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Your Guide to Visiting Mono Lake, California 

Mono Lake is a saline lake in California known for its iconic Tufa Towers which are a result of limestone deposits. It’s one of the most underrated places in California. And is one of the oldest lakes in North America which began forming about 750,000 years ago.  There are many things to do at Mono Lake and it’s worth a stop if you’re visiting the Eastern Sierras.

woman in blue dress at mono lake south tufa

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Visiting Mono Lake California 

Mono Lake isn’t one of the more famous lakes in California but it is the fourth-largest in the state.  There are lots to do at this underrated gem. Below is everything you need to know about visiting Mono Lake, California.

woman in blanket and beanie at mono lake south tufa winter

Where is Mono Lake

Mono Lake is located in Lee Vining, 30 minutes from Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra region of California. The lake is quite large but you can see a Mono Lake map. 

Mono Lake Entrance Fee

The South Tufa is a fee area and it is $3 per adult entrance fee. You can pay at the South Tufa kiosk or visit the Mono Lake Visitor Center. 

Mono Lake Weather

The weather varies depending on the time of year. Lee Vining elevation is 6,781′ so high winds and colder temperatures are quite normal. It’s important to check out Mono Lake weather before your trip so you can plan accordingly. For more information check out the current Mono Lake travel conditions.

If you’re curious about how Mono Lake looks right now just check out the Mono Lake webcam.

Mono Lake Things to Do

Looking for Mono Lake activities? There are plenty of things to do!

woman in yellow kayak mono lake


Mono Lake Kayaking is a fun experience and a unique way to explore the lake. You can rent from Mono Basin Kayak Rental or opt for Caldera Kayaks if you want a guided kayak tour. Enjoy the day paddling while enjoying the view of the Mono Lake tufa towers and Eastern Sierra Mountains. The kayaks usually launch at Mono Lake Navy Beach.

Watch the Sunset/Sunrise

Sunset is a beautiful time of day at Mono Lake. Since the sun will set into the mountains you’ll want to arrive at Mono Lake at least an hour to two hours before the actual sunset time. Sunrise is just as, if not even more stunning. If you’re looking for the perfect Mono Lake viewpoint then Navy Beach/South Tufa area is best.

women at mono lake area at golden hour


Sunset is a popular time to take photos at Mono Lake. As mentioned above, the sun will set into the mountains so arrive at least an hour to two hours before the actual sunset time. The colors in the sky make for a dramatic backdrop. Golden hour is stunning as well so give yourself enough time for photos and to walk around. The area around the South Tufa Mono Lake is quite big. You can also photograph at sunrise when the lake is more still and get some shots with cool reflections. 


Mono Lake is popular for birdwatching. And fall is a great time to see the birds on the Pacific Flyway migratory route. Click here for more information on Mono Lake birds.

Nature Walks

The Mono Lake Committee hosts free walks and tours around the Mono Basin. Join their guides for a South Tufa tour, or a bird walk around Mono Lake County Park or Lundy Canyon.

mono lake south tufa at sunset


Looking for a Mono Lake hike? Check out the Panum Crater! It’s located off Highway 120 east, about 3 miles east of Highway 395. You’ll just take a short dirt road to the parking area. 

Self Guided Tour

Want a Mono Lake tour? You can a self-guided tour of the South Tufa area. The audio will guide you through the area starting at the South Tufa kiosk. Be sure to take your headphones and check out the map.


Can you swim at Mono Lake? The water is super saline so I wouldn’t recommend Mono Lake swimming but people do it. Make sure you wash yourself off with water after. When the salty water dries it dries white and can be itchy.

Where to Stay At Mono Lake

woman in blue dress mono lake south tufa

There are a few hotels near Mono Lake in the area but another option is to stay in either nearby June Lake or Mammoth Lakes where there are plenty of hotels, motels, and Airbnbs. Dispersed camping is also permitted. 

Mono Lake Hotels


Mono Lake Camping

Looking for camping near Mono Lake? Dispersed camping is permitted in the Mono Lake area in most of the area above the exposed lakebed lands. A campfire permit is required for fires. Click here for more information on Mono Lake dispersed camping.

When to Visit Mono Lake

There is no bad time to visit Mono Lake. I have been there in the summer and winter. It can get quite windy, especially around and after sunset. The winter months are cold and the edges of the lake will start to freeze over.

It’s important to note that many places including restaurants and hotels may close for the season during the colder months. Do some research ahead of time and plan accordingly.

Where to Eat

woah nelli deli lee vining mono lake restaurant

Below is a list of some places Mono restaurants:

Woah Nellie Deli
Mono Cone
The Mono Inn
Epic Cafe
El Mono Motel & Latte Da Coffee Cafe

Nearby Places to Visit

Mono Lake is located in the Eastern Sierra region of California. Below are some suggested areas to visit that are within a two-hour drive from the lake.

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes is only about a 30-minute drive from Mono Lake. The hot springs are popular in Mammoth Lakes and there are plenty to check out. If you’re visiting in the winter check out Mammoth Mountain where you can go skiing and snowboarding. The summer months are popular for hiking and biking.

mammoth lakes view of snowy eastern sierras

June Lake

The June Lake Loop is a perfect spot to add to your itinerary if you’re heading to Mono Lake, California. There are many things to do, be sure to check out my June Lake guide.

woman sitting on rocks at silver lake june lake loop


Bridgeport is a small town about a 30-minute drive from Mono Lake. It’s a great place to fish, go on a hike, or soak in the hot springs.

woman at buckeye hot springs bridgeport

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe straddles California and Nevada. This is a popular spot in the summer and winter. The lake is absolutely beautiful and super blue. It’s a must-see and beautiful any time of year.

woman at cove in-lake tahoe


If you’re looking for a national park near Mono Lake, Yosemite is only about 1-hour away. You can easily get there in the late spring, summer, to early fall. The Tioga Pass Rd is closed during the winter when there is snow. However, visiting winter in Yosemite is beautiful and worth making a separate trip since it’s quite the detour.

woman at tunnel view in yosemite national park


Looking for Mono Lake hot springs? Benton is known for its hot springs and is about an hour and a half away. It’s also a historical mining town and popular for camping, hiking, and riding horses.

Hot Springs near Mono Lake

Benton Hot Springs
Travertine Hot Springs
Buckeye Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Crab Boiler
Hilltop Hot Springs

travertine hot springs sunset bridgeport

If you’re heading to California’s Eastern Sierras a visit to Mono Lake is a must! Enjoy all that Mono Lake, California has to offer.

Need A Car? 

Check out RentalCars.com for affordable rental cars.


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