Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve
Mono Lake is a majestic body of water covering about 65 square miles. It is an ancient lake, over 1 million years old -- one of the oldest lakes in North America. It has no outlet.
The South Tufa Reserve was established to preserve the spectacular "tufa towers," calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water.
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 and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean.
Location/Directions Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California.
Outdoor Activities Hiking, swimming, boating, and cross-country skiing are just a few of the many activities you can enjoy at this unusual lake.
Photographers come from all over the world to capture the interplay of light, desert, and water. The natural history of the lake is described and explained in a one-mile self-guided nature trail at South Tufa.
This spectacular tufa area is the best place to visit if you have time for only one stop. A boardwalk trail below the Mono Lake County Park allows access to the north shore tufa area and marsh. A trail at Panum Crater leads to the dome and crater rim.
A swim in Mono Lake is a memorable experience. The lake's salty water is denser than ocean water, and provides a delightfully buoyant swim. Old timers claim that a soak in the lake will cure almost anything. Keep the water out of your eyes or any cuts, as it will sting.
The State Natural Reserve is surrounded by the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, operated by the Forest Service. There are no campgrounds in the State Natural Reserve or the Scenic Area. Dispersed camping is permitted in most of the Scenic Area outside the exposed lake bed lands. Campfire permits are required. Established campgrounds are located in Lundy Canyon, Lee Vining Canyon, and the June Lake Loop.
All types of boating are permitted on Mono Lake, although access is restricted to all islands between April 1 and August 1 each year to protect the nesting gulls. It is advisable to stay near shore while boating, and to be alert for sudden high winds. We recommend launching canoes and kayaks at Navy Beach, on the south shore, where a parking lot is close to the water. For those with boats too large to carry, an unimproved launch ramp is available near Lee Vining Creek. Stop by the Scenic Area Visitor Center for directions.
Open Year Round
Seasons/Climate/Recommended Clothing: The weather can be changeable; layered clothing is recommended.
Winter is a particularly beautiful time at Mono Lake. The crowds are gone, a quiet stillness prevails, and snow crystals sparkle on the tufa towers.
The road to South Tufa is kept plowed, allowing year round access except immediately after large storms.
South Tufa, Old Marina, and the State Natural Reserve boardwalk below the Mono Lake County Park are all wonderful places to cross-country ski when snow conditions permit.