In partnership with Visit California
It’s late January of 2019, and my sister and I are visiting the Mammoth and Bishop area for the very first time. Excited is an understatement! Nicole moved away from home about a year and a half ago, so seeing her is rare, and we have absolutely never ever taken a trip together, just the two of us. This is special.
I had heard that the Mammoth, Mono, Bishop & Benton area is a very special place. I now see why. The area is one of those places that photos barely do justice, you just need to come and feel it. Feel the elevation, breathe in the fresh air, climb on some sticky granite & rip some turns down the slopes. Being immersed into the mountain atmosphere makes us feel at home, and there is plenty of that to go around up there.
We were here for about 4 days, 5 if you include the two half days of travel. We were able to catch an early flight in and landed at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport around lunch time. This is probably the smallest airport i’ve been to and had the most epic backdrop coming in from landing. I had no idea that we were going to be landing in between the mountains and immediately was a jaw dropper. The nice thing about flying into a small airport like this, everything was so fast, easy and convenient. From leaving the plane, picking up bags, to driving away in a rental car, it was probably only 15 minutes. The rental car agency at Hertz even walked us out to our car and cleaned our windows. This is the kind of service you don’t get at any other major airport. The drive to Mammoth was a quick 5 minutes from there.
Once we arrived in Mammoth, we stretched our legs with a stroll around town and found Roberto’s Cafe for lunch. Great Mexican cafe, large servings & friendly staff. We both ordered some of the fish tacos and were very, very happy with it (we were stuffed though, we probably could have shared!). We opted to rent skis this time around, and it was so easy at Black Tie since it was located right where we stayed at the Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa. After picking up our gear, we took a drive around to see the area, checked out the ski resort & then took a turn up a canyon where we found some lakes! They were frozen, and we noticed that there were ski tracks everywhere & snowshoe trails around. Luckily, we had planned to do that later. We came back to town, met up with Lara with Visit Mammoth, and headed back to the mountains.
To read more about the quick, easy and beautiful trip we did, read “Snowshoeing to Minaret Vista”. We weren’t able to nordic ski on the trails but it looked like something fun to do right there as well.
That night, we ate dinner at Mammoth Brewing Company. It was a Friday night, right about 6 PM, and I had fears that it was going to be super busy, but it wasn’t too bad at all! Mammoth Brewing Company reminded me of a place from home, while very different food, it had a similar service setup. The food and beer are separate vendors and you start by standing in line to order your food first, then your beer, and then find your seat. They had a new beer on tap that day (Saucer Boy Hazy) and it was amazing. I can’t say enough about the waffle fries either, I hadn’t had those in SO long… it was a treat!
Today we had planned to ski all day at Mammoth. Since we knew it was going to be a long day, we prepared by having a big breakfast at Stellar Brew and picked up baked snacks too. When you walk into the coffee shop they have hot breakfast burritos of all sorts. You just pick the one you want, order your coffee and it’s a super quick process of getting your food on the go and then up to the slopes.
Once we got to the parking lot at Mammoth, it was before opening and was already packed. We took a backpack with water for the day at Mammoth… when you’re skiing and having too much fun, it’s so nice to just keep rolling and never have to stop! And that’s exactly what we did. Because it was a Saturday, and a GORGEOUS sunny and 45-50 degrees, the resort was bumping, so we opted to keep skiing through the lunch hour and take a late one to avoid long lines. Around 2:45 we finally made it to the top where we ate sandwiches and soaked in the 360 views, including the mesmerizing Minarets. After filling ourselves and a few more laps, we called it a day. We skied almost the entire day open to close, and I haven’t done that in SO long. It felt so good, so tiring, and made me so happy. It is so fun to explore a new mountain, where every chair, every run, every bump, and every face is new. Time just flew by and we weren’t even able to ski on all the chairs, it’s that big.
After returning to the hotel & cleaning up, we headed to dinner at the lovely Jimmy’s Taverna. Woah, this place blew my mind. Wine, hummus, bruschetta, a poached pear salad, risotto, and finished it off with a new dessert to me, baklava with ice cream. So very full, and easily one of the best dinners i’ve ever had. Every bite melted into my mouth and the flavors were so rich. I’d absolutely come back here and I highly recommend Jimmy’s.
Tired from an all day ski, we woke up needing some good coffee. We headed over to Black Velvet Coffee, and were so happy with our drinks. The quality of the coffee here was amazing and so fresh. Once we woke up, we grabbed more burritos at Stellar Brew and were all set for a big day ahead.
We took a drive over to the other side of some of the mountains, to take some morning laps at June Mountain. I had heard great things about this smaller resort, so I was really excited to check it out. How cool is this… kids 12 and younger ski for free, everywhere, no strings attached. While I don’t have kids, I can see how skiing can be a really expensive sport (even trying to learn), so this is incredibly AWESOME and makes me love this place even more. June is a lot smaller than Mammoth, and' it’s got that ‘mom and pop’ feel to it. Lots of old school chair lifts and old & beautiful lodges. At first, we were a little afraid to head over to the right side where it was listed as black diamonds and double blacks, so we started out to the left sided runs, where it was blue rated terrain. We quickly realized that the grooming was impeccable, and wanted to see if it was the same over on the black diamond runs. Sure enough, it was. PERFECT grooming, perfect slopes, perfect carved turns to be had. This was one of the most fun days I’ve had ripping hot laps, anywhere.
After skiing, we hopped into town, and we ate lunch at Hermitage, the most adorable little juice bar I have ever seen. It actually reminded me of a little place you’d find in Hawaii, with rice bowls, smoothies, juices, salads and toasts. It was really refreshing to eat a really healthy and filling meal at such an unexpected little spot in a tiny town.
Afterwards we were set out to go see Mono Lake, but first, we noticed that June Lake had a bunch of people and dogs playing on it, so we checked it out. Frozen lakes can certainly be scary, so we opted to stay near the edge while we watched kids play hockey and pups run around the shore playing with each other. Very cool, and another unexpected thing to stumble across.
Mono Lake was a short drive from June Lake, and was super fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like these towers! There was a sulfur-like/salt scent to the air, and no one else around. Mono Lake (/ˈmoʊnoʊ/ MOH-noh) is a large, shallow saline soda lake in Mono County, California, formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake. These salts also make the lake water alkaline” - Google.
Next stop was a ski tour & dinner at the Rock Creek Lodge. I had no clue what we were in for, and WOW. This was my absolute favorite part of the whole trip. We arrived at the parking lot and was greeted by Julie of Visit Bishop and the family/owners of Rock Creek Lodge. We shuttled ourselves via 2 snowmobiles to the lodge area where we got to walk around a bit and check out the cabins. It was not quite dinner time, so we headed even further up the drainage to the Rock Creek Lake Trailhead with snowshoes in tow. I mean, WOW. Backcountry paradise! Mountains left, center and right. As a skier, I couldn’t help but pick out lines left and right, and I could see ski tracks all over the place! This was a dreamy spot & I was already making plans in my head for my return to do this trip on skis (and stay at the lodge!). After about a mile + of travel, the sun was pretty much gone and it was time to turn back for dinner. Once back, we were greeted with a few new friendly faces from others visiting the lodges, also joining for dinner. The dinner was incredible. Cooked by the women who has been keeping the lodges running for over 40 years, we sat down to a 5 course dinner service, meticulously cooked to perfection, taking new spins on classic dishes, each bite melting in my mouth, truly. With full bellies and hearts, we had to leave to head to our next destination, Bishop!
In Bishop, we stayed at the beautiful Bishop Creekside Inn.
Early wake up call, too much to do, see & eat around the Bishop area! We started at Pupfish Cafe and ate some delicious avocado toast with an almond milk latte. With a hike ahead of us, we decided to fill our packs with some extra fuel for the afternoon with some goodies from Great Basin Bakery. And we were off! We headed out for a steep & gorgeous hike on the Druid trail, which led us up to some expected, large boulders! After hopping around and climbing on a few, we knew we wanted to see and do more, so we headed off. The Buttermilks have been something I’ve wanted to see for a while. It is such a cool area, random & large boulders strewn across a desert floor with the Sierra range as a close backdrop…. it really is a sight to see, and dang do they make you feel tiny! Our next stop was lunch. We had been recommended to eat at the Looney Bean. Excellent recommendation, we grabbed sandwiches for lunch and even grabbed a dinner meal there as well (we were told there wasn’t much in Benton).
With about a 45 minute drive from Bishop to Benton, we took off around 2PM and made it to the tiniest little town of Benton, where, like we were told, there was truly not much. Benton Hot Springs sits near the White Mountains and has a population of 13.5. Don’t ask me… I don’t know what they’re counting as .5. Talk about traveling back in time. While most of the original folks from the town have left the area, there are a few that remain, but many of the buildings are still standing. I truly felt like I was living in a wild west movie & a ghost town for the day.
We stayed at the Benton Hot Springs, ate our dinner from Looney Bean and enjoyed a soak in a private tub that looked out to the White Mountains. The rooms are filled with genuine antiques and books from ages and ages ago. You can really feel the history in this place. Speaking of feeling. Everything is warm here, and serviced from the hot springs. The floors are heated from the springs, the water is all warm… yes, even the toilets. You are greeted with a steaming toilet when you’re ready to do business. The lobby area is filled with the oldest soda bottles i’ve ever seen, ancient cameras, and so many other trinkets I had no clue what they even were.
The hot springs did have WiFi, so we didn’t feel completely out of touch. But without any cell service we were able to let go and relax a bit and reminisce about the last few incredible days that we had just experienced.
In the morning, the hotel attendant made us a home cooked, delicious (and big!) breakfast, and we were on our way back to the airport. Just like that. These days flew by! I guess that happens easily when everything is new, beautiful & the days are packed full of adventure. Took a little bit of a wrong turn on our way back to the Mammoth Airport, but we had time for this error, and were really, really happy it happened. Check this backdrop and this road! No one around, surrounded by these beauties. Best way to end the trip was with this happy accident.