Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Update (March 17, 2021): With the Regional Stay at Home Order lifted, State Parks is reopening campground sites for existing reservation holders. The department will be using a phased approach to reopen other campground sites for new reservations, starting January 28. The public is advised that not all campground sites are open to the public due to the pandemic, wildfire impacts and other issues. Additionally, group campsites remain closed. Day use outdoor areas of park units currently open to the public remain open.

As State Parks increases access to the State Park System, it is critical that Californians continue to recreate responsibly in the outdoors as the pandemic is far from over.

Please take the time to read the information contained on this webpage to find out what is open and closed, and the COVID-19 guidelines for this park unit.

What is open now?
  • Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Day-use parking is now available to the public.
  • Outdoor restrooms will be available.

What is currently closed at this park and throughout the State Park System?
Statewide:
  • Some park units and campground sites continue to be temporarily closed due to the pandemic, impacts from wildfires or other issues. Please visit the webpage of your local outdoor destination to find out if it is open.
  • High public-use indoor facilities, including museums and visitor centers.
  • Special events and tours continue to be canceled until further notice.

Are there any new visitor guidelines?
State Parks has implemented the following guidelines to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the outdoors:
  • Stay Local: Stay close to home during this pandemic period. If you or anyone in your household is feeling sick, please remain at home and plan your trip for another time. 
  • Plan Ahead
    • The ongoing pandemic response continues to be dynamic and fluid. Prior to leaving home, check the webpage of your outdoor destination you plan to visit to find out if it is open, if parking is available, and what visitor guidelines are in effect.
    • Learn what safety precautions you should take when exploring the outdoors at parks.ca.gov/SafetyTips.
    • SNO-PARKS: Make sure your vehicle is snow ready. A permit is required for each vehicle parked at a SNO-PARK site. Parking is on a first come, first-serve basis at all SNO-PARK sites. The public is advised that parking lots are filling up early in the day. Illegal parking is prohibited. More information can be found at ohv.parks.ca.gov/SNOPARKS.
  • Stay Safer at Six Feet: No matter the recreational activity, maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. Your guests should only include those within your immediate household. This means no guests or friends, and no gatherings or parties. If there are too many people to maintain the required physical distance, please visit us on a different day. 
    • Boating: Do not raft up to other boaters or pull up onto a beach next to other recreators.
    • Off-highway Vehicle Recreation: Do not ride next to others or pull up next to someone else as it could put you in close proximity to others. Stage 10 feet or more from each other during unloading and loading.
  • Keep Clean: Be prepared as not all services may be available. Some restrooms will be temporarily closed to keep up with cleaning schedules. Bring soap/hand sanitizer. Please pack out all trash. Park units are experiencing heavy use and you can help alleviate the impact on park facilities.
  • Stay Covered: The state requires you to wear a face covering when you cannot maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. Individuals must have a face covering with them at all times.

Although law enforcement entities have the authority to issue citations, the expectation is that the public is responsible for adhering to the advice of public health officials, visitor guidelines and closures.

California State Parks continues to work with local and state officials on a phased and regionally driven approach to increase access to state park units where compliance with state and local public health ordinances can be achieved. However, the situation remains fluid and park operations can change at any time. For information on statewide current closures and available services, please visit parks.ca.gov/FlattenTheCurve.

Phone Number

(760) 647-6331

Park Hours

call the park

Dogs Allowed?

Yes
Dogs allowed in most areas, except for the State Reserve Boardwalk and the County Park.

Driving Directions to Mono Lake Tufa SNR

The park is located on Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California.

Online reservations are not available for this park.

Upcoming Park Events

No events scheduled at this moment.

BOATING
Boating
Boat Rentals
TRAIL USE
Bike Trails
Hiking Trails
DAY-USE ACTIVITIES & FACILITIES
Picnic Areas
Env. Learning/Visitor Center
Exhibits and Programs
Interpretive Exhibits
Beach Area
Swimming
Vista Point
Nature & Wildlife Viewing
Family Programs
OTHER FACILITIES & VISITOR INFORMATION
Parking
Restrooms
Drinking Water Available

Notice:
The use of unmanned aircraft (also known as drones) is not permitted over the surface of Mono Lake and all shoreline lands managed by California State Parks except by special use permit.

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.

Location/Directions
Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining, California.

Seasons/Climate/Recommended clothing

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

Visitor Center

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. 

Outdoor Activities
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.

Camping
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. Established campgrounds are located nearby in Lundy Canyon, Lee Vining Canyon, and the June Lake Loop. The sites in these campgrounds are mostly first-come, first-served. Visit the following web site for more information:   http://leevining.com/campingmonobasin.pdf  Dispersed camping is permitted in most of the Scenic Area above the exposed lake bed lands. Campfire permits are required.

Boating
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.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is one of the rare places in the world that contain such a unique group of geologic features. The tufa formations are notable for their unusual shapes and abundance. Extensively studied by scientists, they have aided our understanding of the climate history of this region. The extremely high salinity and alkalinity of Mono Lake has created a rare ecosystem, supporting a complex food chain of green algae, brine shrimp and alkali flies, and more than 80 species of migratory birds.

Mono Lake SNR (Photograph by Mike Fuller)

The full Geo Gems report  |  Geological Gems of State Parks

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