Mono Lake: South Tufa Area


What? : A large lake the middle of eastern sierra corridor. One of the unique geological point of interest at the lake are the Tufa rock formation on the lake shores. In this blog I will focus on the south side of the lake, there is another blog-post covering the north side of the lake.


Where? : The large Mono Lake is located near the small town of Lee Vining on hwy 395, near the intersection with hwy 120 leading to Yosemite.

Google Map Link

When? : Year round but Winter can be cold.


Due note: At the summer of 2020 there was a large bush fire at the south side of the lake.


My thoughts: One of my favorite eastern sierra attractions to visit, especially at the South Tufa Area. Late afternoon, nights and early morning are the best time to enjoy this location. Other section of the lake like, the east north shore or Black Point are also interesting places to visit.


The visit:

There are few locations to visit at the lake and nearby area. The city of Lee Vining is a good place to refuel and to find something to eat. Here you start hwy 120 west Tioga Pass to Yosemite up in the high sierra mountains and it can be your “basecamp” for other nearby attractions.


The lake has interesting “history” where in the 1940’s the lake water was taken with canals 350 miles south to meet the water demands of Los Angeles. Mono Lake lost 50 percent of its water, and its salinity doubled. With that water level went down dramatically and as a result the Tufa limestone rock formation were exposed and can be seen at the lake shores.


South Tufa Area:

An amazing large lake that the drop-in it water level exposed forms of limestone (Tufa) that were around springs at the bottom of the lake, in short, a special and interesting natural phenomenon that created strange standing rock formation.

It seems to me that the most beautiful place to see Tufa is at this location, it is accessible to all vehicles and there is an parking lot with trail that will take you to the lake shore and the location of the Tufa.


How to get there: Take hwy 395 south of Lee Vining, pass the junction of 120 west (to Yosemite), once reaching 120 east turn left and keep driving for additional 9.5 miles east until you will see the clear sign and the dirt road to your left, turn north and drive few mils to the parking lot.


At end of summer you can see the nesting of Osprey on the heads of the Tufa rocks. It is recommended to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon at sunset. You can be here for a short one hour visit or can spend few hours looking how the landscape view is changing as the sun set behind the sierra mountains at the west.


I stayed there throughout the night to photograph the Milky Way, I never saw the stars as I saw that night, the place is dark without a lot of “light pollution”, dry without clouds and little humidity, almost ideal conditions for some milky way galaxy pictures.

To top that, that night there was also a meteor shower, so it was interesting ....

I wake up early before sunrise, went back to the Tufa area and enjoyed the warm sun rising from the east.