Mammoth’s “Scenic Loop,” to be honest, isn’t that scenic—at least not when compared with the jaw-dropping 4-lake June Lake Loop. Whatever views there might be are obscured by the ubiquitous Jeffrey Pine stands that line almost the entire nine-ish miles. Rumor has it that the scenic loop wasn’t built to be “scenic” at all—rather, it was built as a second means of egress from Mammoth Lakes after a series of earthquakes shook the edge of the Long Valley Caldera (the depression adjacent to Mammoth Mountain) in 1980.
Wikipedia says it, so it must be true—“After the quake, another road was created [out of Mammoth] as an escape route. Its name at first was proposed as the ‘Mammoth Escape Route’ but was changed to the Mammoth Scenic Loop after Mammoth area business owners complained.
Earthquakes and volcanoes aside, the loop is a favorite place to recreate. It’s hugely popular in the summertime with road bikers. It’s a great introduction to Eastside cycling, with a gentle climb and relatively minimal traffic—the vanilla scent of the Jeffries joining you for your ride. There are multiple dirt roads leading off of the main loop where runners, dog walkers and hikers frolic. The Inyo Craters trailhead is located off of the scenic loop, about three miles up a graded dirt road (you’ll see a small brown sign for the craters—be prepared to miss it and turn around). The craters are one of the loop’s coolest attractions, created by a series of violent steam blast eruptions that occurred about 600 years ago. The two southernmost craters contain small, almost opaque turquoise colored lakes.
In the winter, the loop is popular with snowmobilers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers—there are several roads that are free to ski and groomed (incredibly, by Forest Service caterpillars) most days of the week. There are also a few backcountry ski sites on the loop (pick up a copy of “Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra” for beta) that are quick and dirty for those jonesing for a little hike-and-slide.
The Mammoth Scenic Loop can be accessed (coming from the north) just south of Crestview CalTrans Station. From Mammoth, drive up Minaret Road (as if you were going to Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge) and take a right turn onto the loop.
Sarah Rea is a freelance dirtbag-turned-journalist who has been living in the Sierra on and off for twenty years, with eight spent in Yosemite National Park and five in Mammoth Lakes. She likes dogs, rocks, good food and jumping into cold water.