Mono Lake

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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When I first read about Mono Lake, it captivated me -- but my understanding of it was utterly incorrect.

I imagined a lake, not too large, filled from edge to edge with tufa; a few islands here and there; and not much else. But when we crested a ridge and Mono Lake came into view, gusty December winds whipping salt off Pahoa Island and high into the air, I found an enormous lake of which tufa constituted only a small part.

There are volcanic craters, marshy reserves, hot springs, peaks, basins, vistas -- so much more than I had ever imagined.

While I had thought we would just pull up along the highway and see the iconic tufa, little did I realize that there was more than one tufa area. I was overwhelmed, and found myself grateful to find a map at the County Park. The map above and the listings below are drawn from that source.

Mono Lake County Park

This shady, grassy park has a picnic area, restrooms, water and playground. Restrooms closed November - April.

Mono Lake State Reserve

A boardwalk crosses the State Reserve lush marsh through tufa to the lakeshore, which is off limits. Birding is excellent here.

mono lake county park state reserve
Path from parking lot to boardwalk.
Image © L M Clancy, 2011/12/30.

mono lake county park state reserve
Boardwalk through the marsh to the lake.
Image © L M Clancy, 2011/12/30.

mono lake county park state reserve
View from boardwalk of winds blowing salt off Pahoa.
Image © L M Clancy, 2011/12/30.

Black Point

Black Point is a geological formation untypical on dry land.

During the last Ice Age, a volcanic eruptions spewed out this pile of black cinders underwater. As the climate warmed and Mono Lake shrank, Black Point became dry and exposed.

Mono Lake Islands

Mono's islands are closed to visitors from April 1 to August 1 to protect nesting gulls.
PaohaThe white island which emerged from the lake about 300 years ago as rising volcanic magma pushed the lakebottom sediments above the surface of the lake. Abundant hot springs and fumaroles on its surface.
NegitThe black island began with a series of volcanic eruptions about 1700 years ago.

Old Marina

Up until the 1960s, this was the hub of boating activity at Mono Lake.

There is a parking lot with chemical toilets, and a short boardwalk leading from the lot through tufa-covered pumice boulders to the marina shore and picnic tables.

Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center

Closed November to April, the Visitor Center has many resources and the road leading to it is easily visible off Route 395.


A series of eruptions, some as recent as 600 years ago, formed this range of jagged domes.

Panum is the youngest and easiest to explore, just off an improved dirt road. Trails lead around its rim and up to its dome.

This sandy beach received its name after the Navy tested explosives here in 1962.

Shallow water and easy access make this a popular swimming spot. Toilets and picnic tables are provided. No freshwater is available, but the brine provides for buoyant fun -- though the high salt concentration will sting cuts and scrapes. There is a lot and right off it is a one-mile self-guided nature trail with great views of the South Tufa Area. There are lots at the ends of the South Tufa Area and Navy Beach roads.

Hot Springs at Mono Lake

Mono Lake has several hot springs.

Navy Beach Hot Spring, east of the trail from the lot to the beach (it is prohibited to enter the spring, and nudity is banned); and Dechambeau Hot Spring, on the north shore but dangerously hot. There are some springs on Pahoa Island as well.