Even though I’ve lived in California all my life, there are still parts of the state I have not visited. One such place is Mono County. Before Frans mentioned it, I didn’t realize there was anything interesting east of Yosemite and south of Lake Tahoe. Apparently, it is referred to as one of the most scenic areas in travel publications. Who knew there were so many things to do in Mono County for families?!
To get to Mono County from the San Francisco Bay Area, you have to take Tioga Pass through Yosemite. That road is closed during winter (due to snowfall) so there are only a few months out of the year that you can access it. It took us about 5 hours to get there. Try to visit mid-fall to take advantage of the expansive fall foliage. To enjoy winter fun, you can only get there south from Lake Tahoe or north from southern California. There are several things to do in this section of the Sierras so I would recommend staying in a local hotel for a few days.
There’s much to do and see here, especially for nature lovers and hikers. But, the high altitude can make the climbs much more strenuous. It takes quite a bit of time to drive to each spot. So, we opted to skip some trails and destinations like the Bodie ghost town. Instead, we decided to use our four days and three nights to see the following places.
Things to Do in Mono County, CA — Tufas at South Mono Lake
Mono Lake has extremely high concentrations of salt and alkaline. This, combined with underground springs, created petrified formations in and around Mono Lake. Known as tufas, these are made of limestone and are similar to what you’d find in caverns. As the water level dropped, more tufas became visible.
The best viewing area is at the south side of the lake. You can walk around or take a boat or kayak. Dogs are allowed at Mono Lake but don’t let them drink the water. Also, resist the urge to break off pieces of tufa as there are warning signs throughout. Sunset is the ideal time for photographs and the calm water makes for some nice reflections. Look out for black sections near the shore, those are actually hordes of flies just waiting to freak you out!
Things to Do in Mono County, CA — June Lake Loop
While we didn’t have time to play in June Lake, we did drive around the loop to look at the various lakes. I was surprised at the high water levels since California is experiencing such severe drought. These lakes are perfect for water activities, fishing, and camping.
Things to Do in Mono County, CA — Stargazing at Minaret Vista
The only other time I got this good of a view of the stars was when we went to the Grand Canyon. A couple hours after sundown, drive up to Minaret Vista. Turn right just before the toll plaza to Devil’s Postpile. Since it was pitch black, we were kind of scared to leave our car. So, we opted to open the sunroof and all three of us stuck our heads out. We saw so many stars, including the stardust strip of the Milky Way (we’re on the edge of the galaxy so that’s why we can see it). We tried to take a picture but we didn’t have the equipment to capture it properly.
Things to Do in Mono County, CA — Hot Creek Geothermal Springs
I had no idea California had natural geothermal springs like the ones at Hot Creek. The steaming hot spring pools join the cool waters of the Mammoth Creek that flows beside them. We did put our hand in the water to feel the temperature but didn’t actually go into the water. There are warnings everything that the temperature can change unexpectedly and drastically. You can smell the sulphur from the parking lot above but it’s not that overpowering.
Things to Do in Mono County, CA — Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is home to the world’s oldest trees. It’s quite a drive so don’t get discouraged as you continue to climb. There’s a lookout point along the road where you can get a good overview of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Once you reach the visitor center, it’s another 1-mile hike to the oldest, most photographed tree. We were too pooped at that point to keep hiking, though. Being more than 10,000 miles above sea level wears you out! Warning: Don’t miss the turn into this area! There’s a sign on the right-hand side of the road but, if you pass it, you’ll be driving for miles in the desert!
Things to Do in Mono County, CA — Devil’s Postpile National Monument
Thanks to the force of underground lava, hexagon-shaped columns of basalt were pushed above ground. The columns at Devil’s Postpile National Monument are breathtaking! If you are up to it, hike up the path to the top to see the honeycomb pattern created by the columns. Similar structures are found in Ireland. You can also visit Rainbow Falls from here if you have the time and energy. If the parking lot is full, there may be a shuttle running. Muzzles are required for dogs riding the shuttle (poor Speckles handled it beautifully).
We had a fantastic visit in Mono County and I’m so glad we finally took a road trip there. There are still many places that we didn’t have the time or energy to visit so we need to head back again sometime. I’m constantly amazed at the natural beauty that can be found here in California. From mountains and forest to ocean and beaches, it’s such a fantastic places to live and to visit. Mono County is full of picturesque destinations and is a great year-round destination. I can’t wait to visit again!