The Inyo Craters lie near the summit of Deer Mountain off of Mammoth Lakes' Mammoth Scenic Loop Road. A popular summer hike, the gently rolling road to the craters is groomed during the winter months and makes one of the more popular winter trails outside of the town.
The Inyo Craters are among the southernmost of the larger Mono-Inyo Crater chain, a series of volcanic domes and explosion pits from activity ranging from 500 to 5,000 years ago.
During the warmer seasons, a mineral-colored lake sits at the base of the craters, the deeper of the two craters having a depth of about 200 feet. The winter, however, brings freezing temperatures and lots of snow to the craters, and those brilliant colors are replaced by a white sheet.
Winter snowpack turns Dry Creek Road into a popular route for snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers. And while the roar of snowmobiles along the route may get annoying, the path to the craters leaves the busier road and heads into dense and steep forest.
One option is to try to parallel the summer trail to the craters; however, winter usually buries all signs of this trail along with any trail markers. It may be possible to follow tracks from other skiers or blue blazes that mark the trail to Deer Mountain.
Another option is to follow the sign pointing to the snowmobile road, which cuts directly up a steep incline to the craters. This route is steep, slick, and may not be optimal for skis.
The craters are about 2 miles out, and upon reaching them the narrow forest roads open up to large skies over the the 600-foot long crater with clear views of Deer Mountain.
Be careful, as snow tends to cover the fencing meant to keep visitors back from the sheer edges. You can head back the way you came or try to head down the route you didn't take up and add some variation to your trek.
There are no amenities of any kind along the trail. All amenities are available in the town of Mammoth Lakes.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.