Summer activities in the Mono Basin

Get to know the lake and the vibrant ecosystem around it with a guided program!

Summer is a magical time here in the Mono Lake Basin. Wildflowers are blooming, snow melt rushes out of the Sierra into the lively streams, birds flock to the lake to feed on salty critters, and visitors gaze awe-struck at the ever-changing landscape. These long warm summer days are the perfect time to get outside and explore this unique basin.

Check out the full schedule of activities to find what works with your schedule.

Free activities

South Tufa Tours

Daily at 10:00am, 1:00pm, & 6:00pm (1 hour)

Rambling through the other-worldly South Tufa grove and fragrant sage brush while observing the abundant life that thrives in the Mono Basin ecosystem is a magical experience. Dramatic skies, sharp peaks, tiny shrimp, ospreys nesting, the goofy call of California Gulls, and flocking phalaropes decorate the landscape. A tour guide will tell you the story of the land and provide insight into what is happening around you, making the place burst with meaning. Meet at the South Tufa kiosk with drinking water, sunscreen, and questions for the hour-long tour. To get to South Tufa from Lee Vining, drive south on Highway 395 for about 5 miles and then east on Highway 120 for 5 miles. Look for signs for “South Tufa.” 

Sign up for a South Tufa tour here!

South Tufa tours are a fun, informal way to learn about Mono Lake. Photo by Rose Nelson.

Bird Tours

Friday, Saturday, & Sunday at 8:00am / Thursday at 5:00pm (1.5-2 hours)

Join an expert bird guide on a lovely stroll through stunning landscapes with a wide variety of birds. The basin’s many different ecosystems create a home for thousands of songbirds, waterfowl, and migratory species. Along with your sunscreen, sunhat, and some snacks, bring binoculars if you have them. These free, hour-long tours meet at Mono Lake County Park on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays; the Saturday tours meet at Lundy Lake Resort. To get to Mono Lake County Park from Lee Vining, drive north on Highway 395 for about 5 miles and watch for signs for County Park on the right. To get to Lundy Lake Resort, from Highway 395 turn onto Lundy Lake Road (located 6.5 miles north of Lee Vining) and continue straight for 5 miles.

Sign up here for a County Park Bird Tour. • Sign up here for a Lundy Canyon Bird Tour.

Bird tours take place at Mono Lake County Park on Fridays and Sundays throughout the summer. Photo by Elin Ljung.

Patio Talks

Saturday–Thursday at 11:45am / Friday at 2:45pm (15-20 minutes)

Learn about the natural history of the Mono Basin in a short talk on the back patio at the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center. Speakers will give a short presentation with a beautiful view of Mono Lake. To get to the Visitor Center from lee Vining, drive north on Highway 395 and turn right to the Visitor Center as you leave town.

Volcano Tours

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:00am (1 hour)

Walk around a 650-year-old volcanic crater with a tour guide to explore the dramatic geologic history of the Mono Basin and learn about the volcanic activity in the area. You will get an elevated vantage point with a vast view of the lake and surrounding basin. On the way you may discover shiny black obsidian, flowers, and a multitude of birds. These tours will start at 10:00am on Saturdays and Sundays at the Panum Crater parking lot. To get to Panum Crater from Lee Vining, drive south on Highway 395 for about 5 miles and drive east on Highway 120 for 3 miles. Look for “Panum Crater” tour signs.

Stars Over Mono 

Every Monday at 8:30pm in July / 8:00pm in August and September

Watch the colorful evening turn to night at South Tufa, under the vast, dark, star-studded sky. You will hear stories of the stars and the interpreter will point out constellations, planets, and give you a better understanding of the sky and the roles it has played in the lives of people for thousands of years. Bring something to sit on, maybe a layer if it gets cold, or simply yourself to this free hour-long program! To get to South Tufa from Lee Vining, drive south on Highway 395 for about 5 miles and then east on Highway 120 for 5 miles. Look for signs for “South Tufa.” 

Enjoy sunset at South Tufa as the Stars Over Mono program gets started. Photo by Morgan Lindsay.

Paid trips

Canoe Tours

Saturday and Sunday 8:00, 9:30, 11:00am

Experience Mono Lake from the water’s perspective and discover why thousands of people from all over the world have fallen in love with the lake and the vibrant ecosystem. You will get up close to the strange tufa towers, observe the brine shrimp, watch birds feed on the lake’s offerings and enjoy a peaceful ride on the glassy waters. Sign up for one of our weekend tours or contact us about a custom canoe tour. Bring water and sun protection for this hour-long float, it gets hot out there! To get to South Tufa from Lee Vining, drive south on Highway 395 for about 5 miles and then east on Highway 120 for 5 miles. Look for signs for “South Tufa.” Park at South Tufa and follow the signs and walk to Navy beach.

Sign up here!

Reserve your spot on a weekend canoe tour for an up-close look at Mono Lake’s unique ecosystem. Photo by Alison Kaplan.

Field Seminars

Engage in the Mono Basin through both classroom presentations and adventures in the field. Our leaders are experts and range from photographers and artists to historians and scientists. Find more seminar information and sign up here!

Custom Guided Trips

If you don’t see anything on this list that will work with your schedule or your interests you can create a custom trip with Nora Livingston, the Committee’s Lead Naturalist Guide! Find more information and send us an inquiry here.

Top photo by Andrew Youssef.