Mono Lake Information

Mono Lake lies in the desert region of Mono County, California, just a few miles east of some of the lower sections of Yosemite National Park. Mono Lake covers 695 square miles with 43 miles of shoreline, an average depth of 57 feet, and a maximum depth of 159 feet. California State Parks (CSP) of the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR) manages Mono Lake. Mono Lake is an inland sea that has no outlet to the ocean. Lee Vining, and Mono City, California, are the nearest towns to Mono Lake’s western border,

The tributaries of Mono Lake include Lee Vining Creek, Rush Creek, and Mill Creek, which flow through the 8.3 mile-long Lundy Canyon on Mono Lake’s western border. Mono Lake has no outlets, which cause high levels of salts to accumulate in its waters with high alkaline levels. Mono Lake’s surface reflects the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range. Haunting beauty with eerie tufa towers characterize Mono Lake. Tufa towers are mineral structures created when fresh-water springs in Mono Lake bubble up through the alkaline waters of the lake.

Mono Lake’s eastern shore is only 15 miles from the Nevada state line on the east. US Route 395 and SR 167 allow the primary access to Mono Lake and flanks its western and northern borders, respectively. There is limited access from SR 120 on its southwestern border. The Lee Vining Airport is a small landing strip off of US Route 395. There is no road access to the western shores of Mono Lake.

There are several islands, and some islands are tufa towers, floating in Mono Lake with the largest ones called Paoha Island and Negit Island. Mono Lake’s extremely salty waters prop up swimmers, who float like buoys, and attract millions of migratory birds who feed on the trillions of brine shrimp in the lake. The tufa towers that rise out of Lake Mono resemble sand castles in the sky.

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History of Mono Lake

Mono Lake is over one million years old and one of the oldest lakes in North America. Throughout its long existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams. Freshwater historically evaporates from the lake each year and leaves only salt and minerals deposits behind. Mono Lake’s waters are almost three times more salty than the Pacific Ocean and extremely alkaline.

The California legislature formed Mono County in 1861 from parts of Calaveras, Fresno, and Mariposa counties. A portion of northern Mono County contributed to the formation of Alpine County in 1864, and parts of the county's territory were given to Inyo County in 1866. Mono Lake, which was named for a Native American Paiute tribe known as the Mono people, who inhabited the Sierra Nevada from north of Mono Lake to Owens Lake, a 205-mile north to south stretch of land.

The Mono tribe’s western neighbors, the Yokut, called the Mono people Monache, which meant “fly people”. Because the Mono tribe ate fly larvae as their primary food source and traded fly larvae for other goods. Archeologists know little about the ancient inhabitants of Mono County. They have discovered little material evidence left behind by them. By the time the first English speakers arrived in the region, they found that many generations of a band of Paiutes, known as the Kuzedika, called the region their home. The Kuzedika’s root language was Shoshone, and they were hunter-gatherers.

Bodie State Historic Park in Mono County honors a California official state gold rush ghost town. Visitors can walk down the deserted streets of a town that boasted a population of nearly 10,000 people. The town is named for Waterman S. Body, aka William Bodey, who discovered small amounts of gold in hills north of Mono Lake. In 1875, a mine cave-in revealed a gold bonanza, which led to purchase of the mine by the Standard Company in 1877.

Forty-niners swarmed into Bodie and transformed the town’s population from a few dozen into a boomtown of excitement. A small part of Bodie survives, and the park has preserved its remains in a state of "arrested decay". Bodie’s building interiors are as they were when abandoned when the boom died and stocked with goods. Bodie was recognized as a State Historic Park in 1962. All that is left of this historic mining camp are a few buildings that make up a small western town, howling winds, and a few ghosts.

Today, tourists can visit Bodie, bring their dogs on a leash, and browse its Miners' Union Hall and Museum, where there is a bookstore. Bodie, California, is beautiful, and the buildings left standing are in an incredible state of preservation. Bodie’s landscape epitomizes what we used to see on the sets in the heyday of TV Westerns like Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Bonanza—real life authentic American Western architecture.

Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center

Exploring Mono Lake presents a wonderful experience. However, visitors must take every precaution seriously while visiting desolate regions of desert and mountainous regions with few available emergency support services. It is highly recommended to contact the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center before planning an excursion to Mono Lake. It is located off of US 395 a few miles north of Lee Vining, California.

The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center offers the best information to prepare for and plan your trip to Mono Lake. Mono Lake lies in one of the most extremely remote and harsh regions of California. Expertise of its area from the desert of Mono Lake’s landscape, to the short distance to the mountainous Yosemite National Park on its west, and then to the stark Nevada desert on its east, requires an education of survival skills.

The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center is a great resource for planning your visit to Mono Lake and its amazing region. The center includes a variety of exhibits about the natural and human history of the Mono Basin. Visitor center staff stands ready to help you plan your explorations of Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra.

Mono Lake’s extremely remote location caters year round to birders, boaters, campers, hikers, nature lovers, photographers, snow skiers, and tourists. Pease educate yourself on all safety precautions before you visit Mono Lake by contacting the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center.

Fishing Mono Lake

There are no fish in Mono Lake. The only aquatic species that survive in Mono Lake are algae and brine shrimp, plus it sustains alkali flies.

Boating Mono Lake

There are no marinas at Mono Lake. Two boat ramps, one for non-motorized boats, and another for motorized boats on trailers, are available. The Mono Lake Boat Launch is off  US 395. For the ramp for motorized boat owners, take Picnic Shortcut Road to Picnic Grounds Road to Forest Road 1N44B, and follow Forest Road to the boat ramp.

Mono Lake allows all types of boats, but since it offers no fishing or water sports, most people use non-motorized craft to explore the lake. Underwater tufa towers present a hazard to fast moving boats. Dangerous afternoon winds confine most boating outings to the morning hours. It is advisable to stay near the shore while boating and to be alert for sudden high winds.

Boating access is restricted to all islands between April 1 and August 1 each year to protect nesting gulls. Boaters must not approach within 200 yards of Osprey nesting sites located on offshore tufa towers from April 1 through September 1. It is recommended to launch canoes and kayaks at Navy Beach, on the south shore, where a parking lot is close to the water.

Mono Lake Kayak Rentals is located directly across from Tioga Lodge on highway 395 three miles north of Lee Vining on Mono Lake. They provide carts to wheel kayaks to the lake’s edge, and include maps, personal flotation devices, and waterproof bags.

Check out our Mono Lake Boat Ramps Map, as well as our Mono Lake Level page to plan your outing. You can buy and sell boats on our Mono Lake Boats For Sale page. 

Mono Lake Real Estate

No real estate is available on Mono Lake. The CDPR protects Mono Lake, and land is not for sale to private enterprise businesses or for land ownership. Check out Mono Lake Homes For Sale near the lake. 

Mono Lake Parks

Mono Lake Park is nestled along a small stream and shaded by cottonwood trees. It has toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and a playground. It is located just off US 395, five miles north of Lee Vining. Throughout summer months, a naturalist offers birding tours twice a week. Check the Naturalist Activities at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center to see if they are available during your visit.

The Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve was established to preserve the spectacular "tufa towers," calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. It also protects Mono Lake’s surface, shoreline, wetlands, and other sensitive habitat for the one to two million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is one of the rare places in the world that contains a unique group of geologic features. The extremely high salinity and alkalinity of Mono Lake creates a rare ecosystem and supports a complex food chain of green algae, brine shrimp, and alkali flies, plus over 80 species of migratory birds. Park and reserve hours vary. Dogs allowed in most areas, except for the State Reserve Boardwalk and the County Park.

Lodging at Mono Lake

There are no cabins or vacation home rentals on Mono Lake. However, there are a few lodging options nearby. The nearest towns to Mono Lake are Lee Vining and Mono City, which offer lodging, restaurants, and a variety of stores and services. Bridgeport is the Mono County Seat and 17 miles northwest of Mono Lake’s northwestern shores with places to stay. June Lake, 15 south of Mono Lake on Highway 395, also has lodging. Explore your options on our Mono Lake Rental Cabins page. 

Camping at Mono Lake

There are no campgrounds in the State Natural Reserve or the Scenic Area. Campers need to consult the rangers at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center for guidance about where camping is permitted at Mono Lake at any given time. Mono Lake’s shoreline is protected, so only dispersed camping is allowed.

Dispersed camping is permitted in some parts of the surrounding Scenic Area, well away from the protected shoreline. Camping is not allowed on the Mono Lake’s shoreline below the historic 1941 elevation of the lake, which is 6,417 feet.

Developed campgrounds with restrooms, water, and other amenities are available in nearby Lee Vining Canyon and south around the June Lake Loop. RV Parks are located to the north in Bridgeport and south around June Lake. The sites in these campgrounds operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

The top of Black Point is also worth visiting for grand views of Mono Lake, Mono Valley, and the Sierra Nevada to the west. Its trailhead allows remote primitive camping free of charge. Black Point is a low volcanic hill on the northeast shore of Mono Lake. Contact the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center for directions to the Black Point parking lot.

Explore more on our Mono Lake Campgrounds page. 

Hiking at Mono Lake

Mono Lake Boardwalk Trail is a 0.7 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail in Mono Lake Park that is good for all skill levels. Dogs must be kept on a leash.

The boardwalk at the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve and is great for hiking, walking, and bird watching. It meanders to the lake through the willows and marshes, and it is accessible year-round.

Black Point is a low volcanic hill on the northwest shore of Mono Lake composed of ash and brownish-yellow conglomerate. It contains several deep, narrow fissures, which resemble small slot canyons. Interesting patterns in the rocks of its canyon walls are caused by evaporation and rainwater staining. Other parts of the walls have been subject to mineral deposition, causing strange knobby textures to develop, so the overall effect is unusual and photogenic.

Hikers can easily reach Black Point via a one-mile hike from a Bureau of Land Management trailhead. It is a gentle climb across cinders and ash to the level plateau on top of the point. Some of its canyons are up to 80 feet deep, but all the ravines have sloping ends and no major obstacles, so hikers can explore them with little difficulty.

Things to Do At Mono Lake

A swim in Mono Lake is a memorable experience. Mono Lake's salty water is denser than ocean water and provides a pleasurable and buoyant swim. People claim that a soak in the Mono Lake will cure almost anything. Keep the water out of your eyes or any cuts because the salty water will sting them.

The Annual Bird Chautauqua held every June at Mono Lake offers programs, bird watching field trips, and seminars about the unique geography and flora and fauna of Mono Basin. This event brings birders together to enhance appreciation and understanding of the Mono Basin's diverse and abundant bird life and educates the public about this area's value to birds and people.

The Chautauqua offers over 90 field trips, workshops, and presentations with renowned bird guides. Visitors can visit with attending naturalists and artists and enjoy live music with delicious food. Online registration and payment begins in April. The programs fill up to capacity within minutes of the registration opening. Please fully prepare yourself to register by reading The Chautauqua’s Registration Page before registration.

Bodie State Historic Park is a genuine California gold-mining ghost town with a museum. Visitors can walk down the deserted streets of a town that once had a population of nearly 10,000 people. The town is named for Waterman S. Body aka William Bodey, who had discovered small amounts of gold in hills north of Mono Lake. In 1875, a mine cave-in revealed pay dirt, which led the Standard Company to purchase the mine in 1877. People flocked to Bodie and transformed it from a town of a few dozen to a boomtown of over 10,000.

Bodie is open all year, but because of its high elevation at 8375 feet, it is accessible only by skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles during winter months. Snowmobiles must stay on designated roads in the Bodie Hills. Everything in Bodie is part of the historic scene and is fully protected. Nothing may be collected or removed from the park. Metal detectors are not allowed. Dogs are permitted in the park but must be on a leash at all times. Dogs are not allowed on the Stamp Mill tour or in the Museum.

Bodie State Historic Park is northeast of Yosemite, which is 13 miles east of Highway 395 on Bodie Road/Highway 270, seven miles south of Bridgeport, California. From U.S. 395 seven miles south of Bridgeport, take State Route 270. Go east 10 miles to the end of the pavement and continue 3 miles on a dirt road to Bodie. The last 3 miles can be rough. Reduced speeds are necessary. Call the park if there are any questions about road conditions.

Mono Lake Vista Point is a scenic viewpoint overlooking Mono Lake and Mono Craters about ten miles north of Mono City on US 395. Its breathtaking view is well worth stopping for. The vista is so wide that you cannot capture the whole view no matter how wide your camera lens.

The Mono Basin History Museum/Old Schoolhouse, located in Lee Vining, California, displays commonplace and delightfully odd artifacts, photographs, books, maps, and equipment chronicling the cultural history of the Mono Basin. Outside exhibits feature Nellie Bly's legendary Upside-Down House, along with farming and mining equipment. Inside the museum, visitors can see Native American artifacts, gold mining implements, and the tour boat that operated on Mono Lake in the 1930s.

Nellie Bly O'Bryan (1893–1984), visionary, entrepreneur, and long-time resident of the Mono Basin, created the Upside-Down House. It was originally located along US-395 north of the Tioga Lodge. Two children's stories inspired the house, “Upside Down Land” and “The Upsidedownians.” Upon Nellie’s death in 1984, the Upside-Down House fell into disrepair until it was rescued and moved to its current site in October 2000.

South Tufa, Navy Beach, and the Old Marina area are all wonderful places to cross-country ski when snow conditions permit.

Plan your trip with our What To Do At Mono Lake page, and our Mono Lake Event Calendar.

Mono Lake Weather & Climate

Mono Lake sees an average of 18 inches of rain, with 101 inches of snow, and 277 days of sunshine per year. The winter low in January is 16 degrees with a summer high in July of 81 degrees. July, August, and September are the most comfortable months for this region. Keep an eye on the sky with our Mono Lake Weather Forecast page. 

Mono Lake Zip Codes

Mono County: 93512, 93514, 93517, 93529, 93541, 93546, 96107, 96133.

Mono Lake Flora and Fauna

Mono Lake's brine shrimp and flies provide a bountiful food supply for over eighty species of migratory birds that visit the lake each spring and summer. Brine shrimp can grow ½ inch long and are sold in pet stores as sea monkeys. Particularly notable bird species include three migrants: eared grebes, Wilson's and red-necked phalaropes, and two nesting species, California gulls and snowy plovers. An estimated 800,000 eared grebes make a spectacular sight during the fall migration from August through October. About 150,000 phalaropes fly in from July to August, 50,000 adult California gulls nest each spring, and 400 snowy plovers nest along the windswept alkali flats of Mono Lake's eastern shore.

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