Mono Lake Tufa SNR
State Natural Reserve
The 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 the lake surface itself as well as the wetlands and other sensitive habitat for the 1 – 2 million birds that feed and rest at Mono Lake each year.
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.
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 and very alkaline.
Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California.
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, when staffing permits, allowing year round access except immediately after large storms.
South Tufa, Navy Beach, and the Old Marina area are all wonderful places to cross-country ski when snow conditions permit.
Facilities - Activities
These programs are a cooperative effort of the State Natural Reserve, U.S. Forest Service, and the Mono Lake Committee. Naturalists lead free tufa walks at the South Tufa Area three times daily from late June through Labor Day (10am, 1pm, and 6pm).
Bird walks are offered at the Mono Lake County Park/State Natural Reserve boardwalk at 8:00 a.m. Fridays and Sundays mid-May through Labor Day.
The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center is a great place to start your visit to this 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 stand ready to help you plan your explorations of Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra. The Visitor Center is closed Dec. 1 - March 31.
Hiking, photography, bird watching, 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 on the mountains, 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 is the best place to visit if you have time for only one stop. A boardwalk (ADA) trail below the Mono Lake County Park allows access to the north shore tufa area and wetland. A new trail links the Scenic Area Visitor Center near Lee Vining with the Old Marina area at the shore. 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 above the exposed lake bed lands. Campfire permits are required. Established campgrounds are located nearby 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. Boaters must not approach within 200 yards of Osprey nesting sites located on offshore tufa towers April 1st through Sept. 1st. 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 or for more information.