rainbow falls mammoth

Rainbow Falls Trail from Devils Postpile in Mammoth Lakes

HIKE TO: Rainbow Falls
TRAIL: Devils Postpile Trail
TRAILHEAD: Devils Postpile Ranger Station (shuttle stop 6)
DISTANCE: 5 miles out and back
TIME: 2-3 hours
DATE I WENT: 7/26/16
DIFFICULTY: easy-moderate
HIKE PERMIT: not for day hikes, yes for backpacking and overnight camping
PARKING PERMIT: no but shuttle fee required
LOCATION: Eastern Sierra Mountains in California, Inyo National Forest
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Rainbow Falls in Mammoth Lakes, California stands as a captivating natural wonder in the Devils Postpile National Monument in the Eastern Sierra Mountains. The 101 ft waterfall plunges into a swimming hole and is the highest waterfall on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, sitting at 7,377 ft.

Situated within the pristine confines of the Inyo National Forest, this majestic cascade lures adventurers of all hiking levels with its enchanting beauty and accessible trails. 

There are two trails to access Rainbow Falls, the Devils Postpile Trail and the Rainbow Falls Trail. The Devils Postpile Trail is more popular as visitors can also see the cool basalt columns formed from volcanic activity that’s now called Devils Postpile, on their hike over to the waterfall. But the Rainbow Falls Trail is shorter at 1.7 miles one way.

rainbow falls from devils postpile trail mammoth

Rainbow Falls Mammoth Hike from Devils Postpile

The hike to Rainbow Falls Mammoth is a relatively-easy trail for visitors of all hiking level. The common hike to Rainbow Falls Trail starts at the same trailhead as Devils Postpile which is the Devils Postpile Ranger Station, and is a 2.5-mile hike each way. 

Learn more about accessing the Devils Postpile Trailhead and the mandatory summer shuttle here.

The first 0.4 miles is the hike to Devils Postpile, a unique geological formation formed by volcanos years ago. This should take you less than 10 minutes to reach.

You will then continue your hike high above the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River for another 2.1 miles, mostly exposed to the sun with little shade, until you reach the beautiful waterfall. Be sure to put on sunscreen, bring a sun hat, and pack plenty of water!

devils postpile trail to rainbow falls mammoth

As you traverse the well-marked trails, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding Inyo National Forest, with glimpses of the iconic Minarets adding to the allure of the journey. This took us about one hour on a hot leisure day. 

Once you reach Rainbow Falls, you will be at the top of it and there is a beautiful viewpoint looking down at it. There was a tree to provide some shade relief on a hot summer day but if you are feeling very warm, you can head down to take a dip. This part of the waterfall may be closed or slippery to get down to; however, you can continue hiking a little bit further to reach the lower falls that would be easier to access the pool of water below the falls.

From above, you can often see a rainbow form from the mist at the bottom of the waterfall, which is why it is called rainbow falls.

If you plan to drink any of the water, make sure you pack your water filter so you can treat the water. The Katadyn BeFree is a great option that’s budget-friendly and very lightweight and convenient to use.

After you are done enjoying the waterfall, hike back out the same way you came in or make it a 4.2 mile loop and exit on the lower Rainbow Falls Trail. This would make your hike back only 1.7 miles to shuttle stop 9 versus the 2.5 miles back to shuttle stop 6.

Here is a map of the Reds Meadow Shuttle Stops.

rainbow falls mammoth map

The Wrap-Up: Rainbow Falls Trail

This is a great hike to do if you are looking for a chill hike between larger adventures to stretch your legs, or an easier trail for beginners and kids with beautiful view. The trail is very popular in the summer and can get crowded on the weekends so I’d recommend jumping on the first morning shuttle!

FAQ: Rainbow Falls Mammoth

How long is the hike to Rainbow Falls Mammoth?

The hike to Rainbow Falls Mammoth spans approximately 2.5 miles one way, offering adventurers a delightful journey through the picturesque landscapes of Mammoth Lakes.

Can you swim in Rainbow Falls Mammoth?

While you can technically swim in Rainbow Falls, it is not recommended to swim under the waterfall, near the brink of the waterwall, or when you see algae present.

The current can be dangerous and sweep you underneath the falls if you get too close which can be hazardous. Also avoid trying to swim upstream and rocks as they can be slippery, especially around Rainbow Falls.

However, designated viewing areas provide the perfect vantage point to admire the falls.

Is the hike to Rainbow Falls open?

Yes, the hike to Rainbow Falls remains open year-round, allowing outdoor enthusiasts to embark on this enchanting adventure in every season. 

However, it’s essential to check for seasonal closures or trail updates before planning your visit. The road to access the waterfall is typically closed from Oct – May due to snow.

Is Rainbow Falls Mammoth kid-friendly?

Absolutely! Rainbow Falls Mammoth welcomes visitors of all ages, making it the perfect destination for a family-friendly escapade. While the trail may present moderate challenges, children with a sense of adventure will delight in exploring this natural gem alongside their loved ones.

How is the road to Devil’s Postpile/Rainbow Falls?

Access to Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls may vary depending on seasonal road conditions. 

During peak hours (May – September), you have to take the Reds Meadow Shuttle to access the trailhead. The exception to this is if you are towing a boat or have campground reservations.

From October – April, the road gets covered in snow and is closed to cars. You could ski down there but it would be a long ski session.

It’s advisable to check for the latest updates and plan your journey accordingly to ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience.

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Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes

  • Budget-friendlyThe Mammoth Inn is a small boutique hotel with free parking and only 5 mins from Main Street.
  • Mid-rangeAustria Hof Lodge — This cute Beaux Arts-inspired hotel is clean with free parking and a 5 min walk to town. There’s a full-size bar and lounge inside so try to not stay in a room near the bar as it can be a bit loud.
  • LuxuryThe Westin Monache Resort —This modern hotel is conveniently located in the middle of Mammoth Lakes. Step out of your hotel into all of the main shopping centers and restaurants. The hotel is very nice and clean, spacious, has a cozy fireplace in the room, and the lobby even had free wine and hot chocolate each afternoon during our winter stay last year. There is a free parking garage as well as valet options.
  • Click here to see full Mammoth Lakes camping guide 🏕️

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