Mono Lake Photo Tips - California

Mono Lake is one of those places that truly captures the imagination. It’s such an alien landscape with it’s towering tufa mounds and pristine water reflections. The Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance add a dramatic backdrop especially when snow capped. It’s a bucket list road trip for any photographer and although it’s been photographed a gazillion times you’ll easily find your new and unique perspective.

Here are my Mono Lake Photo Tips for anyone planning a road trip to this bucket list location.

You’ll struggle to take a bad picture at Mono Lake, its super easy access and the only two challenges are the flies and the photographers all jockeying for position. It’s not quite ‘Angkor Wat’ when it comes to the number of photographers but it’s more than we saw at Yosemite believe it or not.

Getting There

We were on a road trip to Yosemite National Park so it was only a 2.5 hr drive east from Yosemite Village. From Yosemite Village leave the village on Big Oak Flat Road and then take a right on Tioga Pass Rd and simply stay on that road all the way to Lee Vining. From Lee Vining take a right on 395 for about 10 minutes until you see signs for Mono Lake.

It’s then a short drive down to the car park and you’ll see the tufa mounds from there. On your way to the car park you have two choices. You can either head to the main car park where you’ll find the larger mass of tufa mounds or you can take a right down the gravel road which takes you to the really small mushroom shaped tufa mounds that have their own unique charm. Do both if you have time.

I’ve heard that Tioga Pass road gets closed in the winter so it may not be feasible to drive from Yosemite to Mono Lake in the deepest winter months.

If you’re traveling from Reno in the North simply drive down 395. If you’re traveling all the way up from LA, get to the 395 and drive North. From Vegas take 95 North and then 6 East then 120 followed by 395 North.

Recommended Equipment

  • Polarizer – For control of reflections, glare and colour saturation.
  • Tripod.
  • Wide Angle Lens
  • Zoom lens
  • Sunscreen
  • Water proof shoes – If you don’t stand in the water you’re a sissy

Accommodation

We stayed at the Yosemite Gateway Motel which was decent and had everything we needed. It’s not 5 star but who cares, the WiFi worked and the room was clean. It’s right on main street and conveniently located across the road from the pub. On our way home from the pub that night we crossed paths with the largest raccoon I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a few. This guy was so big I thought it was one of the guests of the Motel.

Top Tip

You’ll get better photos if you brave the water and get your feet wet. Wade out into the stinky water through the thick barrier of flies that feast on the frothy brine at the waters edge and you’ll get way better shots than the squeamish photographers stood at the beach saying ”who does that guy think he is?”.

I wore flip flops which perished horribly the next day. The briny water finished them off good and proper. I also gashed my feet in the water from the rough terrain and it took longer than usual for them to heal. Must have something to do with that fragrant water. If you’ve got some of those waterproof rubber shoes that kayakers wear you’re all set.

While You’re There

If you do take the Tioga Pass Road from Yosemite you’re in for a treat as the drive itself is pretty stunning with countless photo opportunities along the way. In the summer it’s bustling with tourists and quite possibly the worst drivers on the face of the earth. We got stuck behind some character with a 5th wheel who insisted on driving 20 miles under the speed limit and would not let anyone pass. I thought those kind of shenanigans only went on in the UK!

If you plan to stay in Lee Vining try to include a visit to the ghost town Bodie.

Dining

You’ll find your standard North American fare at the various few eateries of Lee Vining. Burgers, ribs, chicken wings etc. Typical prices, decent beer. Nothing special but no complaints. After a long day in that pungent water of Mono Lake some hot wings and beer goes down pretty well.

Published by Gavin Hardcastle

Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials here at Fototripper.com.

3 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I am following your blogs and information.
    I can’t wait to get back to the south-west of the USA. Next year September, I will be there. I am planing to visit the locations you post here, I have seen Monolake from the highway and I can’t wait to make a stop there and take some pictures.
    I really appreciate your information, but I would like to see more of your pictures. Where can I find them?

    Regards
    Dirk

    Reply
  2. Hi Gavin,

    I would like to buy your photo about the Mono Lake. It’s possible?

    Thanks in advanced,
    Andrea.

    Reply

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