by Rina Baraz Nehdar – My son, Kaleb, held his hands high, testing his grip on the grimy rope, suspended from a branch above his head. Although I wanted him to be brave, part of me pictured his hands slipping and his little body landing with a dull thud onto the sharp rocks as he attempted to swing into the lake. Besides our screams of terrified excitement, Gull Lake, near Mammoth Lakes in California, was relatively quiet with only a few boats bobbing on the calm, green water bordered by walls of bamboo growing from the water. Pine trees and snow-capped mountains framed the scene.
“Come on Kaleb, you can do it!” we encouraged him. It didn’t help that his best friend, Blake, would have nothing to do with any of this and was doing everything in his power to discourage everyone from what he considered a foolish activity. “Please Kaleb! Don’t!” he literally cried, “you’re my best friend! I don’t want you to die!” The possibility of an actual death was probably a stretch from the five foot fall that would occur if, indeed, Kaleb did lose his hold on the rope. But, if he held on, it would send him over the dirt, where he currently stood, over the aforementioned sharp rocks and into the wake up call of the frosty lake water.
During the summer months, Mammoth Lakes is full of opportunities to laugh in the face of death. Our family had only explored the mountains on skis and snowboards, so when my friend, Lisa Miller, mother to cautious Blake and his two brothers Camden and Rylan, asked if we wanted to spend a long weekend there, how could we say no?
Kaleb took some deep breaths. Paused. Blake’s woeful lamentations could be heard in the silence. He walked away to sit, moaning, by a bush, not wanting to watch. Everyone else stood still. Waiting. His dad floated in the lake nearby to reassure him that he was there and to also give him a target for which to aim. I was taking video. Another deep inhale and he charged with quiet determination at the jade water.
This would be a different story if he had missed. Instead, he learned he could have fear, face it and get on with it.
This brings us to my first tip about visiting Mammoth Lakes, California with kids during the summer.
1. Go Jump in a Mammoth Lake
Specifically, go find the tire swing, which, on the day we went, was hanging on a branch, way out of reach. However, there was also a rope tethered an arm’s length away. These you can find on Gull Lake, one of the four lakes along the June Lake Loop, about a 20-minute drive from Mammoth Lakes, and well worth the effort. The path to the swing and rope is along the Fisherman’s Trail at the Gull Lake Campground. Drive along Highway 158 from downtown June Lake until you see the campground.
Park your car and head toward the path poking out just left of the road sign, if you’re facing the campground, where a giant sign points visitors in the right direction.
Everyone that jumped had fun and the ones that didn’t were happy the others had survived, so it was a good day.
2. Go Catch Mammoth Fish
While we were tempting fate, hurling our bodies over rocks into water, I’m sure we were getting some evil looks from the fishermen whose luck we were probably changing with our crazy tree swing antics. Fishing season in Mono County, where both Mammoth Lake and June Lake are located, starts the last Saturday of April and goes until mid-November. After we survived the rope swing and the mosquitoes (do not forget your bug repellent!), we decided to see if we could continue our winning streak in a pontoon boat loaded with reels and sharp hooks.
We forgot to bring bait but fun was had by all as the Miller boys claimed they’d never fished before and mine had only done so on land with a guide doing most of the work. We rented a boat at Lake Mary and tried our luck with lures alone.
We didn’t catch any fish, however, casting the line and taking turns driving the boat at a tranquil two miles per hour was fun enough.
3. Get a Mammoth Adventure Pass
The perfect place to wear out five boys is at the Adventure Center near Mammoth Lodge where, during the summer, crews set up a rock wall, zip-line and a bungee trampoline. The pass also gives you a discount on lift tickets for the biking trails. Your kids will have unlimited opportunities to hurl themselves at walls, bounce their little hearts out and throw themselves into whatever tizzy they want from 25 feet off the ground, all outside the range of parents’ sensitive eardrums, and in the safety of a controlled environment.
One of the operators challenged Knox to climb the hardest wall and he was the only one in our group who did it, and Knox conned the guy out of a pack of Starburst as a reward.
4. Bring More Water
Flush with fiery wildflowers after abundant snowmelts, there are hiking trails around the gondolas leaving the Adventure Center where you can take strenuous to moderate hikes on Mammoth Mountain. Dog-friendly shuttles are available to transport you to farther trails that conveniently leave from the Adventure Center. Chances are, you’ll need more water than you think for those breathtaking walks. We did. So, pack extra water bottles.
The shuttle winds down a narrow, circuitous mountain road that might make you hope the driver is feeling at the top of his game. The ride to the Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls hikes drops visitors into God’s Christmas tree lot, with pine needle scents wafting from the expansive green hills. We could thank President Taft for this heart-melting scene. He declared the land a National Monument in 1911, protecting it for generations of outdoor enthusiasts.
The trail to Devil’s Postpile was a short one, only a quarter of a mile, and easy for all fitness levels. However, the fun of continuing the two and a half extra miles to Rainbow Falls, through beautifully-preserved trails and heart bursting vistas, was slightly marred by a staccato of thirsty, city boy whines.
Part of our journey took us through the once picturesque landscape immortalized, and named after, Ansel Adams, called Ansel Adams Wilderness. We were alarmed by the flattened and charred trees strewn over the hillsides.
The vision made me sad, I had to know what happened. So, after our trip, I called the Friends of the Inyo, an environmental group that works to protect the Eastern Sierras, and spoke with their Communications and Outreach manager, Alex Ertaud. Ertaud said the the devastation was caused by two events. The first was the Rainbow Fire, in 1992, which burned 6,000 acres and almost took out the city of Mammoth as well. Then, in 2011, winds traveling up to 190 miles per hour ripped through the valley and plucked the remaining trees from the earth.
By the end of our long and dry hike back from Rainbow Falls, our city boys had their shirts wrapped around their heads, were charging through streams and climbing over rock obstacles. We all just wished we had brought more water.
| Related: Outdoor Safety Checklist |
5. Visit the Village at Mammoth Mountain
The Village at Mammoth is a large outdoor gathering spot. Set between condos, restaurants and shops, the Village hosts events like outdoor movies, concerts and festivals throughout the year. When we were there, giant hool-a-hoops, live music and wine and beer tents made up part of the festivities.
6. Ride the Free Mammoth Town Trolley
The last thing we did was ride the free trolley that operates during the summers. We passed many now-familiar sites. It was a wonderful recap of our trip as we cruised by and relived our adventures.
Family Friendly Mammoth Lakes Accommodations
There are plenty of affordable lodging options in and around Mammoth Lakes. If you’re looking something cozy, check out the family cabins at Convict Lake Resort. Each cottage offers a fully equipped kitchen and stunning Mammoth mountain views. If modern amenities and gourmet dining is more your family’s style, the Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth Lakes is a home run. Here wifi, fireplaces, and posh cuisine are all a gondola ride away from skiing at Mammoth Mountain.
Rina Baraz Nehdar is an award-winning freelance travel writer and photographer. When she’s not chasing her two boys around the world, she’s in downward facing dog or trying out new vegan recipes. She also writes and edits lafamilytravel.com