At Mammoth, a five-star idea for seeing the area on two wheels

Los Angeles Times staff writer

In Mammoth Lakes, it’s all downhill for me now, and that’s a good thing.

No, I’m not talking about the skiing. Nor am I referring to the town itself, which appears to be doing fine despite the economic slowdown. Or even Mammoth Mountain’s extensive bike park, which lets you swap your skis or snowboard for a mountain bike and get your kicks all summer long.

As a frequent visitor to Mammoth, both winter and summer, I’ve never found myself at a loss for things to do. But when it comes to cycling, this middle-aged rider has been wishing lately for something a bit, say, tamer.

My Lance Armstrong days are behind me. Longer rides on nearby roads have lost their appeal, not to mention the ever-present danger from cars.

And Mammoth Mountain’s bike park? Well, let’s just say that although I envy the Red Bull-fueled youngsters there, discretion has become the better part of valor. Arthritis will do that to you.


So a recent trip brought a welcome discovery: the Lake Mary bike path, a work in progress that is a nice addition to the area’s extensive cycling network.

The paved path (it’s for walkers too) offers two options. Those fit enough can start in town and ride or walk up; except for a still-under-construction link at the foot of Twin Lakes, you can ride all the way to Horseshoe Lake.

Not really interested in torching your thighs and gasping for air for miles? Then put your bike on the free tram in town, ride up to Horseshoe -- or stops in between -- and cycle back.

Or just drive up, park at one of the lakes and ride through the forest for a mile or so. It’s cool, scenic and safe -- no cars to dodge.

And this time of year, with the leaves turning, you can combine a bike ride with several tame hikes in the area.

For example, from Lake George you can take the half-mile trail to Barrett and then TJ lakes. Even if the campground at Lake George is packed, a 20-minute hike will take you a world away. Sharp granite walls line the smooth, reflecting lake, and there are wide swaths of snow in the mountains above.

If you’re up for a little more, try the slightly longer Sky Meadows trail. It originates in Coldwater Campground, near Lake Mary.

If you like to fish, don’t forget your gear: Once you happen upon Emerald Lake, you’ll want to stop. It lives up to its name, and its clear green waters are teeming with trout.

If fishing isn’t your thing or if your arms are tired from reeling them in, continue along the stream to Sky Meadows. In the middle of the day, it’s an inviting stop for a picnic -- although, as always in Mammoth, bug spray is a must if you don’t want to become a picnic.

Tired of the view from the lakes basin? Then try the Sherwin Lakes trail.

You reach the trail head by taking Old Mammoth Road to Sherwin Creek Road. It’s about a one-hour hike, but the trail takes you through several ecosystems, and the views of Mammoth, the Owens River and beyond are increasingly spectacular as you climb.

Once again, there’s good off-the-beaten-path fishing at the end, or just picnicking and sightseeing.

Best of all, this time of year – between summer crowds and before the snow flies for real – Mammoth is the sleepy town it once was.