This California Lake was Named One of the Most Beautiful in the Country

California boasts numerous natural wonders, from the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains to the rugged Pacific coast. Yet amidst its diverse attractions, Mono Lake stands out for its unparalleled beauty and rich history.

Situated in the Eastern Sierra, about 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake is a vast, shallow saline lake covering approximately 70 square miles. With no outlet, water exits solely through evaporation, rendering the lake highly alkaline and mineral-rich. This unique environment fosters a thriving ecosystem, supporting millions of birds, brine shrimp, and alkali flies.

Mono Lake’s distinguishing feature lies in its shoreline adorned with tufa towers—limestone formations formed underwater when calcium-rich springs mixed with carbonate-rich lake water. As water diversions by Los Angeles in the 20th century caused the lake level to drop, these tufa towers emerged, creating an otherworldly landscape reminiscent of science fiction.

How to Get There

Accessible by car via Highway 395 along the eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono Lake is conveniently located near the town of Lee Vining. Lee Vining offers visitor amenities, including a visitor center, museum, and various lodging and dining options. From here, Highway 120 leads west into Yosemite National Park, while Highway 395 southward opens doors to other Eastern Sierra attractions like Mammoth Lakes, Devils Postpile National Monument, and Mount Whitney.

What to Do

Mono Lake offers a range of activities catering to diverse interests:

  • Explore the South Tufa Area: Embark on guided or self-guided tours to witness the largest and most impressive tufa towers, along with abundant wildlife, particularly enchanting during early morning or evening hours.
  • Visit the Mono Lake Committee Information Center and Bookstore: Delve into the lake’s ecology, history, and conservation efforts. Participate in naturalist-led walks, birdwatching tours, or canoe excursions arranged by the committee.
  • Discover the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area: Traverse scenic trails and roads, indulging in hiking, biking, or driving adventures offering panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Highlights include the Panum Crater and Mono Lake County Park.
  • Stargaze at Mono Lake: Experience the celestial spectacle offered by the lake’s pristine night sky, ideal for observing stars. Join star parties hosted by local organizations or relish the Milky Way’s brilliance from a secluded spot.

Why It Matters

Beyond its scenic allure, Mono Lake holds significant ecological importance and faces various threats, including climate change, invasive species, and pollution. Particularly concerning is the diversion of water by Los Angeles, which drastically lowered the lake level, imperiling its ecosystem and iconic tufa formations.

However, concerted efforts led by the Mono Lake Committee have secured legal protection for the lake, ensuring its restoration to a sustainable level. Since 1994, mandated reductions in water diversions have contributed to a rise in the lake level, with ongoing efforts aiming for full restoration by 2030.


Mono Lake stands as a testament to natural beauty and resilience, offering a myriad of experiences for visitors while highlighting the significance of conservation efforts. A visit to Mono Lake promises not only unforgettable memories but also an opportunity to support and learn about the preservation of this invaluable natural treasure.

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