Devil’s Postpile

Distance: 16.2 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1970 ft

Warning: At the moment (9/23) this road is only open on weekends, and may soon be closed entirely for construction. When the road isn’t under construction, cars are often banned and car visitors are required to take a shuttle bus. Check road conditions and restrictions before heading out.

As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.

This is the only ride in Bestrides I don’t really like. But I want to talk about it, because it’s iconic, you’ll want to know what it’s like, and it might get much better soon (as of 9/23).

This ride descends from the Minarets Vista summit to Devil’s Postpile National Monument, then climbs back out. In RidewithGPS it looks pretty good—not much work (you can do 16 miles standing on your head, right?), some great views of the Minarets to the west, some fast, serpentine descending, some pleasant rollers through pretty woods, and a great destination at the turn-around. Devil’s Postpile is a wonder of nature that’s not to be missed. There is even a grand waterfall just past the Postpile, Rainbow Falls.

So what’s not to like? First and foremost, it’s much harder than the numbers make it appear, for five reasons: 1. Traffic—like most National Somethings, the place can be mobbed, and all visitors must travel the same, very narrow, very rough road. Many of them at 10 miles an hour. The road is so narrow that descending vehicles must pull off the road to let ascending vehicles pass, which means that your descent will frequently be interrupted by you having to stop behind the RV that has stopped to let the oncoming RV pass. 2. Road surface—the surfaces varies from OK to terrible, and it’s at its worst on the steepest part (the first 2.5 miles). I found it impossible to do the descent at any but the slowest speed. 3. Pitch—1970 ft. total gain doesn’t seem bad at all, but the bulk of the climbing is in the last 2.5 miles, and it’s truly tough. Made much harder by 4. elevation—the ride tops out at 9170 feet elevation, which means you’ll be gasping for breath in the thin air unless you’re acclimated to high elevation. 4. The hike—you can’t ride to the Postpile; the closest you can get is 0.4 miles from it, which means you’re in for at least an 0.8-mile walk on dirt to see anything, which is a little more than I want to walk in the middle of a hard ride and which means you have to bring walking shoes. 5. The construction—they’re reworking the entire ride, beginning 9/23, so the riding itself will be more awkward than usual and the road to the waterfall is closed entirely, so to see it you’ll have to walk a whopping 5 miles.

So why talk about it? Because if you’re fit for elevation, if you like hard climbs, if you have disc brakes and so can handle steep descents, and (most important) if you wait until the construction reworks and improves the road and opens up the road to Rainbow Falls, it might be a ride you’ll love.

As with all high-altitude Eastern Sierra rides, snow conditions are unpredictable here and can persist longer than you think. Apparently last year the road was still closed by snow on July 4.

An introduction to the geology of the Postpile and current road conditions can be found here.

Our ride begins at the parking area at the turn-off to Minaret Vista, a lookout at the summit of Minaret Road, which is the one and only road from the town of Mammoth Lakes to the Mammoth Mountain ski area. Drive past the ski area, turn off at the sign to the Vista, drive to the Vista to see the Minarets if you want (you’ll see them on the ride anyway), then return to Minaret Road and park in the copious parking dirt area around the intersection.

The Minarets, from the very start of the ride

If you’re worried that 16 miles won’t float your boat, you can ride from Mammoth Lakes, which will add 12 miles and 1300 ft. to the ride. It’s a not-unpleasant ride with possibly heavy traffic (the ski area is as attractive to mountain-bikers in summer and fall as it is to skiers in the winter) on a very manicured, wide road.

Pass the kiosk on Minaret Road and begin the descent. Views of the Minarets are immediately in front of you—look them over now, because you won’t see them again.

The climb out

You are instantly into the steepest leg of the ride, 2.5 miles of narrow, twisty, rough, unrelenting down. Watch for cars coming at you and stopping in front of you.

At 2.5 miles the road takes a hard 90-degree L, the pavement improves, and the pitch moderates. About 6 miles in, the ride turns mellow, and you do fun rollers to the end. First you encounter the overflow parking lot for the Postpile; continue on to the second and final (at the moment) parking lot and trailhead for the walk to the Postpile. There are bathrooms, a little shop, docents to answer questions, and probably scads of people.

Looking down into the Middle Fork San Joaquin River canyon from the top of the ride

Now ride out. First rollers, then moderate climbing, then the final 2.5-mile gasper. In those last miles you’ll notice nice views up and down the canyon you’re climbing out of, which you weren’t able to notice on the descent and which you’ll appreciate now because they’re good excuses to stop and catch your breath.

Shortening the route: Drive to the 90-degree L turn and ride to the Postpile from there.

Adding Miles: There is no other good road riding near this ride. If you brought your mountain bike, swap bikes and enjoy the outstanding downhill riding on Mammoth Mountain’s trails. Back in Mammoth Mountain, the ride to Mary’s Lake is pleasant, in a heavily developed way.

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