The hike to Rainbow Falls is one of the most popular activities in Devils Postpile National Monument. On clear days, the trail to Rainbow Falls is full of visitors enjoying the beautiful scenery.
If you are planning a hike from Rainbow Falls to Mammoth Lakes, read on to find out what to expect from the hike and what to know in advance!
can you expect from a trek from Rainbow Falls to Mammoth Lakes, California?
Essential Facts about the Rainbow Falls to Mammoth Lakes TrailHow to get on the Rainbow Falls to Mammoth Lakes
long does it take to hike to Rainbow Falls, Mammoth Lakes? What to do when
hiking in Rainbow FallsWhat to
hiking from Rainbow Falls to Mammoth Lakes.
What can you expect from a hike from Rainbow Falls to Mammoth Lakes, California?
A hike to Rainbow Falls at Devils Postpile National Monument is worthwhile. Rainbow Falls is the highest waterfall on the middle fork of the San Joaquin River. You can go to two lookout points to take great photos and descend to the base of the waterfall for a great view of the waterfall.
Rainbow Falls is most spectacular in early summer: June and July. If you go there, you’ll see it as a powerful single curtain plunging into the foaming waters below. In August, the flow begins to subside, and if you visit the site then or later, you will likely see several gentler streams flowing along the cliff.
We think Rainbow Falls is a beautiful sight, no matter when you see it: in our opinion, Rainbow Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California! But if you want to see it at its best, plan a visit in June, when the park is open, or in July. At this time of year, you’ll also see lots of wildflowers along the trails and near the falls.
The falls derive their name from the rainbow that appears on sunny days in the mist created by the falls. Rainbows are most likely to be seen on sunny summer days, usually around noon. The best places to photograph rainbows are the two vantage points along the trail.
The rocks below and around the waterfall were formed long ago by two lava basins that cooled differently, causing the first basin to crack vertically and the second to cool horizontally.
Vertically eroded rock is more easily eroded by the flow of the waterfall. As a result, a cave forms at the bottom of the waterfall, weakening the rock at the top so that it collapses. As a result, Rainbow Falls slides further into the canyon. So far, the waterfall has retreated 500 feet from its original position!
On the move.
You have a beautiful view from the trailhead. You can see the San Joaquin River and the surrounding meadows and trees, with the mountains in the background. In season, wildflowers abound in the meadows and along the trail.
As you hike, watch for birds and wildlife. You may see mule deer in the meadows along the trail or a pine marten walking along the trail and climbing a nearby tree. A black bear or coyote may be seen sooner or later. You are likely to see birds in the vegetation, from jays to birds of prey such as red-winged hawks and waterfowl such as great blue herons.
A few years ago, winds blew down many trees at Devils Postpile National Monument, so you are likely to see fallen trees on your hike. In 1992, part of the forest burned down at this site, and there are still clearings and burned stumps on some parts of the trail.
There are actually two trails that lead to Rainbow Falls. The longer route takes you past the basalt column formation Devils Postpile, which is on the trail. If you have time, this is the route we recommend, so you can see the two main attractions of Devils Postpile National Monument in one hike.
This long trail has a short branch that leads to a panoramic bridge over the San Joaquin River. It is an ideal place to photograph the river in both directions.
Key facts on the road from Rainbow Falls to Mammoth Lakes.
Rainbow Falls can be reached on foot by two different routes: shuttle bus stop #6 at the Ranger station or shuttle bus stop #9. The Shuttle #6 stop will also take you to the Basalt Devils pole structure.
The trail begins at the ranger station and passes through Devils Postpiling Rock.
It is a circular hike, about 2.5 miles each way, which is considered easy for a moderate walk. If you take the Reds Meadow shuttle, you can also go from Rainbow Falls to Reds Meadow Resort to have lunch at the Mule House Cafe. From the shuttle stop at the resort, you can then take the shuttle back to Mammoth Lakes (or make another stop at Reds Meadow Valley).
The elevation gain is about 600 feet. A steep staircase of about 130 steps leads from the trailhead to the base of Rainbow Falls. The trail is mostly unpaved.
Route to Shuttle Bus Stop #9 at Rainbow Falls.
It is a circular hike, about 1.3 miles each way, which is considered easy for a moderate hike. The elevation gain is about 400 feet, and the trail is wide and largely unpaved, with sand or gravel in places. A steep staircase leads from the trailhead to the base of Rainbow Falls.
Along the way, there is access to the San Joaquin River if you want to take a short break to enjoy the view.
Here’s how to get to the trailhead to Rainbow Falls in Mammoth Lakes.
Devils After Plenty National Monument is usually open from June to October. The exact opening and closing dates depend on the weather that year. Check the park’s website before your visit to see if it is open.
If the Reds Meadow Valley bus is running, you must take the shuttle bus to Reds Meadow Valley where Rainbow Falls is located. You can take the shuttle at the entrance to the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center, where you can park your own car. Tickets can be purchased at the Adventure Center on the day of your visit. For more information about the shuttle, click here.
Follow the trail to Rainbow Falls through the Devils Postpile Monument, which is lit at shuttle stop #6. There you will find a ranger station where you can get information and maps if needed. To take the shortest route to Rainbow Falls, turn on the light at shuttle stop #9. See map.
Other than the shuttle schedules (early or late on a given day and early or late in the season), you can get to the trailhead on your own. Parking at the trailhead is usually limited, so arrive early or late. Depending on traffic conditions, you may be asked to park at the Reds Meadow Resort and take the shuttle to the trailhead.
A wide path traverses the monument. Once parked, simply follow the signs to Rainbow Falls.
Toilets and picnic tables are available on both trails.
How long does it take to walk to Rainbow Falls, Mammoth Lakes?
Depending on the route you choose, plan a 2-3 hour hike to and from the waterfall, stopping at various places to take photos. The scenery along the way is beautiful and you will want to linger for a while in many places, especially if there are wildflowers to admire or animals or birds to see.
If you are not pressed for time, you can skip the morning hike or the longer afternoon hike from the ranger station. Along the way, you’ll want to stop to admire the basalt columns that make up Devils Postpile, and maybe even climb to the top of the columns before continuing on to Rainbow Falls.
What about hiking in Rainbow Falls?
Your passport to the national parks!
If you do not use the shuttle, your National Park Pass will be confiscated at Devils Postpile National Monument, so don’t forget to bring it.
Don’t have a national park pass? If you plan to visit 3 or 4 national parks (or other federally managed recreation areas) a year, buy the “America the Beautiful National Parks Pass”: it will save you money. You can buy an annual pass online at the REI website.
There is no drinking water along the trails, but drinking water is available at the visitor center and café at the Red Meadow Resort. The trails to Rainbow Falls can be sunny and hot, so be sure to carry and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
The Rainbow Falls trail is not very long, so you won’t need food, but we usually bring protein bars, mix and some fruit on our hikes. If you want to picnic after your hike, there are picnic tables available at the Monument. The Mule House Café at the Reds Meadow Resort serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Digital camera with zoom
Take your usual photographic equipment with you on the hike: the scenery is beautiful, and you may see wildlife or birds.
We don’t usually bring a large camera and lens on a camping trip unless it’s a simple photo trip. Instead, we use our small Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70 with 30x zoom and Leica lens. So it is good enough to photograph birds and small animals and fits in our bag when we are not using it.
If you like bird watching, you should take your binoculars on a hike to Rainbow Falls. Our binoculars are the Celestron Trailseeker compact binoculars: they are not too heavy and work well in low light when you mostly want to see birds and animals.
Good shoes for running or walking
For this hike, you will need sturdy shoes or hiking boots that are close to your feet. Shoes with good grip are essential, especially when descending to the bottom of a waterfall. Steps and rocks are slippery and slippery.
We used a natural insecticide when we walked the Rainbow Falls Trail. In the summer, expect lots of mosquitoes and other flying and biting insects. Use a mosquito spray to be sure.
Use a wide-brimmed hat with SPF protection, sunscreen (we love this one), lip balm with SPF (I love this 3-pack!) and sunglasses when hiking in Rainbow Falls. The trails are partially open and in the summer it can get sunny and hot during the day.
Tips for hiking at Rainbow Falls from Mammoth Lakes.
Check the weather forecast before starting your hike
Mountain weather can change quickly and often, so check the weather forecast before you go. Thunderstorms are common on summer afternoons, and snow may fall in June or September.
In July and August, daytime maximums can be in the 70s to 80s, but during the extreme months of the season, temperatures are even cooler from early to late mid-forties.
Come earlier or later for fewer people in season.
Hiking at Rainbow Falls is one of the best activities in Devils Postpile National Monument and the Mammoth Lakes area. Expect more visitors on the trails, especially during the day.
Start early in the morning or come later to avoid the crowds at hiking trails, lookouts and waterfalls. It is also easier to find parking if you come alone, and there is a better chance of seeing birds and wildlife.
Take a mid-day walk to increase your chances of seeing a rainbow.
If you don’t mind sharing the trails, sunny summer days in the middle of the day offer the best chance of seeing rainbows at Rainbow Falls. Of course, there are no guarantees and you may see rainbows at other times as well.
Add a walk to Lower Rainbow Falls.
If you walk on from Rainbow Falls to Lower Rainbow Falls, you will hike just over 0.5 miles. Lower Rainbow Falls is right next to Devils Postpile National Monument and has a smaller waterfall of about 20 feet. They are very beautiful!
If you have time, you can participate in a hike to Lower Rainbow Falls. Be aware that the return trip is long and a bit difficult.
Bring your dog!
Dogs on leashes are allowed on the trails leading to Rainbow Falls. They must wear a muzzle on the Red Meadows shuttle. Disposable plastic bags are available on the trails so you can clean up your pet’s mess.
Hike to Rainbow Falls in the summer to see the wildflowers.
Rainbow Falls is beautiful year-round, so you can’t go wrong. But the Eastern Sierra has a wide variety of beautiful wildflowers, and in June (when the monument is open) and July you’ll see lots of wildflowers along the trails, near the falls, and elsewhere in the monument.
Indian brush, skylark, monkey flower, lupine, shooting star, and daisy are some of the more common species you will see in the monument. Don’t forget to look at the beautiful tidy knots, they are perfect for photos!
Give him more time than you think.
The trails leading to Rainbow Falls are beautiful and you will often stop to take pictures and just enjoy the scenery, especially if you come on dry and pleasant days.
Take plenty of time and maybe even some bread or a picnic to the waterfall!
Dress according to the weather.
The weather changes in the park. Dress in layers to be safe. We always carry a light, waterproof hooded jacket on our hikes and it has saved us more than once. Check out the Marmot PreCip jacket for men here and the jacket for women here.
Lightweight, loose-fitting long-sleeved tops and pants are comfortable and offer protection from the elements, as well as insects and thorny vegetation.
Learn more about safety in the park
The trails to Rainbow Falls are located in Devils Postpile National Monument, and the park has a safety page on its website. Familiarize yourself with their safety procedures and follow them!
Other hiking trails in California that you can enjoy
Hiking the Bluff
Trail in Montana State Park in OroHiking the Hidden
Valley Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National ParkHiking the
Barker Dam Nature Trail in
Point Lobos State ReserveHiking
CaliforniaHiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley National Park!
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Frequently asked questions
How long is the hike to Rainbow Falls in Mammoth?
The best time to see the rainbow is in the afternoon, when the sun is at its highest. A mandatory shuttle bus runs on the East Sierra Transit route to the Mammoth Adventure Center. Travel by private vehicles is permitted outside the shuttle season. A moderate 2.5-mile or 5-mile round trip hike.
How far is it to Rainbow Falls from Mammoth Lakes?
Rainbow Falls, a six-foot waterfall, is an easy 2.5-mile hike from the trailhead at Devil’s Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes.
How long does it take to hike to Rainbow Falls?
Notes: The hike to the falls is 5.4 miles and the hike is generally considered moderately challenging. However, due to the length, increased elevation, and rocky terrain on some sections of the trail, some visitors may find the hike difficult. The hike to and from the falls takes approximately 3 to 5 hours.
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