This pristine lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America (over 750,000 years old). Water flows in, but has no outlet, so the lake is quite salty from minerals that accumulate and also form into tufa ("too fah") towers.
Mono Basin Visitor Center - Stop into the visitor center for exhibits about the unique geology and wildlife of the Mono Lake area. Kids can touch different kinds of tufa, look at live brine shrimp with a magnifying glass, find out about birds that stop on their long migrations to South America, and don't miss the huge boulders of obsidian, pumice, rhyolite and granite in front of the center.
South Tufa Area - Tufa towers form underwater, but when the lake level drops, the spires are visible on land. Take a walk down the boardwalk to see a whole bunch of tufa towers in the water and on the shore. There's something about the tufa that's like a fantasy world, and kids can let their imagination run free.
Tip: Don't climb on any of the tufa towers and stay on the boardwalk.
Canoe tour on Mono Lake - This is our favorite activity at Mono Lake. With a knowledgeable guide, we paddled around the tufa formations. We saw bubbling springs where the tufa forms, dabbled our fingers in the water that feels both salty and soapy, watched nesting birds in the tufa, and marveled at an underwater world through the clear lake water.
Life jackets in adult and kid sizes are provided, wear water shoes or flip flops that can get wet, and slather on sunscreen. Tours are available from end of June to Labor Day, for kids 4 and up.
Go swimming at Navy Beach - The salty water of Mono Lake makes it buoyant, and Navy Beach is the best spot to wade or float in the lake. A shallow, sandy beach, the lake is easily accessible from the parking lot. No showers.
Climb inside a volcano - Panum Crater is a young volcano that erupted only 650 years ago. Hike up the Plug Trail where kids can see huge spires of shiny black obsidian. Look for chunks of pumice on the trail - pick them up to see how light they feel (pumice has air bubbles trapped in the rock), but no collecting.
County Park - County Park is a gem. A little creek runs through the grassy park with big shade trees (very welcome on a hot day). There's plenty of picnic tables and a large playground with swings and mini-climbing walls. Take the boardwalk down to the lake, where kids can see tufa towers up close.