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Mammoth Lakes: Stairway to Hiker Heaven

Just beyond Yosemite, the resort town of Mammoth Lakes still retains a laid-back, off-the-beaten-track vibe. But the less-heralded Eastern Sierras are on the cusp of a boom. Check out Mammoth's sawtooth peaks and sublime lakes before their secrets go the way of its big wooly namesake.

There are no rolling foothills in Mammoth, just straight-up, dramatic mountains. Trailheads point in all directions. Casual hikers, make a beeline for Convict Lake for a scenic walk around a fresh alpine lake. Encircled by enormous peaks, the trail loops the lake's edge, threading through aspen trees on the back side and offering views of canoeists paddling on the lazy emerald waters. For a more robust trek that will stretch your hiking boots and spur your endorphins, go to Mammoth Lakes Basin and take on the 11-mile roundtrip Duck Pass (start early!). Quite possibly among the five finest day-hikes in America, the long trail passes multiple crisp blue lakes, including Arrowhead Lake, with its tempting (but "at your own risk") cliff-jumping opportunities. Continue along the tree-dotted path, reaching lake after lake and crossing a few shallow streams; then go up, up and further up, along a granite mountain staircase that takes adventurers to the glory spot: Duck Pass (pictured), hovering high above a turquoise necklace of lakes you passed along the way.

For directions and more information on outdoor adventures around Mammoth Lakes, click the link. Subscribe to Weekend Sherpa's free weekly email about accessible outdoor adventures in Northern California.