Mammoth Lakes

Free Camping in Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes is pretty awesome. It’s a good thing we like it so much because it ended up being our longest stay yet.

Where In California is Mammoth Lakes?

Mammoth Lakes is located off of beautiful Highway 395 in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is a 5 hour drive from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Mammoth is about 2.5 hours south of Lake Tahoe. When Tioga Pass is open, Mammoth is less than an hour away from Yosemite National Park. So, it is around the middle of California pretty close to Nevada!

Changing Plans

We originally planned to stay in Mammoth for a short time. In fact, we planned to stay for only a week or so on our drive down 395 towards Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. However, the parks cancelled our reservations because of COVID-19. This setback and a heatwave forced us to stay another week before heading south.

During this week, we realized we had friends in the area. After hanging out with them one night, we decided to extend our stay through the weekend to go backpacking with them. However, bad weather kept backpacking from happening.

Staying this extra weekend turned into a real blessing. On Monday, Leigh had terrible abdominal pain that prompted a trip to the ER and surgery. Leigh’s surgery and recovery extended our time in Mammoth Lakes to over a month. Although it wasn’t our original plan, we couldn’t have picked a better place to be when the emergency arose.

Free Camping Mammoth Lakes

Leigh found a great spot for us right outside of town off of Hot Creek Hatchery Road. The road leading to our spot stretched the limits of the Bounder, and we barely fit into our spot. However, once parked, we had amazing views and surprising seclusion and great protection from the wind. We stayed in this spot for 32 nights. This overstayed our BLM limit of 14 days, but we really didn’t have much choice due to Leigh’s surgery.

Mammoth Lakes Sunset
Sunset from our “front yard”

If we had the option to move, we talked about camping around some of the nearby hot springs. On one of our first nights in the area, we checked out The Rock Tub Hot Springs. It was a great way to unwind after the work day and we noticed a nice camping spot close by.

Mammoth Lakes Hot Springs
Enjoying the hot springs

Before Leigh’s surgery, we did some really cool hikes that were only a short drive from our camping spot.

Convict Lake

We hiked Convict Lake after work during our first week. The hike around the lake is only 3 miles, and the views are beautiful. I think this is normally a popular destination but there weren’t many people during the week. Also, we were there before the fishing season opened. It is a popular fishing lake so I’m sure it’s a lot busier now that fishing is open.

Rush Creek to Gem Lake

For our first Saturday in the area, we hiked to Gem Lake. This hike gains a lot of elevation, but the waterfalls and lakes at the top are worth it. This area would be awesome for a backpacking trip too. Gem Lake is off the June Lake Loop. We drove the entire loop and enjoyed checking out the scenery.

Gem Lake Mammoth Lakes

Laurel Lake Jeep Drive and Hike

The road to Laurel Lake is really close to our campsite. On Memorial Day, we decided to drive as far as we could and then find some hiking. On the way up, we met another couple who were camping in the area for their honeymoon. We talked for a bit and they invited us over to their campsite for a beer when we came back down the mountain.

Laurel Lake Jeep Drive

The drive up was more challenging than we expected. The Jeep did great for the most part. However, we eventually reached a point where the road was impassible because of snow. We actually had to back the Jeep past a couple of sketchy areas once we realized we couldn’t go any farther. It was very nerve wracking!

We parked the Jeep and hiked the rest of the way to Laurel Lake.

Sherwin Lake

The next weekend is when we would have been backpacking with our friends. However, a forecast of high winds and storms led to the trip being cancelled. Instead, we did a shorter day hike before the winds picked up. We hiked to Sherwin Lake, which is really close to the town of Mammoth. This is another beautiful hike with some amazing trees.

Mammoth Lakes Sherwin Lake

We finished the hike around lunch time so we stopped in town for a pizza afterward. Of course, we couldn’t go into the restaurant due to COVID so we ate the pizza in the Jeep in the parking lot!

Lake Crowley

We met up with our friends on Sunday for a hike down to Lake Crowley. We probably could have driven this in the Jeep, but it was a nice hike anyway. The hike ended at a beach on the lake. Surrounding the beach are columns created by an ancient volcano. One of the crazy things we discovered at this beach is that the volcanic rocks float.

Crowley Lake Columns Hike with Friends

McGee Mountain Road

After our hike, we drove over to check out an off-road trail at McGee Mountain. While on the road, we realized it was listed on this site.

McGee Mountain Road
You can see the road zig zagging up the mountain

Fortunately, the road wasn’t too bad, and we didn’t try to go too high on the mountain. One cool part about this drive is that we could actually see our RV parked way off in the distance.

Convict Lake Mammoth Lakes
Convict Lake from Above – we checked this viewpoint out after our Jeep Drive

Solar Dialed In

We added one more solar panel while we were boondocking in Mammoth Lakes, and we think our solar setup is finally complete at 520 watts. It is amazing so far. We have only turned on our generator a couple of times during the month on cloudy days.

Sierra Sunset
Another beautiful Eastern Sierra sunset

Yosemite National Park

Fortunately, our longer-than-planned stay allowed enough time for Tioga Pass to open for the season, which makes the drive to Yosemite really short. Our next stop is a week in the park.

Hot Creek Geological Site
Hot Creek Geological Site – this was only a mile from our campsite

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