Paddling California’s Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes sits in the pristine beauty of California’s Sierra Mountains. Surrounded by a backdrop of fragrant pines and majestic peaks, the lakes are some of Califorinia’s paddling gems. In the typical winter there could be over 100 inches of snow on the mountains and makes for some tough paddling,but it’s never to early to plan a summer trip.

The Mammoth Lakes Basin is located on the eastern slope of the Inyo National Forest at a 9000′ foot elevation, off of US 395 and Highway 203. There are ten lakes in the basin which comprise of Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, Lake George, Crystal Crag, McCloud, Twin, Barrett, TJ, and Horseshoe Lakes.

Lake Mary, George, Mamie, Horseshoe and Twin Lakes are the only lakes accessible by a vehicle that don’t require you to portage your kayak or canoe. All of the lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin allow paddling. However, Horseshoe Lake is closed to camping and paddling because carbon dioxide gas has been detected in its vicinity.

Mammoth Lakes are ideal for family camping and for all levels of paddlers. The sculptured geological features of these exhilarating cold-water lakes offer awesome views of snow-capped mountain peaks from scenic campsite settings situated along shorelines rimmed with towering pine forests.

At sunrise spectacular reflective views of colorful mountains are cast onto the calm, glass-like water of these pristine lakes. These small, spellbinding high-elevation lakes offer a leisurely paddle in a picturesque wilderness setting.

During the weekdays is a good time to paddle if you prefer a peaceful paddle. Also, you’ll have a better chance of finding a campsite. Camping at Mammoth Lakes is on a first-come, first-served basis. There are campgrounds located at Lake George, Lake Mary and Twin Lakes that are accessible by a vehicle. The Lake Mary campground has 48 tent or RV sites with flush toilets and water. The facilities at Lake Mary consist of a boat launch, boat rentals (including kayaks and canoes), bicycling and hiking trails throughout the park and a marina.

The Twin Lakes campground has 92 tent or RV sites with flush toilets, and water. The lake facilities include fishing, a boat launch, boat rentals and a general store. There are 16 tent or RV sites, a boat launch and boat rentals at Lake George. Showers are available at the Lake Mary Store for a fee. Leashed pets are allowed, but due to the frequency of bears in the area, you may want to leave your dog at home or keep it with you at all times. The lakes only allow small boats which cut down on the noise and boat congestion. Jet and waterskiing and swimming are not permitted on any of the lakes. The shaded campsite settings, ideal paddling conditions and sensational scenery are bound to make your visit here memorable.

In addition to outstanding camping and paddling opportunities, this area offers an assortment of other outdoor recreational pursuits during all seasons. The season for paddling usually begins at the end of May through October, depending on early or late snowfall. This area receives an abundance of snow in the wintertime when the lake’s water surfaces are frozen over. The campgrounds are open from the beginning of June to the end of October weather permitting.
The daytime high air temperatures linger in the mid-70s to the mid-80s during the summer and drops into the 30s and 40s at night. I encountered erratic winds during the late afternoon on both Lake Mary and Lake George. According to my camp Host John, calm mornings followed by gusty afternoons are a common occurrence.

Directions: From the town of Bishop, CA take Interstate 395 north for about thirty-eight miles. Exit onto Highway 203 and drive approximately 3.7miles. Turn left on Lake Mary Road.

High mountain lakes are some of my favorite paddling destinations and the
variety of easy paddling and camping choices surrounded by gorgeous mountain settings make the Mammoth Lakes a ‘must paddle’ destination.

Janice L. Green has been kayaking and canoeing for over 25 years, and is the author of two guidebooks on locations where to kayak and canoe in California. To learn more about how you can enjoy the pleasure of paddling in California log onto

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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