7 Beautiful Camping Spots in Mammoth Lakes, California

Posted by
Sarah Boles
July 17, 2022
Updated March 31, 2023

Photo: George Lamson

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Mammoth Lakes is a winter wonderland for snow sports, but this alpine oasis is also a prime camping destination after the snow melts.

Summertime in Mammoth means watching the rising sun illuminate sheer granite cliffs over one of the many lakes while fishing. It’s taking the gondola up Mammoth Mountain with your mountain bike to ride one of the bike park’s iconic trails down.

It’s hiking the Pacific Coast Trail where it follows the same sandy path as the John Muir Trail, and finishing with celebratory ice cream at Red’s Meadow. It’s leaning your head back and watching the stars come out as the sun sets behind the mountains in one of the area’s many hot springs.

Mammoth has an abundance of camping options that range from tent camping creekside in the mountains, to RV friendly campgrounds with wifi and showers in town, to dispersed camping outside of town, and everything in between.

Related Read: 10 Best Hikes In Mammoth Lakes, California

What to Know About Mammoth Lakes Camping

There’s few things to consider when camping in Mammoth, most notably: bears. The Inyo National Forest is home to lots of black bears, and Mammoth takes protecting your property – as well as its bears – very seriously. Don’t leave food out anywhere, and make sure you lock up your scented toiletries in the bear box overnight – this includes sunscreen and chapstick.

Mammoth Lakes gets crowded the last week of June through August. Book your campsites ahead of time, especially if you’re visiting over a weekend or holiday.

All of the formal campgrounds mentioned below feature sites that include space for two vehicles, a picnic table, a bear box, and a fire ring. Campsites have a limit of six people (kids included) and two leashed pets. Mammoth Mountain RV Park is the exception, which allows eight people and three leashed pets per site.

Mammoth has three main regions for camping: the Lakes Basin campgrounds, downtown campgrounds, and dispersed camping. Each comes with potential advantages and drawbacks. Read on to see which area best fits your desired camping experience when visiting Mammoth Lakes.

Mammoth Lakes Basin Campgrounds

The campgrounds in the Lakes Basin offer the most unique-to-Mammoth Lakes camping experience. They also have the worst cell service, but the views and lake access make up for it.

1. Coldwater Campground

coldwater campground mammoth lakes
Photo: Sarah Boles

Why you should camp here: No road noise & spacious, creekside sites

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Dates open: Late May – late September
  • Campsite type: Standard nonelectric
  • RV hookups: No
  • Elevation: 8,900 feet

Coldwater Campground wins the award for best all-round campground when visiting the Lakes Basin region of Mammoth Lakes. The secluded campground is arranged in two elongated loops up a wooded hillside. Small parking lots at the far end of the campground offer access to Emerald Lake, Duck Pass Trail, and the Mammoth Consolidated Mine.

Located upstream of Lake Mary, the entrance is within walking distance of the Lake Mary Marina if you want to rent a kayak, paddleboard, or other non-motorized boat. Sites near the entrance make it easy to roll out of your tent before sunrise and take advantage of the ample space along Lake Mary’s wooded shoreline for fishing.

Snag a site on the outer edges of the campground if you want to fall asleep to the sound of rushing water. Mammoth Creek runs along the eastside and Coldwater Creek runs along the westside of the campground.

Some possible drawbacks to Coldwater Campground include its lack of electric hookups, dumping stations, and showers. It does have flush toilets, and if you want to shower you can travel down the road to the general store in Twin Lakes Campground for a $5 shower.

It’s hard to pick a favorite site, or even narrow it down to a handful. Site 63 is very spacious and sits on the creek. Site 26 has a place to cross the creek and hike around on social trails. You really can’t go wrong at Coldwater Campground.

Related Read: The Most Scenic Los Angeles to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary

2. Lake Mary Campground

lake mary campground mammoth lakes
Photo: Jim Brown

Why you should camp here: Best views & proximity to Lake Mary

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Dates open: Late May – early September
  • Campsite type: Standard nonelectric
  • RV hookups: No
  • Elevation: 8,900 feet

If you’re looking for a campsite with direct access to the lake, the Lake Mary Campground is the place to go. Also, the single best view from a Mammoth picnic table exists at not one, but two Lake Mary Campground sites.

Arranged in three loops, this campground has sites adjacent to both Lake Mary and Lake Mamie. If you’re looking for direct access to Lake Mary, opt for sites 12-15 or 18-22 located in the two loops on the south side of the campground.

If you drive past the campground loops, you will see a crescent-shaped drive on the north side of the road before the one–lane bridge. This is how you access parking for sites 46-51. While sites 48-50 offer more space from road and bike trail traffic, the view from the picnic tables at sites 46 and 47 gives you the best sunrise and sunset views in the entire Lakes Basin, if not all of Mammoth’s campgrounds.

The sites here have plenty of flat spaces for tents and restrooms with flush toilets, but again, no showers. Luckily you’re even closer to the Twin Lakes General Store if you need to take advantage of its $5 shower deal.

Related Read: 11 Sequoia National Park Cabin Rentals Fit for Forest Bathing

3. Twin Lakes Campground

twin lakes campground mammoth
Photo: Kit Leong

Why you should camp here: Flowing water: cascading over a cliff & out of a showerhead

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Dates open: Late May – mid October
  • Campsite type: Standard nonelectric sites
  • RV hookups: No
  • Elevation: 8,600 feet

If walkability to a shower is crucial to a positive experience for you, the upper section of the Twin Lakes Campground is the place to go. In addition to a loop of campsites, you will also find the general store, which has food, drinks, outdoor supplies, souvenirs, and rentals.

For a more adventurous experience, drive across the one-lane bridge that divides the lakes – be sure to look left to see the epic Twin Falls flowing on the far end of the lake. This road leads you to the lower section of the campground, as well as the Dragon’s Back Trail and the Mammoth Mountain Trail, which are located near site 40.

The best site in the campground is 46b, located at the base of Mammoth Mountain right along the lake. Snag site 46a as well if you have a larger group.

Related Read: 5 Serene Hot Springs Near Mammoth Lakes, California

Downtown Mammoth Lakes Campgrounds

If higher elevation is not your jam, or you want to be closer to amenities, Mammoth has four campgrounds located in town. Here you have less space and more traffic noise, but you gain cell service and proximity to restaurants and public transportation.

4. Mammoth Mountain RV Park

mammoth mountain rv park
Photo: Mammoth Mountain RV Park

Why you should camp here: Camping with all the amenities

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Dates open: Year-round (limited availability in winter)
  • Campsite type: RV, tent, cabin, overland sites
  • RV hookups: Yes
  • Elevation: 7,800 feet

The biggest and most luxurious campground on the list, Mammoth Mountain RV Park, features amenities such as laundry, a pool, a spa, showers, and strong wifi on site. It has full and partial RV hookups, as well as tent sites, cabins, and overland sites.

Proximity is key here, as you can walk to the hospital and police station from the Mammoth Mountain RV Park in case of emergency. On a happier note, you’re also an easy ½ mile walk from Starbucks and Rite Aid, as well as two of the best restaurants in town: the Mammoth Mountain Smoke Shack & Bleu Market & Kitchen.

If you plan to tent camp while in Mammoth, this is probably not the best fit for you. The wifi and showers may tempt you, but you can find pay showers in town, and the Mammoth Lakes Library has strong, free internet that covers an adjacent outdoor space as well as computers available indoors.

Related Read: 11 Enchanted Glamping Retreats in Northern California

5. Sherwin Creek Campground

Sherwin Creek Campground
Photo: Sarah Boles

Why you should camp here: Perfect mix of wilderness & civilization

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Dates open: Late May – early September
  • Campsite type: Standard nonelectric, walk-in
  • RV hookups: No
  • Elevation: 7,600 feet

If you enjoy camping close to town, but want a more secluded atmosphere, head to Sherwin Creek Campground. Nestled at the base of the John Muir Wilderness, it has a typical campground feel, but offers more site space and less traffic noise than campgrounds downtown.

Sherwin Creek wraps around the campground to the northwest. Pick a site along the aspen-lined creek (most of the walk-in sites are especially close) and not only will you enjoy the sounds of the rushing water as you sleep beneath the towering pines, but the last bits of sunlight peeking through the foliage will illuminate the aspen leaves and create a golden hour mood all its own.

sherwin lakes trail mammoth lakes
Views from Sherwin Lakes Trail. Photo: Sarah Boles

More good news for lovers of epic views! The 1.5 mile dirt road that connects Sherwin Creek Campground with downtown Mammoth features postcard worthy vistas. Head out on your adventure in the morning to enjoy Mammoth Mountain and the Minarets illuminated by the rising sun. Head back to the campground in the evening to witness Bloody Mountain and other peaks in the John Muir Wilderness lit up by the setting sun.

As far as specific campground beta for Sherwin, sites 1-15 are walk-in only, with shared parking areas. If you want to do a walk-in site but have more than six people, try to reserve sites 14 & 15. Standard sites 18 & 19 make a great group combo as well. Site 22 has extra space to hike around up the side of the mountains. There’s also lots of rocks to climb on throughout the campground, perfect for kids (of all ages).

The Sherwin Creek Trailhead is nearby. This hike has some steep switchbacks as it gains 900+ feet in just under 2.25 miles. The sand/dirt mix provides an extra challenge, but overall it’s a moderate hike to a plateau that leads you through remnants of a forest fire and opens up to sandy beaches on two small lakes with expansive views of the Sherwin Range.

Related Read: 9 Best Cabin Rentals Near Los Angeles for a Secluded Getaway

6. Old Shady & New Shady Rest Campgrounds

Shady Rest Campground Mammoth Lakes
Photo: US Forest Service, Carol Underhill

Why you should camp here: Traditional campgrounds in the heart of the city

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Dates open: Late May – mid September
  • Campsite type: Standard nonelectric sites
  • RV hookups: No
  • Elevation: 7,800 feet

The Shady Rest Campgrounds are located across the street from the Mammoth Mountain RV Park. Sites are not as densely wooded and less spacious than other campgrounds in Mammoth. You lose the intimate mountain feel in these sites, as some are even located right on the road and bike trail with no foliage to provide privacy.

However, if proximity to town is key or you just need a place to sleep at night, both Old Shady Rest Campground and New Shady Rest Campground get the job done. Depending on how you define “walkable”, most of Mammoth is walkable from here.

Starbucks and Rite Aid are across the street from the south end of Old Shady. The campgrounds are exactly a mile north of Vons (the main grocery store), and only two blocks from Grocery Outlet (the discount grocery store). Mammoth Brewing Company, which has live music on Saturday nights in the summer, and the Village are less than two miles away.

Related Read: 11 Stunning Glamping Spots Near Yosemite National Park, California

Dispersed Camping in Mammoth Lakes

7. BLM Land Southeast of Mammoth

mammoth lakes dispersed camping
Photo: Serj Malomuzh

Why you should camp here: Stars, sunrises, & sunsets

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Dates open: Year round, but many roads are not cleared in the winter
  • Campsite type: Dispersed
  • RV hookups: No
  • Elevation: 7,000 feet

If you crave open spaces and solitude check out the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land near Mammoth Lakes. Dispersed camping is plentiful southeast of Mammoth off Benton Crossing Road. To get there take Highway 395 and turn onto Benton Crossing at the little green church. Expect to drive over cattle guards and dirt roads as you search for your perfect place to set up camp.

If you decide to set up camp near one of the many hot springs in the area, keep in mind they attract crowds especially on weekend nights. Your once peaceful campsite may get noisy into the wee hours of the night. If that possibility doesn’t bother you, it’s worth it to wake up and have the springs all to yourself to watch the sunrise.

Wherever you chose to set up camp on BLM land, remember you must pack out everything you bring in. There is no water, trash pick up, bathrooms, or electricity. It’s a 20 minute drive back to Mammoth if you need to refuel or restock supplies, or adventure there. However there’s plenty to do nearby, including Crowley Lake, Hot Creek Geologic Site, Owen’s River, and Convict Lake.

This interactive map makes it easy to find where dispersed camping is allowed in the Eastern Sierras, and has great tips for responsible camping if it’s your first time camping without services.

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