Things to do
Spending your time in the Mono Basin
SPECIAL FIELD SEMINARS
From birding and wildflowers to photography and hydrology, join an expert instructor for these in-depth weekend classes in the Mono Basin. Schedules are available at the Information Center or click here for the full list.
NATURALIST-LED WALKS AND TALKS
All summer, the Mono Lake Committee, the US Forest Service, and the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve lead walking tours and informative talks. Click here to see a schedule and description.
Print out one of the Mono Lake Committee's brochures to guide yourself around Mono Lake. We have information in Spanish, French, and Italian.
SUNSET TOURS OF SOUTH TUFA
Join a trained naturalist for a free, one-hour walking tour of the world-famous South Tufa grove and learn about Mono Lake's million-year old ecosystem. This one-mile walk meets daily during the summer months at 6:00 pm, and are led by interpreters of the Mono Lake Committee. Tours are also offered by the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve and the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area at 10 am and 1 pm respectively. In the shoulder seasons, guided walks and cross-country ski tours are conducted on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 pm. Click here for a current schedule.
BOAT TOURS AND BOATING
Canoe tours and kayak tours are available during the summer months. You can also explore the lake with your own boat--but remember, the lake is important bird habitat, it is highly alkaline, there are no fish, and there are many submerged obstacles. For these reasons, the most popular watercraft are canoes and kayaks. The islands are closed from April 1 to August 1 in order to protect nesting birds. The wind comes up suddenly on most summer afternoons creating dangerous conditions--be off the lake by noon and always check the weather forecast in advance. Click here for more information about boating on Mono Lake.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Below are some suggestions for what to do with varying amounts of time in the Mono Basin. Of course, there is no substitute for just wandering and exploring, so these suggestions should be taken as ideas—a sample of what your visit could be like. Make sure you are dressed properly for the weather and wear a hat, sunscreen, and bring plenty of water. In winter, access to some of these areas is limited depending on snow conditions. Click here for a seasonal update.
- Quick Stop
- If you only have time for a quick stop as you travel up or down Hwy 395, Old Marina (2 miles north of Lee Vining) is the place to go to touch the mud and water and be back in your car in minutes. Be careful--there are no turning lanes here.
- 1 Hour
- If you've got an hour to spend here, we recommend a stop at Mono Lake County Park (5 miles north of Lee Vining). Picnic tables and restrooms (summer only) will help satisfy your body's needs and the boardwalk to the lake will soothe your soul.
- 2 Hours
- This is plenty of time to drive to South Tufa Area and walk the loop trail--and take the tour if your timing is right.
- 3 Hours
- With a few hours to spend, you must see the South Tufa Area--definitely take the tour (daily in summer at 10am, 1pm, 6pm). Then stop at the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore in Lee Vining, and at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center at the north end of town.
- Whole Day
- Start your day at Mono Lake County Park, 5 miles north of Lee Vining. Join the bird walk (Fri & Sun in summer) or just enjoy the boardwalk through the wetlands on your own. Then stop at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center at the north end of Lee Vining and browse the exhibits, maps, books, and see the film. Walk 1 mile to town on Mattly Avenue, stopping at the Mono Basin Historical Society Schoolhouse Museum in Hess Park on the way. Have lunch in town, and then browse the exhibits, maps, books, and see the film at the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore at the corner of Third Street. Then catch the the Lee Vining Creek Trail where it goes down the hill below the highway wall at the Lakeview Lodge. Follow the 1.5 mile trail downstream back to the Visitor Center where you are parked. Have an early dinner in town, then drive out to South Tufa Area in time for the 6pm South Tufa Tour.
- Whole Day - Walking Only
- Start your car-free day on the Lee Vining Creek Trail, which starts at the south end of Lee Vining next to the Lakeview Lodge at the lower highway wall. Follow it 1.5 miles downstream to the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center at the north end of Lee Vining where you can browse the exhibits and see the film. Have a picnic lunch on the patio overlooking Mono Lake. Then refill your water bottles and take the Lake Trail to Old Marina where you can see the tufa, touch the mud, and taste the salt. Walk back to the Visitor Center, then follow Mattly Avenue 1 mile to town. Stop at the Mono Basin Historical Society Schoolhouse Museum in Hess Park. Then walk over to the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore at the corner of Third Street, where you can watch the film, browse the exhibits, maps, and books, and have all of your questions about the area answered.
- 2 Days
- For the first day, consider one of the "whole day" options above. For your second day in the Mono Basin, take a South Tufa Tour if you haven't yet or a canoe tour if it is a summer weekend, and on the way back stop at Panum Crater. Take the short plug dome trail to the top and enjoy the magnificent view of the 650-year-old volcano and Mono Lake. After lunch in Lee Vining, head north and spend the afternoon in Bodie State Historic Park, a well-preserved high-elevation ghost town.
- 3 Days or Longer
- You can focus your visit with a Mono Lake Committee Field Seminar, or plan your schedule around naturalist-led walks and talks. Or see the one and two-day ideas above for your first two days in the Mono Basin. On your third and subsequent days, explore the June Lake Loop, go for a longer hike in one of the canyons, or visit Mammoth or Yosemite or Bridgeport. Depending on your interests and the season, you'll find endless opportunities for sightseeing, birding, fishing, hiking, biking, photography, skiing, mountaineering, climbing, boating, horseback riding, stargazing... or just sitting in a quiet place observing the world around you.