Travel: A Mammoth experience

Mammoth Mountain — which towers at 11,053 feet above sea level — is not a quaint mountain town in the East Sierras. With a dozen alpine lakes, a modern ski village and the sprawling town of Mammoth Lakes, the area is a year-round destination that offers fall visitors lodging at luxury hotels and historic cabins, championship golf, back-country hiking, an 80-mile mountain bike park, fantastic fly fishing — as well as restaurants and shops for the urban-minded.

Experience luxury on a budget

For the luxury-minded and budget-conscious, fall is one of the best seasons to visit Mammoth. This fall, the Westin Monache Resort — a new luxury resort that features 230 guest suites with gas fireplaces, kitchens and the brand’s Heavenly Beds — is celebrating its first fall season.

Located in the Village at Mammoth, the contemporary property offers visitors panoramic mountain views, the full-service Whitebark Restaurant, 24-hour room service, a luxury outdoor heated pool, an indoor fitness center, underground parking — and deeply discounted fall rates.

The resort’s “Westin Monache Fall Colors Lodging Package” — valid Monday to Nov. 6 — starts at $189 per night and includes breakfast. For more information, visit www.westin.com/mammoth.

A rustic experience: Tamarack

Tamarack Lodge and Resort, located in the breathtaking Lakes Basin, is another popular lodging option. Perfect for hikers and anglers, the lodge offers private, historic cabins that serve as a home base for those who are looking for fishing and hiking. All cabins have kitchens, private bathrooms and daily housekeeping — and the resort recently added the area’s first green cabin this summer.

Welcoming guests since 1924, the historic lodge is usually sold out for the entire ski season. For fall, visitors can book a cabin — starting at $149 per night. For those who would like to enjoy the nearby lakes, take note: the lodge offers boat and canoe rentals. Fly-fishing enthusiasts can also fish Tamarack’s front yard — where there is usually a native population of brown and brook trout. For more information, visit www.tamaracklodge.com.

The great outdoors

Hiking: Great fall hikes abound at Mammoth, where you can experience the backcountry by day — and have access to dining and luxury accommodations by night.

A top attraction is Devils Postpile National Monument — one of the world’s premier examples of basalt columns. Continue down the trail another two miles to find Rainbow Falls, where the San Joaquin River plunges 101 feet over an ancient lava flow into a deep pool, often creating rainbows. If you follow the trail another three miles to Reds Meadow, you’ll be at an entry point to the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Mountain biking: Explore an 80-mile network of professionally maintained, single-track trails at Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. Uphill transportation from town is available via the Bike Shuttle — as well as via the high-speed Panorama Gondola.

New to the bike park is a free-ride trail called the “Twilight Zone,” which opened last week. The trail which resembles a banked wooden bowl, is built into a hillside and made of recycled and reclaimed materials.

Golf: Serious golfers can enjoy Sierra Star, California’s highest 18-hole golf course. With tree-lined fairways, the course incorporates well-trapped greens and several lakes, ponds, waterfalls and streams.

Fly-fishing: In fall, Mammoth transforms itself from a skiing destination to a free-flowing beauty of waterfalls, alpine lakes and pristine streams. Guides from Orvis help visitors stalk the legendary golden trout in the High Sierra or cast a line at Hot Creek. For more information, visit www.mammothmountain.com/around_mammoth/fly_fish/orvis.

From the top: Located at the summit of the mountain, the Sierra Interpretive Center via the Panorama Gondola. The first interpretive center of its kind at 11,053 feet with views stretching 400 miles out, the center covers topics such as volcanic history, geology and seismology.

If you go

Mammoth Mountain

General information: Visit www.mammothmountain.com. Site includes downloads for maps of hiking trails, bike park — as well as current weather, a fishing report and lodging deals.

Where to stay: For the Westin Monache Resort, visit www.westin.com/mammoth. For Tamarack Lodge & Resort, visit www.tamaracklodge.com.

Where to eat:

Top of the Sierra Cafe

Open through Sept. 21, visitors can enjoy lunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) with a view from the summit of Mammoth Mountain.

Lakefront Restaurant:

Open year-round, visitors can take in tranquil lake views and outstanding California-French fare at the historic lodge.

Restaurant LuLu:

Featuring a seasonal Provencal menu, this restaurant — which originated in San Francisco — highlights items prepared on their stone-fired oven, rotisserie and grill.

Side Door Bistro

Offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and locally roasted coffee and espresso, the bistro also features a wine bar and wine shop.

The Auld Dubliner

With locations at Squaw and Lake Las Vegas, this Irish pub offers traditional Irish decor, food and music — and lots of Guinness.

Directions by car:

U.S. Highway 395, which runs north and south along the eastern edge of California’s Sierra Nevada range, is Mammoth’s connection to the world. From San Francisco, take U.S. Highway 120, Tioga Pass Road through Yosemite National Park (this road is open based on conditions). Take Highway 120 east to Highway 395 south to Mammoth.

Fly to Mammoth:

For the first time, visitors will be able to fly to Mammoth via Los Angeles. Horizon Air is offering daily, nonstop service between Los Angeles (LAX) and Mammoth Lakes-Yosemite (MMH). The new daily service runs from Dec. 18 through April 12, 2009. The flight departs LAX daily at 2:20 p.m. and arrives at Mammoth at 3:25 p.m. The return flight leaves Mammoth at 4:05 p.m. and arrives at LAX at 5:10 p.m.

Other travels

Bargain

Westin Monache Resort

The Westin Monache Resort holds a nightly event called Unwind — an evening ritual, showcasing lounge menu items. The event — which runs Sunday through Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. — is a relaxing venue in which visitors and activity leaders from the region can gather for drinks, snacks and insights into the community. For more information, visit www.westin.com/mammoth.

If you can splurge

Mountain-biking package at Westin Monache Resort

Through Sept. 21, the brand-new Westin Monache Resort is offering fall visitors a “Mammoth Bike Park Experience” package for $129 per night (based on double occupancy). It includes luxury accommodations, one adult bike pass per person for admission to the Mammoth Bike Park and breakfast. Though guests are responsible for arranging bike and gear rentals, the resort offers bike valet service. For more information, visit www.westin.com/mammoth.

— Kathleen Jay

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