Looking for unusual things to do and sights to see in California? A natural wonder that should be on your California travel must-do list is the astounding tufa towers of Mono Lake. The lake is said to have been formed around 760,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest you can travel to in North America.
Located in California’s spectacular Eastern Sierra, the ancient saline lake covers over 70 square miles. Along the shore, limestone formations called tufa towers emerge from the water’s surface – making for a surreal sight. Did you know there are no fish in this lake?
The lake is also a State Natural Reserve to preserve the “tufa towers”, a type of limestone. The calcium-carbonate spires are formed by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. The tufa towers protect the lake itself, the wetlands that are home to a couple of million birds, all while keeping Mono Lake looking unique.
If you’re looking to travel here, Mono Lake is located 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park near the town of Lee Vining. It is at the edge of the Great Basin and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, covering about 65 to 70 square miles.
Salt and minerals have washed into the lake over time from Eastern Sierra streams, and because the freshwater evaporates, Mono Lake is around two and a half times as salty as the ocean. There may be no fish to call it home (the salt doesn’t help!), but there are trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies. Freshwater streams support riparian forests of cottonwood and willow.
There is more that draws California travel lovers here besides the tufa towers. The lake has a fascinating ecosystem. This is a popular destination for bird watching, with around one to two million birds stopping by the lake at different times of the year.
Things to do at Mono Lake
For travel and adventure lovers, there’s much on offer. There is an interpretive center nearby that allows visitors to learn about the history of this lake. It talks about the environmental issues that Mono Lake has faced. At the lake itself you can take informational tours that walk you around the area while explaining its history. There are even tours of South Tufa that teach you about the fascinating ecosystem while taking in the beautiful sights.
Are you looking for a more active way to explore the area? Canoe and kayak tours are another option, and you can even bring your own boat! Other activities to enjoy when you travel here include hiking, swimming, cross country skiing, bird walks and photography.
If you really want to learn more about wildlife, the birds that visit Mono Lake, or some other aspect of the area’s nature, there are seminars that take place on the weekends at the Mono Basin. Travel to Mono Lake is endlessly fascinating!
While there are plenty of popular destinations to include in your California travel list, Mono Lake is a quieter location you’ll never forget. Not just for the towers, but the surreal beauty… while it lasts. The water has dipped to dangerously low levels in the past, and only hard work from The Mono Lake Committee and their partners has helped restore and protect this natural wonder.
If you’re planning your next California travel adventure, Mono Lake should be at the top of your list.
Good to know:
Naturalists lead free tufa walks at the South Tufa Area three times a day from end June until Labor Day.
Winter is a lovely time to visit for tranquility and to see the tufa towers sparkle with snow crystals.
Swim here if you can – the saltiness will make you rather buoyant!