Picture gliding in a kayak across the glassy, cool waters of a high alpine lake, absorbing the impossibly vertical mountain scenery and having your cell phone off and thoughts of work a million miles away from you.
Now picture yourself slashing through the wake of a fast boat on skis or a wakeboard with spray splashing on your cheeks and a smile on your face.
Those are just two of the many of recreational activities at California’s Mono County lakes. The unique geology of the Eastern Sierra natural lakes makes it one of the top water recreation areas in the state.
This is a complete recreation guide to the lakes of Mono County, California.
Lava flowing from craters and cracks, as well as the force of grinding glaciers, have left behind a landscape with scores of postcard-worthy activities from the solitude of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) in Sierra backcountry to the 120-horsepower thrill of waterskiing and wake boarding. And yes, quiet times in a kayak.
Top Kayaking, Canoeing & SUP Mono County Lakes
Among the sites where both travelers and locals can find a mellow day paddling — by kayak, canoe or SUP — can be divided into “front-country” locations, which typically have easy parking, designated boat-launches related amenities, and “backcountry” sites, dozens of remote lakes for hikers who don’t mind packing an inflatable SUP or kayak.
Among the most popular front-country sites for paddling are: Convict Lake, June Lake, Crowley Lake and, of course, Mono Lake, all of which have easy access, parking and launch sites.
For kayak, canoe and stand up paddleboard rentals in Mammoth Lakes, try Pokonobe Resort and Marina, Lake Mary Marina, or Tamarack Lodge. Lakeside marinas offer rentals at Convict Lake, Crowley Lake (at the marina or through Caldera Kayak), June Lake (Big Rock Resort, June Lake Marina, or Mammoth Kayaks from the June Lake Beach), Gull Lake, Silver Lake, Rock Creek Lake, and Twin Lakes near Bridgeport. Caldera Kayak, Mono Lake Kayak Rentals, and the Mono Lake Committee rent kayaks and canoes, and offer tours, on salty Mono Lake (if you bring your own watercraft, be sure to give it a good rinse afterwards!). There are several gear stores in Mammoth Lakes where you can rent inflatable stand up paddleboards.
For backcountry paddling, plan to bring your own gear on one of the many hiking trails, or check at one of the above shops for renting inflatable watercraft.
Crowley Lake, June Lake, Gull Lake, Convict Lake, Twin Lakes Marinas
Marinas at Crowley Lake, June Lake, Gull Lake, Convict Lake, Twin Lakes (Bridgeport), and the Bridgeport Reservoir all rent pontoon boats for a group outings, and all of these lakes, as well as Silver Lake, Rock Creek Lake, and Grant Lake, offer fishing boat rentals. Crowley Lake, Grant Lake and Topaz Lake are the only lakes in Mono County that allow jet skis and powerboats for waterskiing and wakeboarding.
Boating is permitted on Mono Lake, although access is restricted to all islands between April 1 and August 1 each year to protect the nesting gulls.
Among the most popular reasons to get out on the water in Mono County is angling in the region’s natural alpine lakes, including more than a dozen that are stocked by local and state authorities. Mono County will stock almost 17,000 pounds of trout to 17 bodies of water (lakes and streams) starting mid-April through the regular season, which ends in November. A regular fishing report, as well as guides and regulations, are available online at MonoCounty.org.
Lakeside Restaurants At Mono County Lakes
Many of the popular sites for paddling, fishing or boating are near to cafes and restaurants for fueling up before an adventure on the water, or as a spot to relax afterward.
Among the top spots near the immense and otherworldly Mono Lake are The Basin Café, the Whoa Nellie Deli, and Bodie Mike’s, as well as the Mono Market for grab-and-go eats. Popular lake-resort dining options include Twin Lakes Resort in Bridgeport, the grill at Rock Creek Lakes Resort, the cozy Silver Lake Café and the Restaurant at Convict Lake. June Lake’s downtown is lined with restaurants, cafes and delis for pre- and post-lake meals or just a glass of wine or beer, including Balanced Rock Grill & Cantina and the popular June Lake Brewing.
While not near the lake itself, one of the most popular spots for locals and travelers in the region is the Crowley Lake General Store, with surprisingly good breakfast burritos, pizza by the slice and sandwiches.
For more on lakes, marinas and regulations, visit MonoCounty.org/things-to-do/by-water , or for fishing-related guides or boat rentals, visit MonoCounty.org/things-to-do/fishing/fishing-guides . Check out Mono County’s Mountain Manners program, visit MonoCounty.org/plan-your-trip/mountain-manners.
Molly Blaisdell is a freelance travel and culture journalist who is a contributing producer for NPR’s “Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer.”