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Devils Postpile National Monument, Mammoth Lakes: Things to Do (+ Tips for Visiting!)

Devils Postpile National Monument is one of the most unique attractions in Mammoth Lakes. Its fascinating natural history and spectacular setting in the midst of the Sierra Nevada mountains make it deserving of a top spot on your Mammoth Lakes itinerary, and a must-stop spot on an Eastern Sierra road trip.

While the hikes to the Devils Postpile formation and Rainbow Falls are the biggest attractions here, there are many other fun things to do in Devils Postpile National Monument!

Covering almost 800 acres, Devils Postpile National Monument offers varied opportunities for recreation, from hiking to horseback riding and sightseeing to wildlife viewing. Nature photographers will love the superb scenery, and outdoor enthusiasts visiting the area for a longer time can strike out on backpacking trips from the monument into the wilderness.

In this article, you will discover all the fun things to do at Devils Postpile National Monument, plus things to know before you go.

Table of Contents
Overview of Devils Postpile National Monument
Things to Do at Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes
Things to Do Near Devils Postpile National Monument
How to Get to Devils Postpile National Monument
Essential Information for Your Visit to Devils Postpile National Monument
How Much Time Should You Allow at Devils Postpile National Monument?
Tips for Your Visit to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls

Overview of Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument was established quite a few decades ago, in 1911. It protects the Devils Postpile natural formation, the beautiful Rainbow Falls, and the mountain scenery that forms a beautiful backdrop to the two main sights.

Devils Postpile is one of the best examples of natural basalt columns in the world. The columns are beautifully uniform and many of them rise up 60 feet or more, in a striking formation.

Devils Postpile National Monument at Mammoth Lakes California

Scientists estimate that around 80,000 to 100,000 years ago, lava started spewing out of the ground into the Red Meadows Valley, a few miles north of the monument. It flowed down the valley until its path was blocked by a natural dam, where it formed a deep lava lake.

Once the lava flow stopped, the lava started to cool and solidify. This process caused the mass to contract, creating cracks, called “joints” by geologists. The jointing process created the columns we see today.

Devils Postpile was much taller when it was formed. Over time, glaciers ate away at the formation, causing it to become exposed and visible. The forces of erosion have constantly been at work, exposing and reshaping Devils Postpile, breaking off some of the columns and breaking pieces off others.

As with all natural wonders, Devils Postpile is still being crafted and reshaped by nature!

Things to Do at Devils Postpile National Monument

Hike to the Devils Postpile Basalt Columns

Hiking to the Devils Postpile formation is one of the most popular things to do at the monument.

From the parking lot near the Ranger Station, or the shuttle bus stop (more on this later in the article!), an easy walk brings you to the bottom of the Devils Postpile formation. The walk is about 0.8 mile round trip and well signposted.

Devils Postpile Basalt Columns, Mammoth Lakes, California

Here you can admire the magnificent columns of basalt from below. Marvel at the natural processes that resulted in the photogenic structure, walk around and view the piles of broken columns and rubble created over time by erosion and weather, and take tons of photos.

Good to know: The Ranger Station at the Devils Postpile National Monument is a great place to start your visit. You can get trail maps, directions, and any information you need from the rangers on duty. Ask about ranger-led activities scheduled for the day(s) of your visit. Get off at shuttle stop 6.

Climb to the Top of the Basalt Columns

Next, backtrack on the trail a little bit to the junction for the uphill trail to the top of the Devils Postpile, and take that trail for a different view of the columns. It’s about a 15-minute climb to the top, fairly steep, with many stairs.

The top of the structure looks like a floor made of huge hexagonal tiles: it is very cool to see how dense and how deep the formation is, and get a better understanding of how it must have formed back in the day. Continue on the loop trail on the opposite side, for yet another view of the columns.

Tops of the Basalt Columns at Devils Postpile in Mammoth Lakes California

Hike to Rainbow Falls

The Rainbow Falls hike is one of the best things to do in Devils Postpile National Monument. Rainbow Falls, in our opinion, is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California!

You can take the trail to Rainbow Falls from the bottom of the Devils Postpile Monument. The trailhead is at the Ranger Station, but you will see signs for it when you get back down from the top of the basalt column formation. From the Ranger Station, the round trip hike to Rainbow Falls is five miles.

Rainbow Falls in Summer Mammoth Lakes California

There are a couple of overlooks along the trail from where you can get great views of Rainbow Falls, but if you can, take the steep staircase to the bottom, from where you can get up-close views of the powerful 101-foot curtain of water. This was our favorite sight in the monument!

The flow of Rainbow Falls is most powerful in the early summer. Later in the summer, and in the fall, the flow is more delicate and may be several dispersed streams instead of a solid curtain. Visit Rainbow Falls at mid-day for the highest chances of being able to see, and photograph, the rainbows for which the falls are named.

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Good to know: You can also hike to Rainbow Falls from the trailhead at shuttle stop number 9. The route is about 2.6 miles out and back.

Hike to Lower Rainbow Falls

Most visitors turn back at Rainbow Falls, but if you continue on the trail for another 0.5 mile, you will come to the smaller but still beautiful Lower Rainbow Falls, which have a drop of about 20 feet.

Lower Rainbow Falls near Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes California

You can scramble down a path to the bank of the river at the bottom of Lower Rainbow Falls for another view of the falls. The way back is all uphill, so be warned! The trail to Lower Rainbow Falls is exposed (it is part of the burnt area), so lots of water and sun protection are critical.

The Lower Rainbow Falls are located in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, just outside the monument. If you have the time, the less-visited Lower Rainbow Falls are worth visiting!

Enjoy the San Joaquin River

The falls in Devils Postpile National Monument are on the scenic Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, which meanders through Devils Postpile National Monument, creating a rich habitat for flora and fauna, and meadows that come alive with colorful wildflowers in season.

You can access the river at many spots inside the monument, simply to enjoy the beautiful views and the therapeutic sounds of the water, or to enjoy recreational pursuits such as fishing. The river offers beautiful photo ops.

Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River California

Observe Birds and Wildlife

Devils Postpile National Monument is home to a variety of animals, from different types of squirrels and pine martens to mule deer, coyote, and black bear. You are more likely to spot larger animals early or late in the day. Keep a healthy distance from all wild animals, and follow all park guidelines.

You are much more likely to see (and hear!) birds in the monument during the day. Bring your binoculars and zoom lens! Look for Steller’s jays (their bright blue color makes them easy to spot), ravens, bluebirds, chickadees, blackbirds, dark-eyed juncos, and nuthatches, among others.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Go Fishing

If you have a valid California fishing license, you can fish the San Joaquin River for trout. Anglers that come here to fish look to capture all four kinds of trout: rainbow, brown, golden, and brook.

Since 1971, the river within Devils Postpile National Monument is not stocked, but stocking continues upstream of the monument on Forest Service land, so you will still find fishing opportunities at the monument.

Enjoy Wildflowers at Agnew Meadow in Season

In the early summer (generally from the middle of June to the middle of July), you can see a large variety of wildflowers in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River Valley. Although you will ,likely see wildflowers at many places in the monument, do the easy 0.6-mile wildflower trail at Agnew Meadow for the best color and variety.

Wildflowers at Rainbow Falls Devils Postpile National Monument California

Look for Indian Paintbrush, Red Columbine, Monkey Flower, Meadow Larkspur, and Sierra Shooting Star, among other native varieties. You can pick up a plant guide at the Ranger Station if you like to identify wildflowers you see.

Agnew Meadow is shuttle stop number 1, if you take the madatory shuttle in season.

Have a Picnic by the River

Bring a picnic meal to enjoy by the river or by the waterfalls. There are picnic tables scattered about the day use area where you can sit for a bit and enjoy the views as you eat.

Make sure you do not leave food unattended, and pack out all food and trash.

A view of the San Joaquin River at Devils Postpile National Monument in California

Enjoy a Milkshake at the Mule House Cafe

You can hike to Red Meadows Resort from Devils Postpile Monument and Rainbow Falls: look for signs. Red Meadows Resort is a pack station, with a general store and a cafe, and cabins for rent. It is also a shuttle stop, and you can drive there as well.

If you did not bring a picnic lunch, Mule House Cafe serves hearty diner food and is a beloved stop for backpackers on the John Muir and Pacific Coast trails.

But whether you eat lunch here or not, be sure to have one of their famous milkshakes. They are large, served in gigantic sliver blender vessels, and one was plenty for the both of us. Decadently rich and delicious, they are a worthy reward for all the hiking!

Things to Do Near Devils Postpile National Monument

Walk the Sotcher Lake Loop

Sotcher Lake is the larger of the two lakes in the Reds Meadow Valley. An easy self-guided 1.5- mile trail around the shore makes for a lovely way to enjoy the scenery. Interpretive plaques provide information on local flora and fauna, and the geology of the area. The lake is also a popular spot for fishing or enjoying a picnic.

If you take the Reds Meadow Shuttle, Sotcher Lake is just a short walk from stop number 7. There is parking at the lake if you arrive independently.

Sotcher Lake near Devils Postpile National Monument California

Hike to Minaret Falls

Minaret Falls is located just outside the boundary of Devils Postpile National Monument, but you can hike to it from within the monument. The trailhead is at the Ranger Station, and the easy hike is about 3 miles round trip. The trail is well signposted.

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For a part of the route, you will be hiking along the legendary Pacific Crest Trail (between Mexico and Canada) as you hike to Minaret Falls!

The 200-foot cascade is at its most powerful in early summer. Later in the year, several different streams tumble down the granite rocks, also making for a delightful picture. The trail makes its way over a bridge on the San Joaquin River before heading out of the monument and gently uphill to the base of the falls.

Hike a Part of the Famous John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail, one of the most revered backpacking routes in the Eastern Sierra, runs between Yosemite National Park and Mount Whitney: a distance of 211 miles. Along the way, the trail comes very close to Devils Postpile National Monument.

If you cannot hike the entire trail, but you would like to experience it briefly, you can day hike a short portion of it when you visit Devils Postpile National Monument! From the Ranger Station, the junction with the John Muir Trail is less than a mile, and you will see signs for it.

Experienced hikers can consider the epic day hike from Devils Postpile National Monument to Garnet Lake, one of the most photogenic spots in the Eastern Sierra. The round trip hike is 14 miles, so plan on the better part of a day if you want to do it!

Getting to Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument is located at Devils Postpile Access Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546. See map.

If the Reds Meadow Valley Shuttle Bus is running, it is mandatory (with a few exceptions) to ride the shuttle bus into the valley. The shuttle bus generally runs from the middle of June until Labor Day.

You can catch the shuttle bus at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center boarding area, located near Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge. You can leave your own car in one of the parking areas here. At the time of writing, the shuttle bus fee is $8.00 per adult and $4.00 per child aged 3-15.

The shuttle bus has ten stops in the Reds Meadow Valley, including the Ranger Station (stop number 6), where you will find the trailheads for Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls.

When the shuttle bus is not running, you can drive into the valley independently. Note that the road to Devils Postpile is a white-knuckle drive: narrow and winding, and very steep where it descends into the valley. Stop at Minaret Vista along the way for beautiful views!

Parking in the valley is limited, so arrive early in the day or late in the afternoon for your best chance of finding parking.

Bridge Over San Joaquin River in California

Essential Information for Your Visit to Devils Postpile National Monument

Park Hours

Devils Postpile National Monument is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during the operating season, which varies each year but generally runs from some time in June to some time in October. The Ranger Station is open between 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. during the operating season.

Check the park website for current information on hours and special closures. If you plan to visit in June or in October, make sure the park is open before you go.

Park Entrance Fee

If the shuttle bus is not running and you drive your car into the valley, at the time of writing, a day pass costs $10.00 per vehicle and a three-day pass costs $20.00 per vehicle for three of five consecutive days. Visit the park website for current fees right before you go.

The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is accepted at Devils Postpile National Monument, so if you already have a pass, don’t forget to bring it with you!

Purchasing a National Parks Pass will save you money if you plan to visit a few national parks (or other national recreation sites) during the course of the year. Valid for one full year from the month of purchase, the National Parks Pass costs $80.00 and offers admission (one vehicle or 4 persons) to over 2,000 Federal recreation sites, including national parks, national forests, and more. Get yours online at REI now!

Rainbow Falls in the Fall

Pets

Pets are allowed on trails and in other day use areas within Devils Postpile National Monument, but they must be on a leash at all times. Disposable plastic bags are available at trailheads so you can clean up after your pets.

Dogs are allowed on leash on the shuttle buses. They must also wear muzzles while in the buses. If you didn’t bring one, you can buy a muzzle at a pet store in Mammoth Lakes or at the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center.

Restrooms

There are restrooms near the parking lots at trailheads in the monument but none along the trails.

Food and Drink

There are no restaurants within the monument, but breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served during the season at the Mule House Cafe at the Reds Meadow Resort.

Cell Reception

Don’t count on cell reception along the trails in Devils Postpile National Monument or out in the valley: where it is available, it may be sketchy. There is no public wifi and no cell reception at the Ranger Station or the Devils Postpile formation.

Camping

There is a 20-site first-come, first-served campground in Devils Postpile National Monument. The campground has flush toilets and running water but no showers. RV hook-ups and dump stations are not available. Sites can generally accommodate campers and trailers up to 25 feet in length.

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How Much Time Should You Allow at Devils Postpile National Monument?

If you can afford the time, we recommend spending at least a full morning or a full afternoon (about 4 hours) at Devils Postpile National Monument. It is a beautiful park, and you will want to have enough time to appreciate the beauty.

In about half a day, you can hike to the Devils Postpile formation and to Rainbow Falls, spend some time by the river, and enjoy a picnic lunch or a meal at the Mule House Cafe.

If you want to add some other hikes in the area, or do a longer day hike into the wilderness from the monument, allow for the full day. If your time in Mammoth Lakes is limited, we still recommend a quick visit to at least view the Devils Postpile formation and Rainbow Falls!

Tips for Visiting Devils Postpile National Monument

Best Time to Visit Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument is open to vehicular traffic only from about mid June until mid October: actual dates in any year vary based on snowfall and other weather parameters. Before you go, check the park website or call to obtain information on possible closures. During the operating season, the Ranger Station is open and ranger programs may be offered.

Fall Landscape at Devils Postpile National Monument in California

Early summer is a great time to visit Devils Postpile National Monument for wildflowers and for powerful flow at area waterfalls. Wildflowers are at their best in the park in late June and July. Expect June to be less crowded than July.

In August, waterfall flow is quite a bit diminished but you have long days for hiking. Expect the monument to be crowded in August, which is a popular time to visit the Eastern Sierra in general.

Fall, until the park closes to traffic, is also a popular time to visit. Once the shuttle bus stops running, you can drive to the monument in your own car. Arrive early or late, since parking is limited and lots tend to be full between late morning and late afternoon, especially on good weather days. You will see beautiful leaf color on the aspens and the cottonwoods if you visit in early October.

Although the park is closed to traffic in the winter, experienced winter sports enthusiasts can ski or snowshoe into the Reds Meadow Valley. The trip is nine miles each way and extremely strenuous because of the elevation change, so it is only advised for the most experienced skiers or snowshoers.

Park Safety

The park website has a page with safety recommendations, to help you have a safe and enjoyable visit to Devils Postpile National Monument. Read and follow all safety guidelines. Your safety is your responsibility!

What to Wear

Dress in layers. Weather in the mountains can be changeable, and you want to be prepared. A light waterproof windcheater with a hood has saved us from the elements more times than we can recall.

Wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes with good grip, suitable for hiking on rocks and dirt. We wear the La Sportiva brand cuffed hiking boots: they are not heavy, they are waterproof, and they are super comfy. Check women’s here and men’s here.

Sun Protection

Many trails at Devils Postpile National Monument are fully or partially exposed. Wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed sun hat, sunshades, and light loose clothing that covers your arms and legs.

We generally wear clothing with SPF protection if we are going to be in the sun for several hours. Check REI for women’s SPF shirts here and men’s SPF shirts here.

A view of the San Joaquin River in California

Carry plenty of water

Carry a filled hydration pack or filled water bottles with you on your hikes to stay hydrated during your visit. It can get quite hot on the trail to Rainbow Falls.

Carry food and snacks

Plan to carry non-perishable snacks on your hikes, along with a meal, if you plan to picnic in the monument. Food and other supplies can be bought in Mammoth Lakes. Invest in a light and easy-to-carry daypack to stow food and other supplies.

Bring binoculars and your camera

The views at Devils Postpile National Monument are simply spectacular, and you will want to take lots of photos. So do not forget your usual photography gear!

We bring our Panasonic Lumix camera with us on hikes. It is so small it fits in a jacket pocket, but it has a powerful 30X zoom and takes great photos of the landscape and of any birds or animals we see. We also bring our compact binoculars for birdwatching.

Bring Essential Supplies

Pack these essentials in your daypack: a first-aid kit, disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer, headlamp or flashlight, and a pocket knife. Bring your trekking poles if you anticipate needing them: they can be useful during elevation changes. Also carry, and use, bug spray: you will likely encounter mosquitoes on forested trails and by the water.

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Discover the best things to do at Devils Postpile national Monument at Mammoth Lakes in California. Plus tips for visiting and best time to go.

Dhara

Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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