Great Hikes: Mono Lake South Tufa Trail

Difficulty: Easy
1.6 miles, no measurable elevation change
Location: From Highway 395, drive five miles south of the Tioga Road entrance to Yosemite National Park. Go east on Highway 120 for about five miles and take the turnoff for the South Tufa Trail.

Yosemite is the third most visited national park in the country, with almost four million visitors last year. But many people don’t know about the vast beauty beyond the park’s borders, where there is a lifetime’s worth of sites and trails to explore.

One of the easiest areas to visit and therefore quite popular is Mono Lake, just outside the eastern border of Yosemite on Highway 395, near the seasonal mountain town of Lee Vining.

Visitors can stroll the 1.6-mile loop in about 45 minutes, but you’ll probably linger longer to take in the tufa formations that make this lake an attraction.

The limestone tufas form underwater when calcium-rich springs bubble up and mix with the lake water.  The deposits slowly build up into the strange stalagmite-like formations you see from shore.

The reason these tufas now tower above the water is due to the fact that LA began diverting these springs to bring water to the city in 1941. The lake level dropped over 40 feet.

The best time to visit is during sunrise or sunset, when the light bounces off the tufas. You’ll feel like you’re on another planet, especially if you come in spring or fall, when the crowd level is much lower.

Next time I’m in the area, I’d like to rent a kayak and paddle up close to these formations. For more information and other things to do in the area, check out the Mono Lake State Natural Reserve page.


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