California’s Best Theme Park (Hint: No cartoon animals!)

California's Natural Theme Park
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On the dramatic eastern side of the Sierra at 7,800 feet sits Mammoth Lakes, a refreshing high-alpine respite from the summer heat. Teeming with alpine lakes, epic vistas, and ghost towns, it’s the ultimate family-friendly playground.

Head for the Lakes

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Photo: Mammoth Kayaks and Paddleboards

True to its name, there are lots of lake options. For an easy introduction, Camille Miller—mother of three and owner of Mammoth Fun Shop (maker of premium milk shakes and malts)—suggests you load your bikes onto the village trolley and take it to the Horseshoe Lake trailhead. From there, you can pick from a variety of easy to moderate rides (or hikes if you’d prefer to explore on foot), or rent electric bikes from Wave Rave and get a boost up to the trailhead. If you’re looking to get wet, June Lake, 20 minutes north of town, is a good bet. The lake is set against a dramatic palisade of granite peaks, and you can rent a paddleboard, kayak, or boat from Mammoth Kayaks and Paddleboards.

Get Salty

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For a truly unique lake experience, check out Mono Lake, a surreal and beautiful saltwater lake 30 miles north of town. Book a guided morning canoe tour with Mono Lake Committee Canoe Tours to learn about its extraordinary ecology and otherworldly salt formations, or rent a kayak from Caldera Kayaks to explore it on your own.

Picnic in High Style

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South of town, Mosquito Flat—a high-alpine glacier valley close to the timberline—is one of the prettiest spots in the Eastern Sierra. It’s where Shannon Robertson, mother of two kids under age five and manager at a local health-food store, fell in love with the area, and it remains one of her favorite spots for family picnics. Follow her lead: Pack a lunch and head out on the Little Lakes Valley Trail. Although the altitude is high (roughly 10,000 feet), the terrain is gentle with little elevation gain, making it ideal for even the youngest hikers. You’ll encounter the first of many beautiful lakes about a mile and a half in, and it only gets better from there.

Get ‘em Hooked

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Photo: Mammoth Lakes Tourism

The best way to get your kids excited about fishing? Head someplace where they’ll actually catch fish. In Mammoth Lakes, your best bet is the stocked lakes above Rock Creek. And if you really want to ensure you hook some, hire a fishing guide from Rock Creek Lodge, located down the valley, to show you where the golden trout and rainbow trout are biting.

Splurge on a Helicopter Ride

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