I am not the outdoors type. I don’t like camping (too dirty), I get nervous when I think about hiking (too much chance of encountering a scary wild animal), and I’ve never managed to get the hang of kayaking (too wet and cold). My husband, John, and 10-year-old daughter, Natalie, are a lot like me: athletic, but more partial to gyms, paved running trails, and manicured soccer fields than to unfettered nature.
So why did I haul my family to Mammoth Lakes, that mecca for outdoor adventurers, for a long summer weekend? I was asking myself that question as we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5 a.m. to start the five-hour drive to the mountains. But once we’d passed through Lancaster and made our way onto State Route 14, and then US Route 395, I started to remember. We encountered breathtaking vistas, from red-rock formations to windswept green meadows to majestic mountains rising in the distance. When we stopped in Bishop to stretch our legs, the snap of the crisp, clean mountain air brought it all home: As stuck-in-our-ways city dwellers, we needed this dose of nature.
Mammoth boasts more than 300 miles of hiking trails, and many are accessible even for those of us who wouldn’t know a hiking boot from a rain boot. Natalie, John, and I set off on one of those routes, the 3-mile Crystal Lake trail, early one morning. As we climbed the gentle switchbacks, shaded by tall fir and pine trees, we were rewarded every few hundred feet with stunning views of the Crystal Crag, a distinctive rock formation, silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky. At one point, we took a break where the trees parted to reveal two lakes below, the clear blue water glittering in the sun. “I feel like I’m on top of the world, Mom,”Natalie said. Indeed. mammothtrails.org.
Buoyed by our hike, we decided to saddle up with Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit, a stable that leads horse and mule trail rides in the summer. We opted for a horseback ride through the remains of the Consolidated Mine, where workers dug for gold between 1927 and 1933. As we lumbered along paths that double as cross-country skiing trails in the winter, we saw what was left of the old bunkhouses and ore-processing mill. Interesting as they were, they were no match for what we witnessed near the end of the trail: a doe, standing in a sun-dappled clearing. Score another point for nature. $45–$180 for pack rides. Age restrictions apply. 1-760-934-2434; mammothpack.com.
Take one look at the tiny shop at Lake Mary Marina, packed with fishing rods, reels, and tackle, and you might assume it’s an angler’s paradise. You’d be right. Co-owner Don Barrett is a recognized expert on local fishing, and the staff can tell you where the fish are biting on any given day. But the marina rents boats for recreation, too, including kayaks, rowboats, and motorized pontoons. We chose the latter, and when John wasn’t buzzing across the water doing his best James Bond impression, we took in the view of the mountains ringing the lake and agreed: It was a pretty great way to spend an afternoon. Pontoons start at $80 an hour; other boats start at $25 an hour. 1-760-934-5353, lakemarymarina.com.