Bikes and Brews: Mammoth Lakes, California

The best places to ride and rehydrate in the Eastern Sierra

Downhill mountain bike racing got its start in Mammoth Lakes, California, in the 1980s when Mammoth Mountain Vice President, Bill Cockcroft, dreamed-up and then established the Kamikaze Downhill. The world’s best mountain bikers raced the treacherously fast course and in doing so, established Mammoth as a legendary mountain bike destination. The history of mountain biking runs as deep here as anywhere in North America and an enthusiasm for all things bikes abounds throughout the town. Add to that a budding microbrewery scene it’s easy to spend a few days enjoying the open expanse of mountainous terrain, kicking back, and riding and exploring a variety of trails throughout the Eastern Sierra.

We’ve paired the area’s must-ride singletrack with its top local breweries so you can cheers to the day’s ride with a cold microbrew.

Lower Rock Creek Trail + Mountain Rambler Brewery

Where: Bishop, California
Distance: 8 miles one-way
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced

If there’s a flagship mountain bike ride in the Eastern Sierra, Lower Rock Creek Trail is it. Ridden as a shuttle (the locals’ choice), the trail’s nearly 2,000 feet of fast, flowing and sometimes-technical creekside singletrack can be enjoyed with very little pedaling required. You’ll speed through tunnels of aspen trees, bounce between banked turns and test your technical skills on challenging rock gardens.

A rider navigates a technical section of trail

A rider navigates the bottom, most technical portion of Lower Rock Creek Trail. Photo: Perfect Zero, Flickr

Lower Rock Creek Road effectively divides this trail into three distinct sections, which makes multiple ride options possible depending on your persuasion and skill level. Thanks to plenty of parking at both the upper and lower trailheads, the aforementioned shuttle is a piece of cake with two vehicles. The aerobically inclined can opt for a full out-and-back from the bottom trailhead while beginner and intermediate riders can skip the technical bottom section by parking at or shuttling from the middle trailhead.

After the ride, drive Highway 395 south about 20 minutes to Bishop where the Mountain Rambler Brewery offers nine regularly changing microbrews on draft. It’s the spot where adventurers gather after a day in the mountains to tell tales of the day. The small brewery is rapidly increasing production and consistently releasing new brews, and you can taste the passion for brewing in each glass. Mountain Rambler often hosts live music on its stage on weekends and can often be found at nearby beer tastings and festivals. Try the local’s favorite: Venusian Blonde Ale made with German Magnum hops or the Acrodectes, a West Coast-style IPA. The food is as good as the beer and the menu showcase locally grown ingredients. With an eclectic selection of items like lamb empanadas, flatbread pizza, burgers and brats, you’ll find the perfect bite and brew pairing.

Mammoth Rock Trail + Black Doubt Brewing Company

Where: Mammoth Lakes
Distance: 6 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced

If you’ve ever been to Mammoth, odds are that this trail’s namesake, a prominent limestone and marble monolith, has caught your eye. Though relatively short (2.5 miles one-way, 5 miles out-and-back) and very popular with other riders and hikers, Mammoth Rock Trail is a worthy ride for fantastic views of the formation itself, the town below and the Long Valley Caldera in the distance. And thanks to its proximity to town, you can start and end your ride at Black Doubt Brewing Company.

As you ascend through occasional aspen groves and granite boulder outcroppings, the view of Mammoth Rock is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Mammoth Mountain looms in the background and large birds of prey like hawks and sometimes bald or golden eagles can be spotted soaring over the Sherwin Meadow below. After about two and a half miles, you’ll pass beneath Mammoth Rock and reach the top of the trail where a small cliff makes for a nice resting spot. If you’re looking for a few more miles, cross Old Mammoth Road for a quick spin on the smooth, forested Panorama Dome Trail. Otherwise, simply turn around and enjoy the downhill swooping you just earned.

Back at the trailhead, it’s a short pedal back to Black Doubt Brewing Company on Old Mammoth Road. The nano-brewery, which specializes in Belgian-style ales and sours, makes beer 100-gallons at a time and regularly rotates eight selections on tap in the tasting room. There is no food served at the tasting room, but a few nearby eateries serve food to go. Order a burrito from the Delicious Kitchen (the best in town) and taste your way through the draft selection.

Mammoth Bike Park + Mammoth Brewing Company

Where: Mammoth Mountain
Distance: 80 miles of lift-accessed downhill and cross-country trails
Difficulty: Beginner to advanced

With more than 80-miles of lift-accessed singletrack for all abilities, dedicated mountain bikers will want to spend a full day or two riding the Mammoth Bike Park. After grabbing a lift ticket (pricing here), hop on the gondola—which gains over 2,100 feet on its way to the 11,053-foot-high summit—before dropping into Off the Top, a 5.1-mile intermediate trail that’s not to be missed with over 1,500 feet of descent and unobstructed views of the Minarets and Ritter Range. The pumice slopes are scattered with purple and yellow wildflowers throughout the summer and newly built paver corners help maintain the trail.

The Minarets dominate the viewscape on Off the Top Trail | Photo: MTB Project user Doron Weinstein

For a bit of spice, check out Velocity and Recoil next. The big, technical features on these classic Mammoth Mountain downhill trails mean they should only be attempted by advanced to expert riders. Downtown, on the other hand, is a favorite for first-time mountain bikers and families. The gently graded trail winds through a forested section of the mountain and is fun for just about anyone looking for a mellow ride. Cross-country riders will love the Paper Route loop that traverses across the mountain beneath numerous chairlifts before eventually climbing a gradual grade to a Lakes Basin viewpoint.

Finish your day at Mammoth Brewing Company, which is conveniently located adjacent to the bike park shuttle in the Village. It’s the oldest brewery in Mammoth and the host of the annual Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza. The new tasting room is ideal for a post mountain bike ride refreshment thanks to second-floor mountain views and outdoor picnic benches where you can play a game of corn hole and park your bike. Order the best-selling Epic IPA or Golden Trout Ale, or try the tasting flight of seasonal ales. Food can be ordered separately at the Eatery counter within the tasting room. Try the Not Your Philly Cheese Steak or locally famous Irish Caesar salad with steak.

Yost Meadow Trail + June Lake Brewing

Where: June Lake
Distance: 7 miles out-and-back
Difficulty: Intermediate

Perhaps one of the most underrated mountain bike trails in the region, the Yost Meadow Trail is located in June Lake, just 30 minutes north of Mammoth Lakes. The first mile of this out-and-back ride is sure to take your breath away and many riders will be forced to hike-a-bike or take breaks on the way up the steep approach. Don’t let this scare you away, though: your effort is well rewarded as the pristine singletrack winds through aspen groves, alpine meadows and past dramatic views of June Lake, Gull Lake and Caron Peak. When you hit the wilderness boundary, turn around for an absolutely ripping descent back to the trailhead.

Conveniently, June Lake Brewery is located less than a half-mile from the Yost Meadow trailhead. This fairly new establishment has quickly become a local favorite for a reason: With regularly changing craft beers on tap and food from Ohanas 395 Hawaiian food truck, it’s easy to spend a few hours kicking it in the sun after a good ride and tasting the best the brewery has to offer. JLB beers can be found on draft in many restaurants in the Eastern Sierra but you’ll have to visit the tasting room to sample the brewery’s seasonal and special ales. Try the popular Deer Beer Brown Ale or Hutte Double IPA paired with a kalua pig plate lunch—you won’t be disappointed.

Bonus Ride: Mountain View Trail

Where: Mammoth Lakes
Distance: 5.6 miles one-way
Difficulty: Intermediate

There are more epic mountain bike trails in Mammoth than there are breweries, so if there’s time for an extra ride, try the public-access Mountain View Trail, not to be confused with the trail of the same name on Mammoth Mountain. It is easily one of the best trails in the area for its fun flowing turns and views of the Inyo Craters. The top of the trail departs from the Minaret Vista on the San Joaquin Ridge and descends through open pumice flats on dirt roads before crossing into a dense forest with springs and wildflowers. Follow the small yellow mountain bike trail signs to stay on the singletrack as it crosses a few roads. The trail eventually climbs a dirt road before descending the final stretch to the trail’s end at the Earthquake Fault.

Opening Soon: Shelter Distilling in the Village at Mammoth will serve house-made microbrews and clear liquors. Projected opening date is November 2018. Check their website for information and updates.

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