Exploring Mammoth: Inyo National Forest Earthquake Fault walking trail


Inyo National Forest Earthquake Fault Walking Trail

Date Hiked: June 21, 2010
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer
Check Trail Conditions: Inyo National Forest (760) 873-2400
  • Distance: Less than 1/2 mile
  • Elevation Gain: Less than 50 feet
  • Route Type: Partial loop
  • Trail Type: Mostly paved
  • Difficulty: Easy

I have been fascinated with geological formations and activity since I was a kid, thanks in most part to two equally geo-nerdy parents who insisted that we kids learn about the geological history of every family vacation destination. And my folks usually did try to pick a new geological wonder for us to visit and camp at every summer. In my late teens and early twenties, I considered a career as a geologist — until college chemistry and intro geophysics classes convinced me that a future in the sciences was not for me. Instead, as a historian, I satisfy my geo-curiousity by studying the natural history of the places I visit. And I am fortunate to have married a man who shares this passion.

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

A short smooth easy walking trail surrounds the fissure.

Our mutual enthrallment for geological wonders is part of the reason why Jeff and I decided to make the Historic Highway 395 Tour the focal point of our first vacation together as a family last June. We wanted to expose the kids to the majestic formations that make up the High Sierras landscape. And the first leg of the trip, in the Mammoth area, provided ample opportunities that could easily be explored in a single day. After our stops at Mono Lake and the Obsidian Dome, we took the kids to visit what is simply known as the Earthquake Fault.

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

Although the walking trail is an easy one, small steps do line much of the path, which might be problematic for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers.

The Earthquake Fault is located within the Inyo National Forest, right on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes.  Part of a larger fault line that includes the Inyo-Mono Craters, this section is a deep fissure that cuts through volcanic rock and stretches as far 10 feet wide and down to 60 feet in depth.  Visitors can observe the fissure from a short walking trail that surrounds the entire formation.  The trail is easy and mostly paved, but is dotted with wooden benches if you need to sit for a spell and catch your breath (remember, you are at 8600 foot elevation!) or simply want to soak in the natural beauty of the area.  There are also picnic benches and plenty of shade for those that want to pack a meal.

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

This fissure is part of active east-west stretching motion that is slowly widening the Basin and Range region.

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

Another look at the massive gauge cut into the landscape by the still widening earthquake fissure.

To get to the fault, take Highway 395 to the Mammoth Lakes exit.  Turn left on Main Street (Highway 203), then make a right on Minaret Road.  You will see a signed parking lot just up the hill on the right side of the road.

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

Holly Puppy’s first time on show! She wasn’t too sure what to make of it at first, but snow quickly became one of her favorite play surfaces.

View Earthquake Fault Scenic Area in a larger map


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