There are miles and miles of dirt roads open to 4WD
use in the Mammoth Lakes region. Generally, any existing
road over public lands that isn't posted otherwise is
available. Most of these roads don't require heavy duty
4WD. Most can be driven in passenger cars, in fact.
But a few do require at least rudimentary 4WD skills.
A few require advanced 4WD ability. Of course, there
is also lots of forest to drive through, as well. But
most of it is either wilderness, or prohibited to vehicles
except on developed roads. Do everyone a favor, stay
on the roads when you are supposed to. There are lots
of examples around of people who ignore the rules, and
it isn't pretty. Long-term damage is done to the forest.
And it makes the forest service more inclined to limit
access by vehicle.
A word about travel down in the valley. It looks so
tempting, 12 inches of snow on the ground, maybe a little
more. All those dirt roads just waiting to test your
new Jeep Grand Cherokee. But, you are guaranteed to
get stuck. The dirt roads down there consist of this
stuff that when wet, becomes more slippery than WD40.
In addition, when wet, the ground is generally not firm
enough to support your car. So while you are trying
to dig out the back wheels, the front wheels are slowly
sinking into the muck. You will soon be up to the floorboards
in expensive trouble. There aren't many towing services
in town that will risk their own trucks to extricate
your vehicle. There are several cars stuck out there
all winter long. This holds true into the late spring
while the ground is still damp. It may look dry, but
1/4 inch below the surface lurks superlube. Stay on
the roads, away from snow over a few inches deep, and
watch for BIG sinkholes. And keep your insurance paid
Here are a few places that WILL test your 4WD skills:
Road to Laurel Lakes
This used to be a mining access road. About five miles,
very steep sections, washed out sections, and rocky
sections. Laurel Canyon is a popular hunting spot, so
if your car looks like a deer, don't go there. Take
the dirt road past Sierra Meadows Ski Touring Center
down about 4 miles. Look for the sign on the left.
Off the west of HWY 395 there is a very soft gravel
road that leads to an area where you can really go off
road, and really test your skills. Most people will
get out and watch as you try to climb some of those
hills. Stay in the obvious vehicle use areas.
San Joaquin Ridge
There is a road beginning at Minaret Summit that follows
the ridge up to about 10,000 feet and ends on the top
of the world. Some washed out sections, but generally
a good road. Not a passenger car road for sure. Best
views around. Hikers also use this route, so be considerate.
This is a good place to watch the sun go down.