shadow of Carson Peak. I would highly HIGHLY recommend.
Did you know that we actually have seven seasons throughout the year? There are the main four – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, of course; but only a few select people know the additional three seasons – pre-ski season, ski season, and not ski season. Crazy, huh? While ski season and not ski season can vary between Winter, Spring, and Summer, pre-ski season almost always falls during Fall, and one of my absolute favorite traditions during pre-ski season is watching ski films to get you pumped for the season!!
Various venues around Mammoth Lakes will host ski films in October and November – keep an eye out for events at Canyon Lodge or Wave Rave. Usually, it’ll be the latest movie that Teton Gravity Research puts out. It is honestly such a perfect fall event to get you stoked for the season.
Dinner at The Lakefront Restaurant
If you are looking for a night of luxury, look no further than the Lakefront Restaurant, located in Tamarack Lodge on Twin Lakes. Eating at the Lakefront is much more than just having dinner – it is a full-blown experience. The restaurant is only one small room with about fifteen tables in it. It is extremely cozy and intimate, and the food and wine are literally to die for. Fall is the perfect time to experience the Lakefront – the feeling of cozying on up with your glass of red wine and short rib knowing how crisp the air is outside is truly unparalleled.
Every year, Mammoth Oktoberfest arrives at the Village in mid-September. Enjoy a weekend of drinking beer, listening to live music, and wearing your favorite lederhosen!
Watch Sunset at Minaret Vista
There is no better place to watch the sunset in Mammoth than at Minaret Vista. You get 360 degree views of the Minarets, Ritter and Banner, Mammoth Mountain, and the San Joaquin River Valley. It is the perfect spot to catch a Sierra Wave over a bottle of red wine!
Mammoth Rock n’ Rye
Mammoth Rock n’ Rye is an annual Rye festival where (what feels like) hundreds of different Rye makers and distributors set up booths at the Village for Rye tasting. From what I understand, Rye is a whiskey that must have more that 51% rye in it (am I wrong? if so, please correct me in the comments!!). Regardless of what exactly it is, the Mammoth Rock n’ Rye Festival is nothing but F-U-N.
I first attended the Mammoth Rock n’ Rye festival after getting free tickets through work. Now, I’m not a hard alcohol drinker – at all. I strictly drink beer and wine (and plead the fifth as to how much), but I rarely, rarely drink hard alcohol. That being said, the Mammoth Rock n’ Rye was definitely an exception, and after a few “tastings” of Rye, ya girl was good to go on hard liquor. Just make sure that you have a ride set up to take you home.. ain’t no one driving after participating in the Rock n’ Rye Festival!
Other than Rye tastings, Rock n’ Rye also has live music and food booths. Even if tasting isn’t really your thing, it is an awesome time spent outside in the Village. Would highly recommend it!
Soak in the Hot Springs
Fall is probably the perfect season for a natural hot spring soak. The air is cool enough for you to relish in the hot water, and although there may be some early season snowstorms, it is very unlikely that the snow will stick enough to make the dirt roads impassable. There are plenty of natural hot springs in the Long Valley Caldera. Try out Wild Willy’s, Hilltop, the Rock Tub, Shepherd, or Crab Cooker.
Take a Scenic Gondola Ride
Looking for a panoramic view, but not trying to climb up a mountain to get it? Take the gondola up! For the first part of fall, until the bike park closes, you can take a scenic gondola ride up to the summit of Mammoth Mountain. Once you are up there, take a walk around the summit, visit the interpretive center, or grab a snack. The possibilities (and views!) are endless.
Visit Red’s Meadow and Rainbow Falls
The road to Red’s Meadow usually closes sometime in October, though it is extremely dependent on the weather. For example, in 2017 and 2019, the road to Red’s Meadow closed on October 29th and 27th, respectively. But in 2018, due to early season storms, the road closed on October 9th. If the road is still open during your fall visit, take a drive down to Red’s Meadow and explore Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls! If you feel like going for a longer hike, there are (what feels like) hundreds of different trailheads from the road – try a hike to Minaret Lake or Thousand Island Lake.
Late Season Backpacking
Late season backpacking is so good for so many reasons – cooler weather, less crowds, LESS MOSQUITOS, fall colors, permit availability… the list goes on and on. Fall is the perfect time to take on some of those popular trails that you have been pining over.. which is exactly what I did when I finally got permits to backpack Big Pine Lakes during the last weekend in October a few years back! I have a friend that use to work in the Inyo Forest permitting office who said that you could basically always get walk-up permits for any trailhead after Labor Day.. including for Whitney herself! Just be sure to take into consideration the possible drawbacks that can come with fall backpacking – colder nights, earlier sunsets, and potential implement weather.
Fishing season begins at the end of April and ends on November 15th. There are plenty of spots around Mammoth Lakes and in the Eastern Sierra to fish – lakes, rivers, and creeks, oh my! Be sure to adhere to all of the rules and regulations and to pick up a fishing license before you go. For the current Eastern Sierra Fishing Report, click here.
Take a Yoga Class at Snowcreek Athletic Club
The Snowcreek yoga room is big, bright, and beautiful. It overlooks the Sherwin Range and is the perfect spot for some mid-day downward dog. Find the class schedule here.
Enjoy a Beer Flight in the Mammoth Brewing Co. Beer Garden
After a long day on the trails finding the best fall color, take a beer break at the Mammoth Brewing Co. Beer Garden. With beautiful views of the Sherwin Range and picnic tables galore, the Beer Garden is a perfect place to try out all of Mammoth Brewing Co.’s beers in your very own tasting flight. For a full list of Mammoth Brewing Co.’s beers, click here. My favorite is the Golden Trout Kolsch!
Mammoth Mountain’s Bike Park typically stays open until mid-September. Rent a bike at Main Lodge and take the gondola up to the top for a long ride down the mountain! The first time that I took the gondola up to the top was the first time that I had been mountain biking… ever. I made it all the way down to the Village and had an absolute blast. If you are a relatively strong biker, don’t be afraid to try out the ride from the top, even if it is your first time mountain biking. It is definitely a little intimidating, but so so worth it.
Take a Fitness Class at Snowcreek Athletic Club
There’s no time like fall to get in shape and ready for the upcoming ski season! Snowcreek Athletic Club offers boot camp, pilates, yoga, HIIT, and kickboxing classes on a daily basis – and that is just the start! Also, when you purchase a day-pass in order to take the classes, you get to utilize the other amenities that Snowcreek has to offer – such as their pool, jacuzzi, and steam rooms. Find the class schedule here.
Pick-up a Crowler at June Lake Brewing
After leaf-peeping in June Lake, stop by June Lake Brewing for a crowler (that’s an aluminum growler!). JLB has a great selection of beers – there’s something for every drinker! Enjoy your beer in the brewery or on their comfortable patio in the sun and among the trees. Find a full list of their beers here.
Check Out the World’s Smallest Movie Theater (probably)
Fall is the perfect time to cozy up in Minaret Cinemas after a long day outside and happy hour at your favorite bar! Minaret Cinemas only has two screens, so check out their website beforehand to make sure you know what is playing and when.
Giovanni’s Happy Hour
The best happy hour in Mammoth, hands down, is at Giovanni’s Pizzeria. Great deals on wings, pizza, and drinks. Find Giovanni’s in the Vons shopping center.
Bike the Mammoth Lakes Basin Bike Path
The Mammoth Lakes Basin Bike Path starts in the middle of town and takes you all the way up to Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, and Horseshoe Lake. Since it is its separate own path, no need to worry about cars! Keep in mind that the bike path takes you high above the town and into the lakes basin – I can tell you from experience that the ride down is a lot more fun than the ride up!
Catch Sunrise at Hot Creek
“There are only a handful of places on Earth like Hot Creek’s active geologic setting, which makes it a nice addition to your next adventure in Mammoth Lakes. Within the shallow gorge, groundwater heated by subsurface bodies of molten rock (magma) reaches the surface and mixes with the cool waters of Hot Creek, creating a picturesque environment with otherworldly features.”Visit Mammoth website
Hot Creek is a unique geothermal feature a few miles east of Mammoth Lakes in the Long Valley Caldera. Not only is the running creek heated by groundwater hot from magma, but there are several other hot spring pools surrounding the creek – many of which are almost unnaturally bright blue! Fall is the perfect time to explore Hot Creek at sunrise – in the off-season, I can almost guarantee that you will have it all to yourself!
Get Breakfast at The Breakfast Club
One of my favorite breakfast spots in Mammoth is The Breakfast Club. Good, hearty, homecooked meals with a very welcoming atmosphere. Check out their menu here.
Take a Ride to Tioga Pass and the Eastern Entrance of Yosemite
Fall is the perfect time to take a ride to Tioga Pass and the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park. The summer crowds have dissipated, the air is crisp and cool, and (if you go at the right time) fall colors are popping off. The drive up Tioga Pass is beautiful itself, but if you are looking to get out of the car and onto a trail, check out the trailheads out of Saddlebag Lake or Tenaya Lake. On the way home, don’t forget to stop at The Mobil for lobster taquitos or at June Lake Brewing for one of those crowlers that I mentioned above!
Disclaimer: This blog was written in the time of COVID-19; however, this blog was not written with COVID-19 in mind. Please be sure to follow all of the guidelines in place, and keep in mind that some of the events listed may be cancelled.