You are currently viewing Mono Lake in California – What to know before visiting?

On our driving tour of the American West, we stopped next to Mono Lake. I’d like to share with you some of its special features, as well as the most important information for planning your visit.

Mono Lake: an unusual salt lake

mono lake tufa
The tufas rise out of the water, giving the landscape a singular air.

Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in the USA, located in the Sierra Nevada. It is located in a crater created by volcanic activity in the region over 750,000 years ago.

More than the volcanic rocks that make up this area, it’s the tufas that have put this lake on the map. Tufas are the columns that emerge from the lake. They were formed when warm waters escaping from the bottom met the colder waters of the lake. This triggered chemical reactions that in turn cemented the clay particles in the soil, gradually forming large towers of rock. As the water level fell, the tuffas gradually became visible.

Mono Lake is also distinguished by its high salinity. In fact, it is more than 2 times saltier than sea water. As a result, no fish live there. Only one species of shrimp has managed to thrive.

Where is Mono Lake?

Mono Lake lies on the route between Yosemite and Death Valley. More precisely, it’s about 23 km from Yosemite National Park’s Tioga Pass Entrance (to the east), next to the town of Lee Vining.

Access to Mono Lake is via route 395.

How to visit Mono Lake

What are the best vantage points?

mono lake paths
The trails are well laid out for easy access to the lake.

As viewpoints are always plentiful in the USA, we didn’t plan our visit to Mono Lake in advance. At the end of Tioga Road, we turned left and drove for 3.5 km before finding a parking lot on the right giving access to the lake. Turns out we were in the Old Marina parking lot. It’s a great place to get a good view of the lake and its tufa rocks. There are two paths leading down to the water’s edge, one of which is accessible to the disabled. Benches are available to enjoy the peace and quiet.

The most popular place to admire the formations of Mono Lake is the South Tufa Area. This is the part of the lake where most of the tufa formations are concentrated. As we were only taking a short break at the end of the day at the lake, we didn’t go there. However, the photos we found on the Internet are very appealing.

Finally, if you’re coming north from Bodie, don’t hesitate to stop near Black Point. The parking lot already offers panoramic views of Mono Lake. A short hike takes you to the top of Black Point. In addition to the splendid view of the lake, you’ll be walking through a canyon, with large fissures created by the erosion of the rocks.

Learn more about the lake

Just north of Lee Vining, you’ll find the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center. This information center provides a wealth of information on the lake, its geology and wildlife.

What activities are available on the lake?

mono lake view
The lake environment is preserved as much as possible and remains natural.

A number of footpaths allow you to enjoy the lake and surrounding mountains.

In summer, you can take advantage of the lake’s waters for canoeing and kayaking. You can also go for a swim. You’ll float, of course, given the concentration of salt in the water.

Do I have to pay to access Mono Lake?

Access to the lake is free. However, you may have to pay for parking. Depending on where you’re going, you may have to pay a fee:

  • Old Marina: $3 per car
  • South Tufa Area: $3 per adult
  • Black Point : Free

Where to stay near Mono Lake?

Several hotels are available next to the lake, in the town of Lee Vining. You’ll also find lodges in Mammoth Lakes, like the Edelweiss Lodge we tested. Mammoth Lakes is about 30 minutes south of the lake by car and ideally situated on the National Park Road.

If you prefer to camp, there are a few on the Tioga Road to the east, on the June Lake Loop to the south or at Lundy Lake to the north-west of Mono Lake.

What’s on around Mono Lake?

To help you plan your visits, here is a list of places to visit around Mono Lake:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Death Valley
  • Lundy Lake: a small lake 15 minutes from Mono Lake.
  • Tioga Lake: a pretty lake along the road to Yosemite.
  • Bodie: located to the north of the lake, Bodie is a ghost town. No longer inhabited, it is preserved in the same state as when it was abandoned in the mid-20th century.
  • June Lake Loop: Route 158 loops along Highway 395. You see 4 lakes: June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake and Grant Lake.
  • Mammoth Lakes: this popular ski resort offers great outings outside winter.
  • Alabama Hills: a very special rocky area of the Sierra Nevada, very popular with film-makers.


We really enjoyed Mono Lake. It is very beautiful with its impressive formations. In the late afternoon, the luminosity gave it a supernatural air… Of course, it’s not the most important thing to see on a road trip, but it’s well worth a detour. If you have time, head to the South Tufa Area and visitor center for a more in-depth visit.


As a professional blogger, I take advantage of my flexible schedule to travel a lot. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list!