The Devils Postpile National Monument is a 100,000-year-old geological wonder located in California. But while this extraordinary basalt rock formation is surely the major draw card to the area, there are plenty of other stunning natural attractions and activities that make visiting this park worthwhile too. Visitors can enjoy a range of outdoor adventures, from hiking and fishing in the summer months, to snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing in the winter months.
The 798 acres of Devils Postpile National Monument protects the 60-foot high national monument, the 101-foot Rainbow Falls, endless mountain scenery and interesting wildlife from mule deer to coyotes and black bear. Inside the park, you’ll find a Visitor Center, the monument itself, various hiking trails, and a basic campground for tents and RVs.
Temperatures in the park are constantly changing and can range from 90 degrees Fahrenheit to below freezing - often in the same 24 hours. Summer afternoons, while warm, also bring thunderstorms. Visitors should come prepared for any weather. Please note that the national monument itself is closed in spring and winter, but winter sports can still be enjoyed in the surrounding area.
The Devils Postpile National Monument is located along the Devil’s Postpile Access Road, 12 miles west of Mammoth Lakes, California. A paved eight-mile access road leads from Minaret Summit (closed in winter) down to the Devils Postpile Campground. This road is steep and narrow - a three-mile stretch is single-lane only allowing access for one vehicle to pass at a time. While campers don’t have to use the shuttle bus and can drive in themselves, they still have to pay the entrance fee.
The roads within the campground are also narrow. There are only two loops which can make navigating large rigs (over 25 feet) tricky. It’s recommended to travel to the campground in the early mornings or evenings with a big rig when the roads are quieter. Tip: follow a shuttle bus to get right of way.
Alternatively, you can park and hike over the Mammoth Pass into the Reds Meadow Valley, or cycle in for free. There are no services available in winter, but you can snowshoe or cross-country ski in the park.
If you’re a day visitor, the typical way to reach the park is by shuttle bus (summer only). Park at the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and hop on the bus that runs from mid-June to Labor Day. The shuttle will drop you off in the park and you’ll need to walk a quarter of a mile.
The campground near the Devils Postpile National Monument offers 20 sites for tents and RVs up to 25 feet in length. Limited larger sites are available for vehicles 30 feet or more, but these are the exception. The campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Each campsite has a picnic table, fire pit, and a bear-proof food locker. Facilities include flush toilets and drinking water. There are no showers or RV dump stations.
The campsites are limited to six people per campsite with a total of two vehicles per campsite. Extra vehicles can park overnight in the parking lot outside the monument, and walk about five minutes’ down an easy trail.
Campers should be advised of the quiet hours between 10:00 p.m and 6:00 a.m daily. Pets are permitted but should be kept on a leash at all times. Take note that campsites need to be paid for within half an hour of arriving or you risk losing it.
Devils Postpile National Monument is not just about summertime activities. The winter months, when the monument itself is closed, are the best time to enjoy a range of outdoor winter activities. Visitors can snowshoe or cross-country ski on the backcountry trails.
Visitors should be aware that there are no facilities in the valley in the winter months, so you’ll need to bring everything you need for yourself. Snowmobiling is permitted along the Reds Meadow Road but not anywhere near the monument. Avalanches are common in the park so exercise caution.
Anglers can have a great time fly fishing at Devils Postpile National Monument. The San Joaquin River is a designated wild trout river with plenty of opportunities for fishing enthusiasts. Near the parking lot at Soda Springs Meadow is a popular spot, but you can head further away for more space to yourself.
Please note that visitors are required to have a valid California fishing license to fish in the park. The limitations on fishing are five fish per angler. Keep your eyes out for wildlife along the river banks.
Surrounded by the Ansel Adams and the John Muir Wilderness areas, there’s plenty of gorgeous backcountry trails to explore around the Devils Postpile National Monument. Visitors are required to have a permit from the Inyo National Forest to hike or stay overnight in the wilderness. These can be arranged at the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center or any of the other permit centers in the Inyo National Forest.
The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River is the perfect place to enjoy a variety of water sports. Spend your days enjoying lazy picnics along the river bank or trout fishing in the river.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to spend a hot summer’s day swimming, you can swim in the lower falls of Rainbow Falls. Visitors are warned to exercise caution and note that swimming is at their own risk within the park (there are no lifeguards on duty).
After the Devils Postpile National Monument itself, Rainbow Falls is the most popular attraction in the park. It’s the highest waterfall on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River and, cascading 101 feet, it’s really something rather astonishing to see.
The waterfall can be found just a 2.5-mile walk from the Ranger Station. Hikers can return via the shuttle bus (stop 9) which will take them back to the Ranger Station, the Adventure Center, or a number of other stops along the route. If you’re hiking in the middle of summer, be sure to wear sunscreen and hats (there’s little shade along the trail) and bring plenty of water with you.
The 60-foot high Postpile is an unusual natural wonder formed by lava between 80,000 and 100,000 years ago. As the lava cooled, it formed into interesting hexagonal columns that are truly fascinating to witness.
The monument is a quarter of a mile hike to the base. If you’re planning to climb to the top, the trek will takes another 15 minutes. The monument is closed during spring and winter, so summer is the best time to visit. There are eight miles of trails within the park to enjoy as well.