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Highway 203 And The Mammoth Lakes Area

California state highway 203 starts at US 395 east of Mammoth Lakes, and runs just 10 miles west into the Sierra Nevada mountains. The area is home to a national monument, year around tourist facilities, summer recreation including fishing, hiking, and horseback riding, abundant wildlife, and some of the most scenic RV camping locations you will find anywhere.

As you approach the highway 203 turnoff on US 395, you can’t help but be impressed by the Sierra Nevada mountains. The granite peaks and valleys are the product of volcanic and glacial action millions of years ago that continue today. Glaciers along the Sierra Crest continue their slow scraping of the mountains, and the resulting lakes and rushing creeks continue to sculpt this beautiful area. Hot springs are in the area, and the ongoing volcanic release of CO2 is evident at Horseshoe Lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.

Mammoth Lakes/Highway 203 Area Maps

The following maps show state highway 203, the Mammoth Lakes Basin, Red’s Meadow and Devil’s Postpile, and locations in the town of Mammoth Lakes that may be of use to you…

Highway-203-Topo-Map
Mammoth-Lakes-Facilities

What To Expect In Mammoth Lakes

As you exit US 395, you immediately begin climbing on a great 4 lane highway. The gravel roads just off the exit to the left and right take you to Inyo National Forest administered areas. About 2 miles up the hill is a turnoff to the left. Take this road and then the first left turn possible into the Mammoth Water District for free RV dump station and water bib. Stay to the left through the parking lot, then bear right into the dump station. Use your own hose if you intend to get water!!!

Mammoth-Lakes-Panorama

Another mile up the road on the right is the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center including the USDA Forest Service Ranger District Office. Get information about dispersed camping, campgrounds, recreation, and wildlife in the area, as well as required campfire permits. The permits are free.

Mammoth-Lakes

The town of Mammoth Lakes has about 7500 full time residents, but winter visitors to the Mammoth Mountain ski resort swell the towns population to 35,000. A private RV park is open year around across the street from the Mammoth Visitors Center, and this park also has the easiest access for RV’s to get propane in town. The High Sierra private campground is open only during summer months and is located on the west side of town. There is a full size Von’s grocery story, hardware, pharmacy, theater, golf courses, bicycle rentals and more available. This is a resort town, so be prepared for higher prices. Fuel typically runs $.50 to $.75 more than state averages. Limited RV supplies are available at the Do It Center hardware store shown on map above.

The town was named for the Mammoth Mining Company that operated until a landslide buried the mine and town that accompanied it. The current town of Mammoth Lakes was incorporated in 1984, and continues to grow rapidly. During summer months, free shuttle bus service connects town with the Lakes Basin and the Mammoth Mountain Resort.

RV Camping Along Highway 203

There are public and private campgrounds located along SR 203, or a short distance off the highway. The town has the Mammoth Mountain private RV park, Los Angles parks has the High Sierra Campground, and two USDA Forest Service Campgrounds. Another forest service campground is only a couple miles outside town. Full RV services are available, as well as food and fuel.

Mammoth Lakes – In the town limits of Mammoth Lakes, the USDA Forest Service offers 2 campgrounds within walking distance of restaurants and shopping. The Old Shady Rest and New Shady Rest campgrounds offer nearly 150 campsites, and the nearby Sherwin Creek Campground has another 85 available sites. Dry camping with water and dump station nearby. There are some overflow campsites sites nearby as well.

Mammoth Lakes Basin – Spectacular scenery and great outdoor recreation activities are within walking distance of the 5 forest service campgrounds located in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. 241 campsites are available, most are first come, first serve, but finding a level site can be a challenge, so be sure to bring some leveling blocks. Water and flush toilets, picnic tables, fire grills, and food lockers.

Pine-City-Campground

Several basin lakes are stocked weekly with hundreds of pounds of trout, including hybrid “Alpers”. These big fish are commonly caught in the 5 to 8 pound range, and a Labor Day fishing contest awards lucky anglers with the chance for a $1 Million cash prize. These lakes are all within walking distance of any of the campgrounds.

Lake-Mary-Campground

Not only is fishing available, but a pack outfit offers hourly to weekly horseback and pack trips into the high Sierra. Hiking trails head into the John Muir Wilderness, and there’s even a ghost town to explore near the Cold Water Campground on Lake Mary.

Here are links for reservations and information about each campground…

Red’s Meadow – Located on a paved forest service road that extends beyond the end of SR 203, and includes the Devil’s Postpile National Monument, and Rainbow Falls. There are 141 first come, first serve campsites, and there is an access fee to the national monument and the Red’s Meadow area. Shuttle bus service must be used for routine access during summer day hours. Catch the bus at the Mammoth Mountain Resort.

Minaret-Mountain-View

The view from lookout point at the end of SR 203 is spectacular. There are vault toilets, and information kiosk describing the geology and mountain peak names in the area.

Rainbow-Falls

Rainbow Falls is a popular short or long hike depending on your course selection. This is one of California’s most famous waterfalls.

Devils-Postpile

The Devil’s Postpile is an unusual geologic formation. You can walk to the top of the formation and and see row after row of this unusual rock grouping. From below the ridge, the rocks look much like fence posts piled up.

The road into Red’s Meadow is a one lane shelf road with several turnouts for vehicle to pass. Probably not for the faint of heart as there are no guard rails. There are also 2 group campgrounds, and a horse camp. For those willing to navigate this one lane road, camping is available at the following campgrounds…

There are many hiking trails in the area, access to the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and a pack station is equipped for hourly to weekly horseback rides and pack trips.

Boondocking – While there is no dispersed camping permitted along the SR203 corridor, the Inyo National Forest allows dispersed camping a short distance north of Mammoth Lakes. Check the Mammoth Lakes Ranger District for locations. During the summer/fall of 2007, there was a 28 day continuous stay limit in effect.

More Fun Stuff – The Mammoth Mountain Resort runs a ski lift to the top of the mountain throughout the summer. Along the road to the resort, you will see a sign for “Earthquake Fault” and a gravel road going to the right. This 1/2 mile dead end road goes to a large earthquake fault that is 30 feet deep and 60 feet wide in places. There are some pretty good restaurants in town, but again, this is a resort community so prices tend to be high. There are 2 golf courses, movie theater, arcade, ski museum and much more to see.

RV Camping Near Mammoth Lakes

The Inyo National Forest and BLM lands near Mammoth Lakes offer free and low cost alternatives for those looking for a different type camping experience. 3 free developed USDA Forest Service campgrounds about 12 miles north of the SR203/US395 junction offer a typical forest camping environment. Scroll down the Forest Service page to the listings for the June Lake Ranger District. BLM has the Crowley Lake campground about 12 miles east of the SR203/US395 junction with a $5 nightly charge.

We hope your travel plans can someday include a visit to this spectacular eastern Serra Nevada paradise.

Crowley-Lake-Campground

More Information Resources

Inyo National Forest
Mammoth Lakes Visitor Bureau
Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce

Recommended Reading

Mammoth from the Inside: The Honest Guide to Mammoth & the Eastern Sierra
Mammoth Lakes Sierra: A Handbook for Roadside and Trail
Devil’s Postpile – Eastern Sierra Hiking Guide



 
 
 
 
 

Federal Public Land
RV Camping Information

US Forest Service - USFS
Describes USFS policies and rules about RV camping. Information about dispersed camping, and tips on how to find great free RV camping sites.

National Park Service (NPS)
General information about RV camping in US National Parks. With campgrounds in the most historic and scenic places in the country, the NPS offers some of the best places for RV camping.

US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE/COE )
USACE (perhaps better know as COE) manages water recreation areas throughout the USA. Information about finding Corps managed lakes, RV camping rules and policies for use of these water based recreation areas is included.

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