Sunshine, mountains, clear skies, Alpine lakes, fishing, biking, hiking…and all of this is very affordable because summer is low season in Mammoth Lakes, California. Mammoth Lakes is only 5 hours from Los Angeles and San Francisco but it truly is a world away! I don’t know why we haven’t visited sooner, but we just got back from our first vacation in Mammoth Lakes and we can’t wait to go back.
Mammoth is primarily a winter destination for skiing and prices are sky high during the winter, especially on holidays. But during the summer you can get some incredible deals on low-cost accommodations and activities that make it a fantastic cheap vacation.
We rented a 1-bedroom condo through VRBO for $60 per night. (VRBO Property #261860) That’s actually cheaper than the cheapest hotel and we were able to make our own simple breakfasts and prepare our sack lunches for our day hikes. The condo is fully stocked and has Wi-Fi. One thing that was unusual about this particular unit we rented is that the owner does not charge a cleaning fee, which can add another $65-85 to your cost of lodging. In this case, we had to bring our own sheets and towels, and we had to clean when we checked out. This kind of savings won’t appeal to everyone but it suits us just fine because we’d rather spend 30 minutes cleaning and save the money.
Next time we go to Mammoth, we will probably go with friends so I scoped out a couple of low-priced 2-bedroom units on VRBO for $69 per night. That’s impossible to beat compared to two hotel rooms!
Cheap Summer Activities
Our favorite activity is hiking and that’s free! Well, one day we went to Devil’s Postpile National Monument and hiked a nearby trail and that cost $7 per person to ride a shuttle from Mammoth because private cars are restricted in that area. However, if you go to the area before 7:00 a.m., you may drive in and the fee is waived. The road is extremely narrow so I was just fine riding the shuttle so I could enjoy the canyon views.
We experienced one of the most spectacular hikes we have ever done in all our years of hiking on the Little Lakes Valley Trail out of Tom’s Place, a tiny “town” 15 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. From the end of the road we hiked up to Morgan Pass at 11,500 feet. It is a moderate 3.5-mile trail past 7 alpine lakes. It was breathtaking!
Mammoth is a paradise for both mountain bikers and road cyclists. For hard-core mountain bikers, you can buy a day pass on Mammoth Mountain for $47, or you can bike for free on miles and miles of trails. (Not all trails are open for mountain bikes though.) For low-key mountain bikers, there are dozens of miles of paved paths you can cycle for free. Road biking is great all over the area and since it’s low season, the roads really aren’t very crowded.
At Mammoth Outdoor Sport, you can rent various types of bikes for $24-40 per day depending on the caliber of bike. There are at least a dozen other stores with bike rentals so compare and try to strike a deal since it’s low season.
Fishing & Boating
Fishing is a huge pastime in Mammoth Lakes! In fact, it boasts some of the best trout fishing in the world. You need a license to fish but that’s cheap and you can set yourself up with basic gear pretty cheap as well. Some of the marinas will rent you a fishing pole for $10 per day or you can buy a basic one at places like Kmart for about $20.
- One-day resident/nonresident sport fishing license $14.61
- Two-day resident/nonresident sport fishing license $22.94
You can rent kayaks and row boats at Lake Mary, Lake George and other local lakes for $20-40 for a half-day.
Evening Bonfires, Discount Shopping & Happy Hour
The Village at Mammoth is an attractive outdoor mall with shops and restaurants, many of which have really good happy hour specials and summer discounts. Bob bought an awesome pair of Merrell hiking boots for $45! You can easily find $3 beers and half-price appetizers enough to make a good meal. In the evening, The Village lights up several permanent bonfires where you can bring your own s’more fixings for a relaxing evening. And throughout the summer, The Village also hosts free outdoor movies and concerts. Check out the website to see if you’ll be in town during a special event.
I’ll be honest, we only found one place that we thought was worth the money other than happy hour deals. Toomey’s in The Village is the only place we found were you can get a really nice gourmet meal for under $20 each. You can spend a lot more but I’m not sure it would match the quality and creativity of Toomey’s. (Well, to tell the truth, we are too cheap to experiment with the high-priced restaurants.) The owner of Toomey’s used to be the chef at Whoa Nellie Deli near Lee Vining and Mono Lake, which was always a favorite stop of ours coming home from Yosemite so we knew we would love Toomey’s. We ate at a couple of other restaurants and all were pretty cheap but nothing special.
We Vow to Visit Mammoth Lakes Every Summer From Now On
I really can’t believe it has taken us this long to discover a cheap summer vacation in Mammoth Lakes. We only knew about Mammoth as a ski destination and we are not winter people. But there are so many things to love about summer season here! For us, the bottom line is Mammoth has a ton to offer plus it’s affordable. We have vowed to make this an annual summer retreat from now on!