Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes Basin, California

Commonly referred to as the “Lakes Basin,” the Mammoth Lakes Basin is nestled in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, west of Long Valley Caldera, close to the Mono County town of Mammoth Lakes in California. This extensive glacial cirque basin was carved out by the crushing movement of glacial ice and rocks entrained within the ice. The Sherwin Range surrounds the basin to the east and Mammoth Crest to the west. As the name implies, this massive basin has many beautiful lakes. Mammoth Lakes Basin offers various outdoor recreational activities and attracts an estimated 2.8 million visitors annually.

Geography Of Mammoth Lakes Basin

There are several crystal-clear blue lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, and all of these are located southwest of the downtown area of Mammoth Lakes. The lakes in the lower basin, which include Lake Mary, Horseshoe Lake, and Lake George, fill the depressions in glacial moraine deposits. The upper basin lakes, such as Shelton Lakes, Duck Lakes, and Deer Lakes, fill the pits in the bottom bedrock composed of metamorphosed sedimentary rocks dug out by glaciers. Other lakes that are also a part of the Mammoth Lakes Basin include Twin Lakes, Lake Mamie, McLeod Lake, Crystal Lake, Lake Barrett, TJ Lake, Emerald Lake, Hammil Lake, Woods Lake, Barney Lake, etc. Some of the most popular lakes of the Mammoth Lakes Basin have been discussed below. 

Twin Lakes

Kayakers in Twin Lakes in Mammoth Lakes, California
Kayakers in the picturesque Twin Lakes in Mammoth Lakes, California.

This set of connected lakes is situated at an elevation of 8,600 ft, at the foot of Mammoth Mountain’s southeastern slope within the Inyo National Forest. The two lakes are linked by the beautiful Twin Falls, which plummets into the Upper Twin Lake. Being the Mammoth Lakes Basin’s lowest lakes, the Twin Lakes offers stunning scenic views and are the only lakes that can be accessed year-round by car. One side of the lake features lava cliffs formed by Mammoth Mountain eruptions, while the other has the Twin Lakes Campground of the Inyo National Forest and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s Tamarack Lodge.

Lake Mary

Lake Mary in Mammoth Lakes basin
Lake Mary at sunset.

The largest lake of the Mammoth Lakes Basin, Lake Mary, reflects the white monolith of Crystal Crag and the dark granite wall of Mammoth Crest in its clear waters. Placed at an elevation of 8,966 ft, Lake Mary offers visitors scenic views of breathtaking alpine scenery, besides abundant outdoor recreation activities like fishing, camping, sailing, flat water paddling, and many more. This freshwater lake is accessible via Lake Mary Road from the town of Mammoth Lakes. The lake has a campground on its northwestern end, while the unincorporated community of Lake Mary occupies its southeastern shore.

Lake George

Lake George
Boats sit at dock at Lake George under the watchful eye of the Crystal Crag peak.

This scenic lake is placed at an elevation of 9,000 ft within the Inyo National Forest along Lake Mary Road. Lake George is the basin’s deepest lake and reaches a depth of over 200 ft in good water years. Nestled between the sole white tower of Crystal Crag and the granite wall of the Mammoth Crest, this beautiful lake is the highest road-accessible lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Lake George is a well-known location for trout fishing, where anglers can catch various trout species like rainbow trout and brook trout. At the road’s end, the parking area features many popular trailheads, besides picnic and camping spots, rustic cottage rentals, and access to the lakeshore and boat dock.

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake
The spectacular Horseshoe Lake.

Horseshoe Lake is located close to the Mammoth Mountain ski resort, at the end of Lake Mary Road and the Lakes Basin Path. With the southern flank of the Mammoth Mountain and the Mammoth Crest escarpment as its backdrop, a significant portion of this popular recreation lake is encircled by thick pine forests. The most distinct feature is the 200 acres of tree kill on the lake’s east flank created by the seeping of carbon dioxide through the ground. Horseshoe Lake is the most preferred destination for stand-up paddleboarding and hanging out on the sandy beach.

McLeod Lake

McLeod Lake
A picturesque view of McLeod Lake.

A 1.75-mile hike from the Horseshoe Lake Parking Lot leads to this beautiful secluded alpine lake. The lake offers dramatic views of the backside of Mammoth Mountain and the granite escarpment of Mammoth Crest. It is also the only lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin that hosts a population of Lahontan Cutthroat trout in its waters. This well-known summertime destination attracts fishermen, picnickers, and families to enjoy backcountry camping and fishing opportunities.

Lake Mamie

Lake Mamie Boat House near Mammoth Lakes at sunrise in the California Eastern Sierra Mountains.
Lake Mamie Boat House at sunrise.

Placed between Lake Mary and Horseshoe Lake is Lake Mamie – the smallest lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. The lake offers several jaw-dropping scenic views and exciting outdoor recreational opportunities. Regularly stocked with large brown and Alpers trout, visitors can enjoy fishing, kayaking, camping, and picnicking here.

TJ Lake

TJ Lake
The beautiful TJ Lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Image credit: Marty B/Flickr.

Placed at an elevation of 9,290 ft, this stunning alpine lake can be reached via a short hike from the Lake George Campground. The lake has been named after Tom Jones, who was one of the first supervisors of the Inyo National Forest. TJ Lake is located below the east aspect of the 10,377 ft high Crystal Crag. Covering about 12 acres and stretching a quarter mile in length, the lake is known for hosting a population of rainbow trout in its waters.

Recreation In Mammoth Lakes Basin

The Mammoth Lakes Basin is one of nature’s most spectacular wonderlands, which is filled with jagged picturesque mountain peaks, over a dozen alpine lakes, towering pine forests, blooming wildflowers, cascading mountain streams, and miles of designated hiking trails. Some of the popular outdoor recreational activities that visitors can enjoy here include boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, lakeside camping, scenic hiking, and many more.

Mammoth Lakes Basin
A woman and her dog enjoying the serene atmosphere of the Mammoth Lakes Basin.

From the Mammoth Lakes Basin, various natural trails lead into the John Muir Wilderness and the Ansel Adams Wilderness areas. In addition, about 2.5 miles of multi-use, non-motorized trails are being constructed by the U.S. Forest Service to provide more recreation opportunities and connect trail users with popular lakes in the Lakes Basin.

Summer and fall are the best seasons for enjoying the breathtaking beauty of the Mammoth Lakes Basin. If one is looking for a place where one can truly experience all the adrenaline-pumping recreational activities the Eastern Sierras have to offer, then Mammoth Lakes Basin is the perfect destination for making memories of a lifetime. 


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