Exploring Mammoth: Scenic gondola ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain

Date Visited: August 5, 2011
Check current conditions: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (800.MAMMOTH/800.626.6684)
  • Roundtrip Tickets: $23 adults (ages 19-64), $17 youth (13-18), $12 senior (65-79).
  • Free Tickets: Kids (6 and under), 2 children (7-12) per paying adult, older seniors (80 and up).
  • Hours: Contact the park
  • Location: Mammoth Lakes, CA
  • Parking: free (lot)
  • Kid-Friendly: Yes
  • Dog-Friendly: Yes

Because our family enjoyed our brief 2-night stay in Mammoth last summer during our historic Highway 395 road trip, Jeff and I decided to return again this summer with the kids and dog for a longer 6-day and 5-night vacation.  We chose August, however, since so many Mammoth-area attractions were closed due to heavy snows when we visited last June.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

Catch the gondola at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center. There is one line for pedestrians, and one line for mountain bikers.

Near the top of our list this time around (right behind Devil’s Postpile), was a scenic gondola ride up Mammoth Mountain — dogs are allowed.  Because Mammoth was just coming off a severe thunder storm (with gondola closures), we planned our ride for the middle of our vacation week.

Passengers pay for tickets and catch the gondola at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center located at the base of the ski area.  The scenic ride is about 15 minutes long, and accommodates both foot-travellers and mountain bikers (who ride with their bikes).  Unlike the Palm Springs Tramway, individual parties and riders get to enjoy their own car.  And unlike the shuttle ride to Devil’s Postpile, dogs do NOT have to be muzzled.

Mammoth Mountain Gondola to Summit

Mammoth Gondola to Summit

 

 

 

 

 

At $80 for our family of four (including a decent lunch up top), the gondola wasn’t cheap.  But the kids seemed to enjoy the scenic ride, and Jeff and I were thrilled to get to explore the 11,053 foot-high summit area without having to make the 3100 foot-high climb up the main hiking trail.

The gondola drops you off in an enclosed building at the top of the mountain (although you can get off and explore the McCoy Station located mid-way up the mountain).  Immediately after exiting the gondola area, you can proceed to the Top of the Sierra Interpretive Center, the Top of the Sierra Cafe, or downstairs and out on to the mountain.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

Looking north over the gondola line, the snow making reservoir and Mono Lake, far in the distance..

There was still quite a bit of snow on top of the mountain, as well as up the entire side of the mountain underneath the gondola.  While the kids didn’t care to play in snow, Holly Puppy spent a good deal of time romping, rolling and playing in every patch of snow she came across.  Word of warning — it can get quite breezy up top, so bring layers if you tend to get cold.  I remained in shorts and a tank top most of the time, but our kids threw on Arctic gear once up top and still complained of the cold.

Mammoth Gondola to Summit

Looking almost due north towards Obsidan Dome. Holly Puppy, of course, heads straight to the nearest thick patch of snow to romp and play.

Definintely give yourself time to fully explore as much of the mountain top as possible.  The extensive 360 degree views are simply stunning.

Mammoth Earthquake Fault

Looking northwest towards Yosemite National Park in the background.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

This memorial is located towards the northwest end of the mountain. It was dedicated in August 2007 in honor of three members of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol who died in a horrific accident on the mountain in April 2006.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

Looking due west towards Devil's Postpile and Rainbow Falls.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

Watching a group of mountain bikers take off from the lodge, heading northwest to descend some of the more advanced trails heading down the mountain. If you're familiar with Mammoth skiing, that's chair 23 in the distance.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

If you look closely, you can see mountain bikers on the trails. These are trails on the west side of the mountain, looking towards Devil's Postpile.

When planning this trip, Jeff and I initially intended to just ride the gondola one-way up the mountain (there is no one-way discount) and do the 5-mile hike down the mountain via the main Mammoth Mountain Trail.  Our kids are used to 5 to 6 mile hikes — although they grumble and complain big time — and we thought the experience of hiking down from a summit would be a cool one for them.

However, once up in town, Jeff and I read up on the Mammoth Mountain Trail a bit more and decided against making the kids do the 5-mile hike down.  We had not realized at all that the trail is marked as strenuous, or that it made a 3100-foot descent down to the base.  If it had just been Jeff, Holly Puppy and I, we would have done the hike.  But, our kids have never hiked anything remotely close to that elevation descent — and they’ve never experienced high altitude.

So, we decided to make the gondola ride a round-trip one for the whole family.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

Jeff, Holly Puppy and I took a walk towards the southeast end of the mountain top, where the hiking trail system begins.

While the kids complained of cold and boredom and waiting inside the warm interpretive center, Jeff, Holly Puppy and I made the short walk out to explore the trailhead of the hiking system.  We were surprised at how rocky, slippery (from small rocks) and exposed the Mammoth Mountain Trail is  — at least the part of the trail that we could still see from the top of the montain.

So, although I still think the 5-mile hike down might be a cool experience for our next summertime parents-only trip up to Mammoth, Jeff and I both agree that there are far more interesting, less-exposed, summit-reaching trails we will probably climb during our next visit without the kids.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

From the summit hiking trails, looking south/southeast at Lake Mary (left), Lake Mamie (center-ish), and Lake George (right). Horseshoe Lake is immediately in front of us and hidden by the ridge on which we stand.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

A cool cairn lets hikers know they're on the correct path to reach the Mammoth Mountain Trailhead.

Mammoth Gondola Ride to Summit

Returning to the summit lodge. Maybe we'll hike the Mammoth Mountain Trail next time (when we don't have the kids).

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Comments

  1. Jillian says

    I just took this trip (well half way up anyways) in search of a reception Venue for my wedding next summer. I was petrified (heights thing) but my fiance is set on the mid point location! Glad you and your family enjoyed that scenic experience! And hoping I can get over my fear in time!

    • Jeff Greene says

      Beautiful place for a wedding! Maybe they’ll let you ride to the reception in a Jeep instead of the gondola! ;-D

    • says

      What a gorgeous place to get married!  If we’d visited the venues up the mountain prior to our wedding, and didn’t have so many local family attending, I think I would have wanted to get married here, too.

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