Volcanic mountains

Inyo Craters: A Look Inside a Volcanic Eruption

A challenging hike just outside of Mammoth Lakes takes you to the edge of a volcanic explosion

MAMMOTH LAKES, CA – Shady trees and great views are what you can expect on this scenic hike. Located just five miles outside of Mammoth Lakes is the Inyo Craters Trail, which is short but a bit challenging for flatlanders. The trail rises over 8000 feet so if you are not used to the elevation it will be difficult.

The 0.75 mile hike is a little steep, but the views are worth the hike. At the top are three craters – two that you can easily see and one that requires a few extra miles of hiking to reach.

Inyo craters are volcanic craters, but unlike most volcanic craters, it was not lava that escaped from the holes. It was ground water. Forest Service interpreter Keith Dawley says the explosion happened about 600 years ago and was likely witnessed by local Native American tribes.

“When the magma hit the water, the water instantly turned to steam and caused an explosion,” Dawley said.

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The deepest crater drops to about 200 feet. Each crater looks different, but geologists say they all formed around the same time, probably within hours of each other.

Surrounding the lake are huge Jeffrey pines, a species of pine primarily in California.

“It’s the largest Jeffrey Pine forest in the world,” Dawley said.

Here’s how to find the Inyo Crater trailhead: Head north from the town of Mammoth Lakes and take HWY 203/Minaret Road west toward Mammoth Ski Mountain. Turn right on Mammoth Scenic Loop and Inyo Craters are a few miles on the left. If you continue on the Scenic Loop for six miles, you will connect to Highway 395.

TAKE THE BACKGROUND: California’s state parks are great for road trips all year round. Don’t miss John’s list of the top five you must visit!