Looking out across the Mammoth skyline, Mammoth Crest is the long ridge that you can see from town and throughout the Mammoth Lakes Basin. The hike to the crest on the Lake George Trail is well worth the effort. You'll have sweeping views, and the trail offers a variety of foliage and terrain.
This is a local favorite due to its proximity to town and campgrounds, the easily accessible trailhead, and the year-round playtime. During the summer and fall there is hiking along the trail from Lake George Trailhead, and there are also various climbing routes off trail and route-finding up some of the couloirs if snow remains (otherwise you'll have a talus slog). Most of the visitors on the trail cut toward the Crystal Lake Trail and Crystal Crag rather than continuing up to the Mammoth Crest.
Winter and spring offer snowshoeing, easy mountaineering, and plenty of backcountry terrain to shred on a split board or skis. Winter access does take a little longer because Lake Mary Road is closed from November through April, so the area is much less busy, but weekends can include snowshoeing tours and a small number of backcountry skiers.
The easiest route up follows the trail from the Lake George Trailhead. This well maintained trail leads up to the crest, where you could either walk along the ridge, continue to a longer 12- to 15-mile loop down to Coldwater Campground, or stick with the moderate and shorter up-and-back to the crest for a 4- to 5-mile round trip. Whichever you choose, you will not miss out on the spectacular views of the High Sierra.
The Lake George Trailhead starts out at the Lake George Campground near the entrance to the parking area at an elevation of around 8,800 feet. There are pit toilets available at the trailhead and bear proof storage lockers along with boat rentals and other lake activities for those that do not want to make the climb.
The trail is generally in great condition for sure footing. It begins with a quick climb and several switchbacks that bring you through a wooded area. You can peek at the Lake George cabins along the beginning and start to get a higher view of Lake George. At around 9,100 feet you will come across several points where you can stop and take in your first clear views of Lake George from above and Crystal Crag, a granite tower to the south. As you continue up this steep section of the trail you will encounter several other lookout points, each more amazing than the last.
The trail breaks after less than a mile from the trailhead at 9,680 feet; the left route heads to Crystal Lake and onward to Crystal Crag, and the route to the right continues up to Mammoth Crest. You will head toward a more wooded area with sandy footing. This will change as you gain elevation and start to reach past the tree line, where the trail turns into more of a pumice track. At 2 miles in and about 1,400 feet of elevation gain you will reach the beginning of the crest called Red Cone. A stunning, 2,000-year-old volcanic formation of reddish-brown porous lava cinders presents a sharp red contrast to the rest of the landscape. This is also a great backcountry ski slope in the winter and spring.
Ambling up farther on the ridge you'll get a great view of Mount Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Minarets to the north. From Red Cone the trail returns to a sandy dirt mixture. Continue south and east along the crest to take in the expansive views in all directions, find some hardy low-lying wildflowers, and if you are lucky, wild rabbits.