Mono Lake (rhymes with "OH no") is the largest natural lake completely within the state of California. Once endangered when water feeding it was diverted toward the Los Angeles basin, it lost half its volume in the 40 years before an agreement was reached to save it. Today's Mono Lake is 7 vertical feet lower than the targeted level, and it could take well into the 2010's before it reaches that depth.
The best-known feature of Mono Lake are its dramatic tufa (TWO-fuh) towers. Over time, rainfall at Mono Lake did not keep up with evaporation, and minerals in the water built up until the lake is now 2 1/2 times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean. When the lake level was higher, freshwater springs flowed into the lake under the surface and reacted with the lake's minerals to form the dramatic cement-like calcium carbonate spires and towers that line Mono Lake shores today, looking like abandoned ancient cities.
Scenes from Mono Lake
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Mono Lake Photo Tour
Things to Do at Mono Lake
Mono Lake is beautiful when viewed from any direction. Visitors who take the time will also find a lot to do here:
- Mono Lake Visitor Center: At this center just off US 395, you can view exhibits about the area's history
- South Tufa Reserve: The most dramatic tufa towers are here, and you can walk among them.
- Naturalist Tours: In summer, join a tour of the tufa towers
- Photography: The Mono Lake tufa towers make dramatic photographs, especially with colorful skies behind them. Depending on the day, sunrise and sunset can both present spectacular photo opportunities. If you choose to go at sunset, get there at least an hour before the "official" sunset time, as the sun sinks below the mountains earlier than you might think.
- Lake Tours: The best way to get to know Mono Lake is to get out on it. You can take a canoe tour with Caldera Kayaks or one sponsored by the Mono Lake Committee.
- Day-use fee for the South Tufa Reserve.
- Location: 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park and east of the Sierras, just off US 395 between Lee Vining and Bridgeport
- How Long: Allow a couple of hours for the visitor center and another hour to see the tufa towers
- Best Time to Visit: Any time. In fall, many migrating birds stop at Mono Lake, which is on the Pacific flyway, a major migratory route.
Getting to Mono Lake
Mono LakeThe Mono Lake visitor center is located just off US 395 north of Lee Vining. The South Tufa Reserve is east of US 395 on CA 120.
Lee Vining, CA
Mono Lake Website