In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the Eastern Sierra Nevada region of California has all the climbing, hiking, biking, and kayaking opportunities you could ever want. Especially in the spring, when the snow starts to melt.
Unfortunately for me, I did not bring my car, and so a lot of these activities are not accessible to me.
But I am a stubborn lady, and when I find something I really want to see or do, I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen!
And so through researching bus schedules and back roads, I was able to hike all the way to the Crowley Lake Stone Columns without a car! Here’s how you can do it too:
To hike or to kayak?
Without a car, there are two ways to bus then get to the columns from Mammoth Lakes, CA.
You can either take the ESTA 395 southbound bus to Tom’s Place and hike 5.8 miles from there, or you can take the bus to Crowley Lake, hike to the Fishing Camp, and rent a kayak to paddle 2 miles to the opposite shoreline where the columns are.
As of now, the kayak rentals are $15 for one hour with $7 for each additional hour. To save money, I opted to take the bus to Tom’s Place and hike from there.
Helpful tip, it’s recommended to reserve your spot on the ESTA bus online, but if you take it to Tom’s Place, you must call ahead to assure they stop there. You can make that reservation here.
Hiking to the Columns
From Tom’s Place, I crossed the highway and found myself on an old dirt road pretty much immediately. Thankfully, no cars were on these roads at all, so it was comparable to a bumpy hiking trail.
You have to climb way up into the mountains before going back down in elevation to the lake shore. That makes the journey sound so short, but in reality it took me about 2 and a half hours to get there. An extra half hour was tacked on when one of the roads on the map was blocked off, and I had to take a different one. Thankfully, Google Maps is a glorious thing and it works well in poor service areas.
Once you get into the mountains, the hike itself is just gorgeous. The trail is lined with sage and juniper bushes, and the surrounding desertous/mountain terrain makes it impossible not to look around. Birds were singing everywhere, and lizards were constantly crossing the path, doing that “scurryscurry pause, scurryscurryscurry pause” thing that lizards do when they run. You know what I mean?
This is spring in the Sierras.
Arriving at the Columns
After the long hike it the hot sun, that first lake breeze was heaven on earth.
Crowley Lake sure is a stunner, surrounded by mountains and desert, and dotted with migrating birds. I was so surprised to see pelicans!
To get down to the shore, it’s a little bit of sandy scrabbling, but not too bad. The columns are situated on a sandy beach, so there’s plenty of space to spread out. There are columns formed on either side of the cove, but I made a beeline for the biggest ones.
What’s so fascinating about this site is that while the columns remain, the rest of the shoreline is eroded away, forming a cave supported by these pillars. it just seems so impossible that a site like this can form completely naturally. And yet, nature has found a way!
It makes me want to learn more about geology. So here’s my best description:
How the columns formed
The stone at the Crowley Lake Stone columns is incredibly lightweight, you could pick up a bowling ball-sized chunk easily. This is because the stone here is made of freezing snowmelt mixed with volcanic ash from past thermal activity in the area.
You’ll notice horizontal stripes in the columns, and this also due to the thermal activity. Little streams of air made their way through the stone, causing some areas of the stone to be weaker than others.
Then, when the dam was built and Crowley lake was filled, the waves of the lake eroded the softer stone away, leaving these phenomenal columns behind. This geologic formation is completely unique, and was considered a mystery until recently explained by geologists.
The Stone Columns at Crowley Lake are one of the most amazing natural phenomena I’ve ever seen. I spent 4 relaxing hours here just exploring and enjoying.
What to do at the Crowley Lake Stone Columns
The site doesn’t take long to explore by foot.
When I got there, I didn’t explore right away. I was exhausted from the hike, and rested while enjoying a picnic lunch in the caves amongst the columns. It’s been one of my favorite picnic spots, for sure!
Then, I explored the caves a little more. They remind me of a church, with the pillars supporting the ceiling.
I had brought my Chacos to go wading in the lake, but it was looking kind of slimy, so I didn’t get in the water this time.
After exploring the whole site, I didn’t want to leave, and so just read my book in one of the caves while enjoying just being at the lake.
A few other groups came to see the columns, and it was fun just chatting with them about anything. We also took turns taking photos of each other with the columns, because who doesn’t want a picture here?
That’s another fun thing to do at the columns. While I was very worried about my phone’s battery, it was just so much fun having a “photo shoot” here that my camera roll was full by the time I left.
If you’re able, I absolutely recommend visiting the Stone Columns at Crowley Lake!
Whether you choose to get their by foot, boat, or automobile, they are a little difficult to get to, so make sure you’ve got your map with you. If you do take a car, make sure that it’s capable of off-roading, otherwise your bumper will not be happy with you. The bumps and craters are so big that your bumper might actually abandon you.
And bring your camera!! Even if you’re like me, and don’t really like to be in photos, it’s impossible not to have fun starring in a photo shoot here.
So that was how to get to the Stone Columns at Crowley Lake without a car!
If you’ve got any questions on the logistics of this day trip, let me know in the comments, and I’d be happy to answer 🙂
2 thoughts on “Hiking to the Crowley Lake Stone Columns”
Love this blog, love the way you described it..I’m amazed to see its pillars. It’s awesome.
Thank you so much Suraj! The pillars really are a special place.