There are miles and miles of dirt roads open to 4WD use in the Mammoth Lakes region. Generally, any existing road over public lands that isn't posted otherwise is available. Most of these roads don't require heavy duty 4WD. Most can be driven in passenger cars, in fact. But a few do require at least rudimentary 4WD skills. A few require advanced 4WD ability. Of course, there is also lots of forest to drive through, as well. But most of it is either wilderness, or prohibited to vehicles except on developed roads. Do everyone a favor, stay on the roads when you are supposed to. There are lots of examples around of people who ignore the rules, and it isn't pretty. Long-term damage is done to the forest. And it makes the forest service more inclined to limit access by vehicle.

A word about travel down in the valley. It looks so tempting, 12 inches of snow on the ground, maybe a little more. All those dirt roads just waiting to test your new Jeep Grand Cherokee. But, you are guaranteed to get stuck. The dirt roads down there consist of this stuff that when wet, becomes more slippery than WD40. In addition, when wet, the ground is generally not firm enough to support your car. So while you are trying to dig out the back wheels, the front wheels are slowly sinking into the muck. You will soon be up to the floorboards in expensive trouble. There aren't many towing services in town that will risk their own trucks to extricate your vehicle. There are several cars stuck out there all winter long. This holds true into the late spring while the ground is still damp. It may look dry, but 1/4 inch below the surface lurks superlube. Stay on the roads, away from snow over a few inches deep, and watch for BIG sinkholes. And keep your insurance paid up.

Here are a few places that WILL test your 4WD skills:

Road to Laurel Lakes
This used to be a mining access road. About five miles, very steep sections, washed out sections, and rocky sections. Laurel Canyon is a popular hunting spot, so if your car looks like a deer, don't go there. Take the dirt road past Sierra Meadows Ski Touring Center down about 4 miles. Look for the sign on the left.

Deadman Summit
Off the west of HWY 395 there is a very soft gravel road that leads to an area where you can really go off road, and really test your skills. Most people will get out and watch as you try to climb some of those hills. Stay in the obvious vehicle use areas.

San Joaquin Ridge
There is a road beginning at Minaret Summit that follows the ridge up to about 10,000 feet and ends on the top of the world. Some washed out sections, but generally a good road. Not a passenger car road for sure. Best views around. Hikers also use this route, so be considerate. This is a good place to watch the sun go down.

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