“Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
- Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Here are 10 great ideas to kickstart a family adventure to Mono County:
1. Wander the otherworldly shores and waters of Mono Lake:
Just to the east of Yosemite National Park lies the one-of-a-kind Mono Lake, a body of water three times saltier than the ocean, marked by its alien-looking tufa towers and an array of unique wildlife. Starting at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center in Lee Vining to learn about its unique history, geology and ecology, families can explore the wild tufa towers at South Tufa, take a canoe ride on its saline waters, or join one of the many hikes, bird watching trips or other activities put on by the Mono Lake Committee. For more information, go to www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/mono-lake/.
2. Walk the streets of the spooky Bodie ghost town:
Walk through the silent remains of the once booming Bodie gold rush town. Visitors can peek in the windows of remaining structures such as an old school house, church, firehouse, jail and general store or take a walk through the cemetery on the hill. And because Bodie State Historic Park charges only $8 per adult and $5 per child under 16, it’s an affordable destination too. Bodie is easy to reach, located south of Bridgeport on U.S. Highway 395 and 13 miles to the east on SR 270 (SR 270 is usually open from early May through early November – closed during winter months). Discover more at www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/bodie/.
3. Hit the mountain bike trails at Mammoth Mountain:
Perhaps better known for its challenging trails in the bike park and famous Kamikaze event, Mammoth Mountain also offers a range of options for the whole family, perfect for beginners or young riders wanting to progress. From the Pioneer Practice Loop and Adventure and Discovery Trails to the skills park, first timers and daredevils alike will have a blast. The Adventure Center at Mammoth Mountain also offers a zipline and climbing wall, and gondola rides to the Top of the Sierra Interpretive Center at 11,063 feet. Find more information at www.mammothmountain.com.
4. Explore majestic Devils Postpile and magical Rainbow Falls:
Devils Postpile National Monument, one of the world's finest examples of columnar basalt formations, is not to be missed. Its columns stretch 60 feet high, towering above those who venture out on the easy and short half-mile trek (that has been graded for accessibility) from the Ranger Station. Granite stairs allow access to the top to see the hexagonal pattern of the columns, and beautiful views of the San Joaquin River. Bring a picnic lunch or join the Rangers for one of the many interpretive programs.
From Devils Postpile, the mostly-flat trail continues for about two-miles, following the San Joaquin River to Rainbow Falls (also part of the National Monument). Here, the river takes an abrupt and impressive drop over a 101-foot edge, with rainbows appearing all over the rising mist (tip: best time of day to experience the rainbows is midday when the sun is the highest).
The Devils Postpile National Monument is open from approximately mid-June through mid-October (the road is closed in the winter months due to snow). Catch the mandatory shuttle bus at the Village at Mammoth (best bet during holidays) or at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center. Stay longer at one of the valley's beautiful first-come, first-served campgrounds. The bus makes stops at the Postpile (0.5 mile hike, one-way), Rainbow Falls Trailhead (1.6 mile hike, one-way), the Reds Meadow Pack Station, and other popular trailheads that lead hikers into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. For more information, please visit http://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/devils-postpile/http://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/devils-postpile/.
5. Travel back in time at the Upside Down House and Old Schoolhouse Museum:
Located in the old Mono Lake schoolhouse, the Mono Basin History Museum is the perfect spot for families to stretch their legs and experience the history of the Mono Basin in a fun, interactive way. Inside the schoolhouse, displays tell the history of the local Kutzedikaa Pauites, regional gold mining, Mono Basin homesteads and ranches, schools, resorts and the town of Lee Vining. Outside in the grassy lawn, the antique farming and mining equipment will impress kids, but they will especially love going in the famous Upside Down House. Located next to Hess Park, with a playground and picnic tables, this is a great stop on the family road trip. Learn more at http://www.monobasinhistory.org/
6. Saddle up for a horseback ride:
A tradition in the region dating back to the early 1800s, a horse or mule ride is a unique and memorable way to experience the trails of the Eastern Sierra. Let out the inner cowboy or cowgirl and hop on a half-day or full-day ride at one of ten pack stations throughout Mono County – from Antelope Valley, Sonora Pass, Virginia Lakes, Bridgeport in the north, to Mammoth Lakes, Reds Meadow, Convict Lake, McGee Creek and Rock Creek in the south. Extra adventurous families may be interested in overnight camping trips, too – leveraging a pack outfit is an ideal way to access more remote and pristine high alpine terrain without shouldering the weight of heavy backpacks. Start planning at www.monocounty.org/things-to-do/by-land/horseback-riding/.
7. Hike in the high alpine without the monster climb:
Rock Creek Road delivers visitors to the 10,000-foot elevation alpine zone for a relatively easy hike among crystal blue lakes and jagged snow-capped peaks. Hikers can walk anywhere from two to five to 10 miles, finding lakes, flowering meadows and impressive peaks towering above. The scenery changes around every bend which keeps young hikers intrigued and moving forward.
Another family-friendly hike is the three-mile loop that winds around the perimeter of Convict Lake, just south of Mammoth Lakes. The Twenty Lakes Basin loop is also a great option – kids love the boat taxi across Saddlebag Lake which is not only fun, but bypasses a couple of miles of the hike. To start off on the right foot, visit www.monocounty.org/things-to-do/hiking/.
8. Enjoy year-round fun at June Lake:
Home to June Mountain, a family-friendly ski destination where kids 12 and under ski free all season long. The community of June Lake is also favorite summer spot for families with many lakes offering swimming, boating and fishing. Affordable cabins and motel rooms along with numerous campgrounds offer a range of options, some with full kitchens and swimming pools.
The Gull Lake Trail is a gentle one around the lake, perfect for families with young children looking for a less-strenuous option or as a warm up for one of the many other beautiful hikes located around the June Lake Loop. The trail begins at the June Lake Community Center, which has a picnic-perfect park and playground, and a pretty amazing view, too. The June Lake Winter Festival and the June Lake Jam Fest are just two of the many family-friendly events that happen throughout the year. Discover everything to do around June Lake at www.monocounty.org.
9. Stand inside an ancient volcano:
Hot Creek Geologic Site is a place to marvel at geology in action. What remains of the ancient Long Valley Caldera (ash from the blast was found as far as Nebraska) is a region of fascinating geologic wonder: bubbling hot springs, geysers and fumaroles (gas vents) creating colorful sulfur deposits and formations. The brilliant blue pools are scalding hot and water temperatures can change rapidly, so the unstable land around the pools is closed and swimming in the pools is strictly prohibited. Keep an eye to the sky as you wander around - odds are good for seeing bald eagles, golden eagles, great blue herons and other beautiful birds in this area. Hot Creek Geological Site is located about 10 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. From U.S .Highway 395, take Airport Road (east) past the airport turnoff, and continue on a partially paved road about 3 miles to the parking area for Hot Creek. It's a half-mile easy hike down to Hot Creek and restrooms are available. Don't forget a hat, water, and sunscreen. Learn more at http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recarea/?recid=20414.http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/inyo/recarea/?recid=20414.
10. Join the experts on a guided walk or talk:
The Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association (ESIA) is a non-profit organization with a mission to educate and inspire people about the Eastern Sierra public lands through high quality interpretive products and programs. The group hosts guided hikes, educational walks and talks, and partners with other organizations (like the Mono Lake Committee, Friends of the Inyo and the Bodie Foundation) that offer an awesome array of similar activities. These fun and engaging activities are usually free, and are a great way for the whole family to learn about geology, history, birds, wildlife, and more. ESIA maintains a master calendar that can be found at http://esiaonline.com/events-1/.