Discovering A New Side Of California

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There are many ways in which a visit to California will take your breath away. Watching the sun rise from the hills above San Francisco Bay as the morning fog rolls in towards the Golden Gate Bridge is one. Immersing yourself in the buzz of Los Angeles as the sun goes down and the night comes alive is another.

To that list we’d add the rugged landscape of Mammoth Mountain and its surroundings – and it wasn’t just the altitude that caused our breathlessness (although that was definitely part of it).

The heights of the dormant volcano are the perfect vantage point for marvelling at the vast, untamed scenery – it’s simply spectacular.

Nestled at the foot of the 3,350m-high mountain is the small town of Mammoth Lakes (population 8,000), an ideal place from which to try the many outdoor pursuits in the area.

Mammoth Mountain’s well known for its snow sports – the US National Winter Olympics team trains there – but the town is also a relatively undiscovered top summer destination. “People usually come here for a one-night stopover on the way to or from Yosemite, or having spent a few days in Vegas, San Francisco or Los Angeles,” says Kristin Rust of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, “but there are so many reasons to stay longer.”

Coach accepted an invitation to experience the summer scene and flew into LAX before making the five-hour drive north to the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park.

The first day was spent trail walking on the mountain, but mercifully not up it. We hopped on a gondola ride to the summit to find there was still snow around – in August! – although the weather was bright and sunny, and the temperature well within the range of a comfortable UK spring day.


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The trek took in local landmarks including the Devil’s Postpile National Monument, a towering formation of hexagonal volcanic rocks reaching skywards, and Rainbow Falls, a dramatic, picturesque waterfall.

Two hours and a little over 10km later – although the high altitude makes it feel like 20km, which is why so many long-distance athletes train here – we called it a day, but our guide waxed lyrical about the numerous hiking trails and how you could see something different every time you visited the National Park.

The next day began with a mountain biking lesson, with tips on braking, changing gears and, perhaps most importantly, how to avoid coming off the tracks by skidding on the volcanic pumice stone and smacking into the pine trees dotted everywhere.

Thankfully, our instructor took us down one of the easiest trials, all of it downhill, so we avoided catastrophe although it still got our pulse racing. With over 130km of track on offer incorporating ramps, jumps and banked turns, there is something here for every level of experience.

RECOMMENDED: Pro MTB Rider Brendan Fairclough On Where To Try Mountain Biking In The UK

Dismounting the bikes, we took a 20-minute drive to the crystal clear blue water of June Lake for a go at stand-up paddleboarding. Being able to stand upright on the board rather than kneel – whether or not you’re humming the theme tune to Hawaii Five-0 – is a skill in itself and maintaining one’s balance on these boards is a great way to strengthen the core muscles.

Despite our complete novice status and unplanned dips in the drink, it was a great way to spend an afternoon after the exertions earlier in the day. Top tip: before struggling out of the water, make sure you’re facing the front of the board.

RECOMMENDED: Stand Up Paddleboarding In London


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But Mammoth Mountain isn’t just about adventure and outdoor pursuits. It has its own brewery that offers an award-winning selection of craft beer, and its location presents plenty of opportunity for excursions further afield. Mono Lake (pictured above), with its otherworldly Tufa limestone columns, and the town of Bodie, once a prosperous mining settlement and now a deserted ghost town in active decay, are both within easy reach.

For more help planning a trip, see and

Coach flew to LAX via Reykjavik with Wow Airlines. Prices start from £139pp one-way. Lodging at The Village, Mammoth Lakes starts at $149 (around £115) a night. Oudoor gear supplied by Rohan. Car rental supplied by Hertz.

Ben Isaacs

Ben Isaacs was the features editor of the print edition of Coach until it shuttered in 2016. Ben is currently the features editor at The Week Junior.