Run Mammoth: A Destination Guide to Running in Mammoth Lakes, California

This high altitude haven offers inspiring scenery, an abundance of trails, and a healthy running community.

It is no secret that Mammoth Lakes is one of North America’s top high altitude running destinations. Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi put the small California Eastern Sierra town on the world running map when they each won medals in the Olympic marathon at the 2004 Athens Games. Kastor and Keflezighi moved to Mammoth with their coaches Bob Larson and Joe Vigil in search of the ideal training destination and it has been their altitude base ever since.

“I have traveled the world for this sport and haven’t found a place I like better than home here in Mammoth Lakes,” Kastor said.

With the surrounding Ansel Adams and John Muir wildernesses, Inyo National Forest, and BLM land, the region is a wide expanse of open space. Dirt roads and trails are ideal for running as far as one desires. And with a network of trails in the heart of town, one could run out the front door and find a variety of routes from paved trails to dirt singletrack.

The High Trail/PCT to Thousand Island Lake

 

Highlighted Runs in Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Rock Trail

Running this iconic trail in Mammoth Lakes should be on every runner’s tic list. Named for the prominent rock monolith that can be seen all over town, the multi-use Mammoth Rock Trail gradually climbs and traverses under the massive limestone and marble rock that juts out from the mountainside. Along the way you’ll pass through an outcropping of large granite boulders, past groves of aspen trees, and get an up close view of Mammoth Rock. At the top of the trail take a breather and enjoy unobstructed views the town below. Return the same way for a round-trip 10-kilometer run with 600 feet of elevation gain.

Mammoth Lakes Basin Loop

The alpine lakes and mountain vistas make the Mammoth Lakes Basin a fantastic place to run on relatively flat, but high altitude terrain. Along the way you’ll run on trails, roads, and paved paths. You’ll see a cascading waterfall and be surrounded by jagged peaks and tall mountains. Start at Horseshoe Lake and run the trail that circles the lake. When the dirt path crosses the road, turn right and take the next right on a trail that circles the back of Lake Mamie. On the far end of the lake you’ll join the main road that circles Lake Mary and return to Horseshoe Lake on the paved Lakes Basin Path for a five-mile run at 8,900 feet in elevation. Add extra loops of any of the lakes, or an out-and-back up the steep climb to Lake George to customize the Mammoth Lakes Basin Loop to your desired distance.

Mammoth Town Loop

The Mammoth Town Loop is a 7-miler on a paved path and circles the majority of the town. Starting from Mammoth Creek Park, the path descends toward a scenic vista where you can see the White Mountains to the east, Sherwin Ridge to the south, and Mammoth Mountain to the west. The path passes by the Brother’s Skate Park before climbing a moderate grade though a forested section and continues to climb along Main Street where the path eventually turns into a residential area, and then climbs again toward the Little Eagle Lodge. The trail then winds past condos and descends through a quiet forested section before joining with Old Mammoth Road and returns to the park.

Devil’s Postpile to Rainbow Falls

Located in the Red’s Meadow Valley, Devil’s Postpile National Monument is a great starting point for a 5-mile out-and-back point-to-point sightseeing trail run with 700 feet of elevation gain. Starting from the Devil’s Postpile ranger’s station, run to the monument, which features thousands of 60-foot hexagonal basalt columns that were formed more than 100,000 thousand years ago when lava cooled. Continue on to Rainbow Falls where the mist from the plunging water forms a stunning rainbow. Turn around from the falls and return to Red’s Meadow Resort near the Rainbow Falls Trailhead where you can buy a Gatorade or beer from the store, and have a cheeseburger and milkshake in the café.

Thousand Island Lake

This challenging long run in the Ansel Adams Wilderness will reward runners with some of the best mountain scenery the area has to offer. Thousand Island Lake is situated beneath Mount Ritter and Banner Peak and is named for the tiny granite islands that are scattered around the alpine lake. You’ll see 12,000-foot peaks, and run along the headwaters of the San Joaquin River. There are a few ways to get to Thousand Island Lake, but to maximize your time on the trail make it a loop run. Take the High Trail/PCT from Agnew Meadows and return on the River Trail for a 16-mile trail run with more than 2,400 feet of elevation gain.

Mammoth Track

The newish high-performance, all-weather, 8-lane polyurethane track on Benton Crossing Road is situated at 7,000 feet and just 15 minutes drive south of Mammoth Lakes. The Whitmore Mammoth Track Complex is open to the public from sunrise to sunset and can be reserved for group events through the Town of Mammoth Lakes.

Shady Rest Park

Shady Rest Park is a public recreation facility that is a favorite place among local runners for easy runs in the forest. The half mile long road is also a popular spot for short interval workouts. The trails and roads are difficult to offer directions for visiting runners, but any which way you choose to go will be a fun running adventure in the old growth Jeffrey Pine forest. There is a small skate park, picnic area, softball fields, restrooms and ample parking. Visit Mammoth Trails for more information on Shady Rest running routes.

Doe Ridge

Starting from the Mammoth Track Complex, the loop around Doe Ridge is another scenic run on dirt roads with moderate rolling hills. Situated at 7,000 feet in Long Valley this region is a favorite spot to run in colder weather and is the first area to melt in the spring. Winter running can be nice here, too. From Benton Crossing Road, take the unmarked dirt Airport Road that parallels the highway going west. When the road ends, go right, and then right again on Hot Creek Road. You’ll have nice views of the thermal pools steaming up from Hot Creek in the canyon below as you run this rolling section. After a long gradual descent turn right on Whitmore Tubs Road and right on Benton Crossing Road to return to the track.

Round Valley

When Mammoth is cold or snowy, local runners drive 35 minutes south on Highway 395 to Round Valley near Bishop to run at 4,800 feet. The 9-mile Round Valley loop gives runners a reprieve from elevation and a chance to run beneath the awe-inspiring tall peaks that tower over the Owens Valley. The loop is a mix of pavement and dirt roads, and offers gradual hills. Starting from the Gorge Road, run south on Old Sherwin Grade Road to Pine Creek Road, turn right and climb the grade toward the mountains. Turn right on North Round Valley Road, which will soon become a long dirt section. Continue on and turn right on Boundary Road. When it intersects Old Sherwin Grade Road, turn right to return to the starting point.

The Whitmore Mammoth Track Complex

Community Runs

Join the Mammoth Track Club general membership that meets every Tuesday morning at the track for workouts with head Coach Andrew Kastor. Runners of all ages, all abilities, and range of experience levels run with the club.

Go Fast – Local Races

The annual Mammoth Half Marathon and 5K takes place each year at the end of June and challenges runners to a high altitude, but scenic footrace. To give sea level runners a break, the race starts high in the scenic Mammoth Lakes Basin and descends along the paved bike path for a net downhill run.

The Footloose Freedom Mile is easily the most popular running event each year in Mammoth Lakes. The one-mile road race precedes the town Fourth of July parade on Old Mammoth Road and has had notable entrants including Gabe Proctor, Piper Kastor, and the Statue of Liberty.

The uphill 5K Ezakimak starts at Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge and climbs more than 2,000 feet to the 11,054-foot summit. The race takes place twice each year in the summer and winter under the April and August full moons and challenges runners to compete again mountain bikers and hikers in the summer, and skiers and snowshoers in the winter.

Considered a challenging triathlon for it’s high elevation location and difficult run leg, the June Lake Triathlon is a popular destination event for the three-sport aficionados. Not a swimmer or a cyclist? Runners can join a team. The event takes place in mid-July each year.

The race likes to boast that there is only one hill, which is true—but that hill is 12.4 miles long with 3,200 feet of elevation gain. The annual Tioga Pass Run takes place each year in mid-September and climbs from Lee Vining to Tioga Pass at the Yosemite National Park Entrance.

Before you load up on Turkey, join the community for a fun 2-mile run at the Mammoth Lakes Turkey Trot. From competitive runners to families, and turkeys, this race is a great way to kick off the holidays in Mammoth—snow or shine.

Sarah Attar and Alexi Pappas in Round Valley.

Notable Local Athletes

In addition to the well-known Mammoth Track Club Olympic athletes who have made Mammoth Lakes home over the years, Mammoth has become a training destination for elite athletes across all running disciplines from around the world.

Sarah Attar, one of the first two female Olympians for Saudi Arabia, moved to Mammoth Lakes from her home in San Diego in 2014 to train with the Mammoth Track Club under head coach Andrew Kastor. “As an artist and a runner, Mammoth Lakes is a total dreamland,” Attar says. Two years after her move she became the first Saudi woman to run the Olympic marathon at the Rio de Janeiro Games. She originally moved to Mammoth to focus on training, but fell in love with the natural beauty of the Eastern Sierra. “I really love getting out on the trails and getting to know all facets of the Mammoth Lakes area,” Attar says. “Often I’ll return to places we run to experience them in a different way or to photograph them.”

When Mammoth local Tim Tollefson crossed the finish line of the 2013 California International Marathon in 2 hours 18 minutes and 29 seconds he was devastated. The time was just outside of the U.S. Olympic marathon trials standard. With repeated misses Tollefson, a physiotherapist at Mammoth Hospital, switched his focus to trail running and found immediate success. He won the 50K trail U.S. National Championship in 2014 and launching a career in the sport. He has since landed on the podium three times at the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc events in Europe, won the 2017 Ultra Trail Australia 100K, and is consistently placing in the top five on the world tour. Even having run the most coveted mountain and trail races around the world Tollefson says there is nothing better than going home: “There are few places that make me as happy as being here in Mammoth.”

Beers and Bites

Mammoth Brewing Company and The Eatery, located on the corner of Main Street and Minaret has become the de facto gathering place after a long day outdoors. The tasting room offers flights and pints of the classics and seasonally brewed ales. Order pub-style food like the Not Your Philly Cheese Steak at the counter and play a game of corn hole outside.

Coffee and Healthy Eats

You’ll likely find visiting runners sipping coffee and eating breakfast burritos on the sun deck at Stellar Brew Natural Café late-morning post-run. With a menu that offers fresh juices, smoothies, and variety of organic, local, vegan, and gluten-free options it is the runner’s favorite healthy food and coffee option in Mammoth Lakes.

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