Winter Hiking & Snowshoeing

 Some of the best winter hiking on the planet can be found in the Eastern Sierra

Some of the best winter hiking on the planet can be found in the Eastern Sierra

If you’re not into sliding down hills wearing two planks (or one, if you’re a snowboarder), there’s still plenty to do in the Eastern Sierra in the wintertime, whether you prefer getting your hiking boots on solid dirt or are into the awesome exercise of cross-country skiing (only recently did I realize that a NordicTrack mimics the whole-body workout of this activity). 

Due to Mammoth’s strategic placement at the eastern edge of the San Joaquin river valley, the mountain gets pummeled with weather when storms hit—but the Sierra snowpack generally peters out once you hit Highway 395. You can literally be caught in a blizzard on the slopes in Mammoth and enjoy sunshine at the hot springs on Benton Crossing Road. 

If you prefer hiking to skiing, just head down to Bishop—there are a myriad of trails in that area (the Druid Stones stand out) that hardly ever receive snow. 

 There are plenty of options for snowshoeing with a view on the Eastside

There are plenty of options for snowshoeing with a view on the Eastside

If you want to keep it Mammoth local, try the trail to Sherwin Lakes, which is on the Western side of town, and in low-snow winters generally stays ice-free. The Convict Lake trail is also hikeable most of the year, especially on its north (south-facing) side. 

If it’s a big snow year, strap on your snowshoes and enjoy the Lakes Basin, which features an impeccably groomed nordic ski trail complete with cut-in ski track (keep in mind you have to pay for this) as well as a groomed, but not cut, side of the road where hikers, snowshoers and riffraff nordic skiers who don’t want to pay can enjoy. Dogs are allowed on this side of the road, but must be on leash. 

In the winter of 2016-17, the trails at Shady Rest received so much snow that they turned into a veritable wonderland for free winter recreation—the Mammoth Lakes Trails System has its own small groomer and takes responsibility for grading about seven miles of free access trails for snowshoers, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers alike. If you bring Fido, make sure you take your poo bags—irresponsible dog owners make for a very unsightly trailhead. Also watch (and listen) for snowmobilers on those trails—they can come out of nowhere and some of them drive much too fast for such a highly-trafficked area. 

If you’re into ski touring (backcountry skiing), check out our piece on where to get after it whether you’re a beginner or a pro.

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.