After crossing the Sierra Nevada via Tioga Pass and stopping at Yosemite National Park, we drove down to Mammoth Lakes for Labor Day weekend. Our plan was to stay there for two nights and visit Devils Postpile National Monument. Devils Potspile is an amazing rock formation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which is not very easily accessible. I had been planning this visit for a few years already, but the area is covered with snow most of the year, and the road is only open in the summer. Finally this fall we had an opportunity to drive over before the road would close for the winter again. But was it worth it? And what exactly is Devils Postpile?
Mammoth Lakes is known for its ski area and Mammoth Mountain. It is a small town which offers visitors many activities. Skiing must be the most popular one, but there were also hundreds of mountain bikers around while we were there, and many hikers like us. The elevation at the Mammoth Lakes is 7,881 feet, and at the Main Lodge where we stayed it was 9,000 feet. So many people do experience some mild symptoms of altitude sickness. For me it was mostly a mild headache with a loss of appetite.
While on our stay we happened to find a couple of good restaurants. One was in our hotel: Mountainside Bar & Grill, and the other one was called The Mogul Restaurant which was located downtown. It’s not too often that we enjoy the food so much two nights in a row on our travels.
GETTING TO DEVILS POSTPILE
Devils Postpile National Monument is about a half hour drive from Mammoth Lakes deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The road is very narrow, at some spots just one lane, and very twisty. The parking is very limited and it is located at the Red Meadows Resort. So it’s best to arrive early if you want to find parking. The road is open only for a few months during the year, usually from mid-June to mid-October, since the area is covered by the snow most of the time.
During the summer weekends there is a mandatory shuttle you will have to use. The tickets are sold at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center which happened conveniently to be in front of our hotel. Since it was Labor Day weekend, the line to the shuttle was very long, but it moved fast. When a full bus left, a new one arrived almost right away. I assume this is not the case on regular summer weekends. According to the schedule, the buses run every 30 minutes between 9 am. and 6:30 pm, but since it was their busiest weekend of the year, they had brought in some extra shuttle buses. Ticket prices were $8 for adults and $4 for kids (under 2 years old for free) for a day pass. Our own car was parked at the hotel, but if you drive over to the Adventure Center, you can park along the road, and either walk or use a complimentary shuttle going between the parking lots.
HIKING TO DEVILS POSTPILE NATIONAL MONUMENT
The shuttle bus dropped us in front of the ranger station in the mountains. We headed down to the trail and walked to Devils Postpile. This is a very easy hike, only 0.4 miles one way on a smooth trail. The mountain views were incredible, and then suddenly there was the wall of basalt columns in front of us. It was amazing! Devils Postpile was shaped by hot lava and ice. Around 100,000 years ago the valley was filled with lava, and when it cooled off it started cracking due to the pressure below. The cracks were shaped like hexagons, which you can really see if you also hike to the top of the monument. At the top, you can see the marks of the glacier passing over during the last ice age which then shaped the monument even more. I definitely recommend hiking to the top even though it is uphill.
These kind of basaltic columns are quite rare, but there are more around the world. For example, I have seen the similar basalt columns in Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach in Iceland when I was there.
After climbing up to the monument we sat down to have a snack and enjoy the view. We ended up hiking to the Red Meadows Resort where they have a general store, and from where the shuttle picks up the hikers. Another popular hike is the Rainbow Falls trail which is 2.5 miles one way, and while returning you will be hiking uphill. We were both out of breath due to the high altitude. It was very hot and our 2 year was carried in a baby backpack, so we decided to skip seeing the waterfall. Once we reached the Red Meadows Resort we got some ice cream from the store and lined up for the shuttle to go back to the hotel.
THE JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM AT DEVILS POSTPILE
Our daughter was excited to find out that they have a Junior Ranger Program at Devils Postpile. She got the Junior Ranger book from the ranger station and kept filling it in during our hike. The cool thing about it was that they let you return the book to the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center, so we didn’t have to return to the ranger station. We have found that some of these Junior Ranger programs are a little inflexible when it comes to the process and in that sense, unfair for the kids. It is hard for kids to understand why we can’t always come back to the visitor center before closing time. The main idea is to explore the park and enjoy the nature after all, and the visitor center hours are very limited. So we were very happy that they took that into account at Devils Postpile. The next day we stopped at the Welcome Center and she got her Junior Range badge.
If you are planning to visit Devils Postpile, I would advise you to start by checking for road closures on the NPS website. That is also where you can find information about the shuttles and opening times of the ranger station or general store. Devils Postpile is a beautiful place, and totally doable with kids. Just book your trip and head out to the mountains!