Lake · Views
Steep vertical kilometer races have become increasingly popular among mountain runners, especially in Europe. The courses gain a full kilometer (3,280 feet) in elevation over approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). Although not a full vertical kilometer, the Dragon’s Back Trail takes you up approximately 2,400 vertical feet in a short 3.1 miles to top out on the summit of Mammoth Mountain. Dragon’s Back starts off with switchbacks on a well-maintained trail near Twin Lakes and moves toward more rugged singletrack about halfway up the mountain. Given the elevation gain/loss, be prepared for temperature changes as you approach the often-windy ridges and summit of Mammoth Mountain. If you tackle the trail during the summer when the gondola is in operation, you can stop by the Eleven53 Cafe at the summit. But keep in mind that hikers like to descend the trail after riding the gondola to the top, so leave early in the morning if you’d like to avoid downhill traffic on your way up. The shoulder season in the fall is an excellent time to run the round-trip with minimal foot traffic and without the heat at the lower elevations—be sure to carry appropriate clothing choices for the summit. There are no water sources along the trail itself, so carry what you'll need for the round-trip.
To get there, drive up Lake Mary Rd about 2.5 miles from the intersection of Highway 203 and Minaret Road in Mammoth. Turn right on Twin Lakes Road just past the Twin Lakes Vista pullout. Either park near Tamarack Lodge or drive a bit further to the Twin Lakes picnic ground. There are day use parking spots at the picnic area.
From the Twin Lakes picnic area (8,600 feet) go west along the campground road, crossing the bridge that separates the two lakes. Continue following the road through the campground until you reach the trailhead. It’s less than a quarter mile from the picnic area to the trailhead. The trailhead is marked by a sign that says Dragon’s Back Trail and Mammoth Mountain Summit 3 miles.
The trail starts to climb immediately, gaining about 300 feet in the first half mile. Then the climb flattens out for a short respite before ramping up again. About a mile from the parking lot, you reach a trail junction with three options—go left to continue on Dragon’s Back Trail to the summit of Mammoth Mountain.
At about 1.75 miles from the parking lot, there is another trail junction with two options—going left will take you to Mammoth Pass, but you want to go right to stay on Dragon’s Back Trail to the summit of Mammoth Mountain. The trail climbs a bit more and then opens up into a small, flat clearing with another trail junction—continue straight to continue toward Mammoth Mountain. You are now 1.5 miles from the summit, about halfway there. This is where the trail gets narrower and rockier as you move into the ski area.
At about 2.75 miles from the start, you arrive at a ridge where a downhill mountain biking trail crosses your path. Cross the mountain biking trail and continue straight on the singletrack hiking trail—yellow arrows clearly mark the way. Follow the ridge up to the first summit. From there, you'll see the top of Mammoth Mountain across the plateau and just above the ski station warming hut. If it’s windy, you’ll start to feel the wind here as you cross the plateau toward the ski station and up the final short hill to the summit. At the top, a sign reads: Mammoth Mountain Elev. 11,053 feet.
Now head back down the way you came. Watch your footing over the first half of the descent and take time to enjoy the spectacular views.
History & Background
Mammoth Mountain is a lava dome complex that was built up 110,000 to 57,000 years ago. Still active, you can see the impact of carbon dioxide releases near Horseshoe Lake where trees have died off as a result. The Mammoth Mountain Ski Area was founded in 1953 and is known for its large amounts of winter snowfall due to its unique geography along the Sierra crest.
Shared By: Adam Hodges