Mono Lake, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - High Sierra -

Mono Lake, located in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, has a long and rich history dating back to its formation over 760,000 years ago. Sediments below the lake’s surface indicate that Mono Lake might be a leftover of an earlier, larger lake. Today, Mono Lake is fed from melting runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains with no outlet, filling its depths with salt and raising the pH levels.

Mono Lake’s natural shoreline used to be at 6,417 feet above sea level (approximately 54,900 acres). However, when Los Angeles County diverted water from Mono Lake’s source of water in 1941, the lake fell to only 6,372 feet (approximately 37,700 acres) at its lowest point in 1982. In 1978, conservation efforts went into effect and water levels have continuously risen to today’s 6,382 feet (approximately 44,700 acres). Hopefully, Mono Lake will rise to 6,392 feet within another decade, but it is not expected to return to its pre-diversion size.

The lake’s saline levels mean that there are no fish in Mono Lake. However, the lake is famous for the Mono Lake brine shrimp which measure no longer than a thumbnail and live nowhere else in the world. NASA scientists recently discovered a lake organism that can grow and live on arsenic, a poison, raising hopes that other creatures far from Earth could live in similar hostile environments.

In addition to being home to a unique species, Mono Lake plays a vital role to migratory shorebirds every year. Recognized by Western Hemisphere Reserve Network as an International Reserve, almost 2,000,000 birds sit atop tufa towers, soar through the air, stop to feed, and build their nests at the lake annually. Bird watchers at the lake should be on the lookout for American Avocets, California Gulls, Eared Grebes, Killdeers, Red-necked Phalaropes, Wilson’s Phalaropes, and sandpipers as they seek refuge in this quiet, peaceful California nature haven.

With the Sierra Nevada Mountains reflected in the quiet waters of the lake, the visitor enjoys breathtaking scenic views from the lakeshore. Take a wilderness hike along a lake ridge, stop by the visitor’s center to brush up on your lake knowledge, explore neighboring ghost towns, and fish in one of the nearby freshwater streams, all the while enjoying the absolute tranquility that Mono Lake offers.

Canoe and kayak tours are available during summer months. If you choose to venture out into Mono Lake in your own canoe or kayak, be aware that the lake’s waters hide many underground obstacles. Mono Lake’s water– 2.5 times as salty and 80 times as alkaline as the ocean — provides an unusual swimming experience.

The lake is famous for its graceful tufa towers (calcium-carbonate deposits) that were once submerged under the surface. Rising out of the water like rocky aquatic stalagmites, the dramatic tufa towers beg to be photographed, with the barren desert and surrounding hills as their only backdrop. Take a free walking tour to learn more about the tufa and Mono Lake’s ecosystem, or explore the aquatic environment on your own, best seen at the South Tufa area on the lake’s south shore.

Mono Lake is just 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, covering 761,266 acres and hosting an incredible 3.5 million visitors every year. As a World Heritage Site, Yosemite basks in international recognition of its towering Giant Sequoias, intense biodiversity, great tumbling waterfalls, and spectacular, graceful granite cliffs. As you hike the park’s trails, drive along scenic parkways, bike a mountain path, or take a guided tour, you’ll discover the spectacular natural beauty of Yosemite. The Giant Sequoias are almost too large to be believed, 150 species of birds pass through the park each year, and from mountaintop vantage points, you’ll swear you can see to China.

Mono Lake is a beautiful getaway, perfect for unwinding and getting back to the basics. Camp in the mountains, wake up to a powdery covering of snow, climb the surrounding hills, drink in picturesque fall scenery, or enjoy the warm sun of summer on your trip, and enjoy one of the most remote and beautiful places you’ll ever see.

Things to do at Mono Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Waterfall
  • Birding
  • National Park

Mono Lake Photo Gallery

Mono Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Not Known

Water Level Control: Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power

Surface Area: 44,762 acres

Shoreline Length: 40 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,382 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 6,372 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 6,417 feet

Average Depth: 57 feet

Maximum Depth: 159 feet

Water Volume: 2,407,820 acre-feet

Lake Area-Population: 400

Trophic State: Hypersaline, Alkaline

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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