Rainbow Falls, Devils Postpile National Monument

David and I visited Devils Postpile National Monument while in the Eastern Sierra area this past fall season. We hiked to the Devils Postpile formation and the 101-ft high Rainbow Falls. It was a nice activity to do while in the Mammoth Lakes area.

Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument

Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument is located in the Mammoth Lakes area, California. Established in 1911, the National Monument protects the Devils Postpile formation and the Rainbow Falls as well as the surrounding area. It’s managed by the National Park Service. In the summer, there is a mandatory shuttle bus system so you can’t drive into the park. The shuttle was not in operation when we visited the park in the fall so we were able to drive to the Ranger Station Trailhead.

Towering mountains west of Bishop, California

Towering mountains west of Bishop, California

Because this was our first time in the Mammoth Lakes area, we stopped by a visitor center in town to get information about the area and paper maps. The staff at the visitor center was helpful.

Ren at Minaret Vista on the way to Devils Postpile National Monument

As usual, we didn’t get an early start on the day to have spare time to explore the town of Mammoth Lakes. We headed into the National Monument from the visitor center. We stopped at Minaret Vista while waiting for the park to clear a broken down vehicle on a one-lane section of the road. The view at the Vista was breath-taking.

Devils Postpile National Monument is actually covering a small narrow rectangle in the map below. It’s surrounded by Info National Forest. Download this map from the National Monument website here.

Devils Postpile National Monument Map

Devils Postpile National Monument Map

We started our hike as soon as we arrived at the trailhead at Ranger Station. After less than a mile, we were at the Postpile. We turned left to hike up to the top of the Postpile. At the top you stand on the cross-section of the Postpile resembling a tiled floor. The hike up to the top wasn’t far but the high elevation of the place made it seemed harder than normal. We then continued on the main trail to Rainbow Falls.

The first look of the Devils Postpile. We turned left to walk up to the top of the Postpile.

The first look of the Devils Postpile. We turned left to walk up to the top of the Postpile.

At the top of the Postpile we could see a nice cross-section of the rock columns.

At the top of the Postpile we could see a nice cross-section of the rock columns.

This area the columns were leaning almost horizontally.

This area the columns were leaning almost horizontally.

A trail to Rainbow Falls from the Postpile takes you along the middle fork of San Joaquin River.

A trail to Rainbow Falls from the Postpile takes you along the middle fork of San Joaquin River. You can see hexagonal columns along the river.

An old burnt area is strangely pretty.

An old burnt area is strangely pretty.

This doe mastered the over the shoulder pose.

This doe mastered the over the shoulder pose.

The trail from the Postpile to Rainbow Falls was down-hill with gradual slope. Some sections of the trail are soft sand making it a little bit harder despite being a relatively flat trail.

The trail continues to the Lower Falls after arriving at Rainbow Falls, We turned around at Rainbow Falls.

Another angle of Rainbow Falls

Another angle of Rainbow Falls

This trail continues to Lower Falls. We turned around soon after this.

This trail continues to Lower Falls. We turned around soon after this.

Walking in front of the Postpile on the way back

Walking in front of the Postpile on the way back

Last sunlight of the day

Last sunlight of the day

  • Date hiked: October 12, 2016
  • Hiking time: 2h 24m
  • Distance: 5.2 mi round-trip (out and back) including hiking up to the top of Postpile
  • Elevation change: Approx. 650 ft gain

Note: This hike starts from the Ranger Station Trailhead (Shuttle Stop No. 6). It passes the Postpile and continues on to Rainbow Falls. During high season when shuttle bus use is mandatory, the park shuttle can be used creatively to shorten the length of the hike to 3.8 miles by starting from the Ranger Station (No. 6) and returning to Rainbow Falls Trailhead Stop (No. 9).

11 Comments

  1. Those post pile rock formations are so neat… and when you were on top, it looks like you are walking on a huge piece of honeycomb! What formed them? Volcanic action? I need to add this place to my list!

    How close is it to Bishop? I know my hubby wants to go climb there and you mentioned it in your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    1. Yes, these basalt rock columns were formed by cooling of basalt lava. Glacier that used to be in the area exposed and polished the top into smooth surfaces. Could you believe that there was a past idea to blast the Postpile to build a dam on a nearby river? Fortunately, it was opposed by influential people and the federal government eventually protected it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

        1. Both national parks and national monuments are in federal lands as opposed to state parks which are in state lands. They protect pretty much similar things — natures, wild lives, or area of cultural significance. What dictates a place to be designated as a national park vs. a national monument is mostly politics, in my opinion. US President can declare national monuments from federal lands through the Antiquities Act without going through Congress. Establishing national parks, on the other hand, requires Congressional votes. So, the Antiquities Act is an important tool that the president has for conservation purpose, especially, in a political gridlock environment we have been in the US.

          National monuments tend to be smaller in size, but not always. There quite a few large national monument that are larger than national parks. The one comes to mind is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is Utah and Arizona.

          I’m certainly not an expert in this area, just love and enjoy natures. If any readers would like to share information or correct any misunderstanding on my part, please do.

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