The quiet, upscale town of Mammoth Lakes acts as the main access to the Mammoth Mountain ski area . Indeed, winter tourism to the mountain plays a big part in sustaining the local economy.
But there’s much more to do and see in and around Mammoth than just ski and snowboard. Hiking , biking , fishing, horseback riding , and sightseeing are great in this part of the Eastern Sierra, and you can find bargains on lodgings in the summertime “off season.”
The nearest airport to Mammoth is the Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH, 437 Old Mammoth Rd., 760/934-8989, www.ci.mammoth-lakes.ca.us/airport/awos.htm ). Extensively remodeled in 2008, this airport offers limited, expensive commercial service in and out of the Eastern Sierras, plus a single rental-car outlet. For a less expensive spot to fly into, try the Reno airport and drive in from there.
California’s Highway 395 acts as the main access road to the Mammoth Lakes area. To get to Mammoth Lakes proper, from Highway 395 north or south, turn onto State Highway 203, which will take you right into town.
Mammoth Lakes (and most of the rest of the Eastern Sierra) isn’t near any of California’s major hot spots. Expect a six-hour drive from Los Angeles  and (at best!) a seven-hour drive from San Francisco  if the traffic and weather cooperate. If you fly into Reno, the drive out to Mammoth takes about three hours.
In the wintertime, be aware that it snows in Mammoth more than it does in almost any other place in California. Carry chains! Even if the weather is predicted to be clear for your visit, having chains can prevent a world of hurt and turning back in sudden storms. The longer you plan to stay, the better you should stock your car with items such as ice scrapers, blankets, water, food, and a full tank of gas whenever possible. For the latest traffic information, including chain control areas and weather conditions, call CalTrans at 800/427-7623.
Parking in Mammoth Lakes in the off-season is a breeze. In the winter, it can get a bit more complicated, as constant snow removal means that parking on the street is illegal throughout town. Most of the major resorts and hotels offer heated parking structures, and many of the restaurants, bars, and ski resorts have plenty of parking in their outdoor lots. If you’re concerned about parking, call ahead to your resort and restaurants to get the low-down on how best to get there and where to leave your car.