Mono Lake is a majestic body of water covering about 60 square miles. It is an ancient lake, over 700,000 years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America. Mono Lake has no outlet, so throughout its long existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams. Freshwater evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean.
No matter the season, the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center is a great place to start your visit to the area. The center is located just off Highway 395, north of Lee Vining and includes a variety of exhibits about the natural and human history of the Mono Basin. Visitor center staff is a wealth of information on Things to Do around the area. They are open 9 am-4 pm daily.
Winter (December-March) at Mono Lake is a particularly beautiful time to visit. The crowds are gone, a quiet stillness prevails, and snow sparkles on the tufa towers, a photographers dream. The road to South Tufa is kept plowed, allowing year-round access except immediately after large storms. South Tufa, Old Marina, and the County Park boardwalk are all wonderful places to cross-country ski when snow conditions permit. A ranger-guided walk is scheduled at 1 pm on Saturdays and Sundays at South Tufa.
Spring (April-May) is a beautiful time of year at Mono Lake. The area is still quiet through mid June and all the creeks flowing into the lake are full from the recent snow melts. The shores of the lake are green and speckled with the first wild flowers of the season. The weather can be changeable; layered clothing is recommended and a late snow storm is never a surprise. A ranger-guided walk is scheduled at 1 pm on Saturdays and Sundays at South Tufa.
Summer (June-August) is the busiest time of year. Not only is the lake a popular destination for travelers, but also for the birds. The Mono Basin is home to millions of birds representing over 300 species. A ranger-guided walk is scheduled 3 times daily from July 1 through Labor Day (10 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm). This spectacular tufa area is the best place to visit if you have time for only one stop. The natural history of the lake is described and explained in a one-mile self-guided nature trail at South Tufa. A boardwalk trail below the Mono Lake County Park allows access to the North Shore Tufa area and marsh. Tours of Panum Crater are offered in the summer, as well as Star Shows on the south shore of the lake. Guided canoe tours are a great way to see the lake and enjoy a relaxing paddle. The Mono Lake Committee hosts one-hour-long weekend canoe tours at 8 am, 9:30 am and 11 am from mid-June through mid-September. To make reservations, call (760) 647-6595 from 9 am to 5 pm daily. Cost is $17 for adults, $7 children age 4-12. Children younger than 4 are not allowed.
In the fall (September-November), the crowds have begun to thin and the trees have begun to turn. Fall is an excellent time to visit the lake. A ranger-guided walk is scheduled 3 times daily through Labor Day (10 am, 1 pm, and 6 pm) and daily at 1 pm in September; from October 1st on at 1 pm on Saturday and Sunday only. A Halloween Moonlight Walk is offered each October.