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Looking like a cross between a science fiction landscape and something out of a Dr. Seuss book, the tufa towers of Mono Lake are a strange sight to behold. Emerging from salty, alkaline waters, these bizarre looking limestone formations are best explored by kayak or canoe at South Tufa.

Raising from the Lake

Tufa is a special type of limestone that forms when dissolved minerals in underground freshwater springs mix with minerals found in alkaline lake water. Tufa is found in many forms, but the tall columns, known as towers, are most common in Mono Lake. South Tufa

Grove has the highest concentration of these towers.

It’s the Water

With water twice as salty as the ocean and a pH equivalent to household glass cleaner, the chemistry of Mono Lake creates a unique ecosystem. In the 1940s, the lake’s tributaries were diverted and the water level fell, which altered the concentration of salts and minerals. The effects cascaded through the ecosystem, affecting the habitat and food source for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Since then, a massive conservation effort has allowed the lake begin its path to recovery.

Experience the Water

Swimmers at South Tufa can expect an unusual experience. The water is slippery, and behaves much like soapy water. The high concentration of dissolved salts and minerals makes it easy to float on top of the water. Bring goggles to protect your eyes from the salty water, and a bottle of fresh water to rinse off the mineral residues when you leave.

Visitors are permitted to use non-motorized boats in Mono Lake. Guided tours of the lake occur all summer — by land or water. The Mono Lake Ranger District has several campgrounds for visitors who want to extend their stay. In years with a good snowfall, cross country skiing is also offered at Mono Lake.


Amenities: Vault toilets; nearest services are located in Lee Vining, 11 miles away

Operating Hours: Daylight use only

Fee: $3 per person (Federal Fee Area)

South Tufa is located in the congressionally designated Mono Lake National Forest Scenic Area

There are no shaded areas. Bring plenty of water and use sunscreen

Non-motorized boats only

Walking tours occur every day during the summer at 10 a.m. , 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Canoe tours  weekends only.


  • Highest concentration of tufa towers at Mono Lake
  • Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds stopping by on their journey to South America including California gulls, Eared Grebes, and Wilsons and red-necked phalaropes
  • Picturesque scenery perfect for sightseeing and photography
  • Interpretive signs along the trail that explain the unique and fragile environment
  • Amazing sunrises and sunsets
  • Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center at the north end of Lee Vining; includes book store, art gallery, exhibits and film


Nestled in the Eastern Sierra of California, Inyo National Forest is home to over two million acres  of picturesque scenery. The forest boasts natural wonders such as Mt. Whitney, Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes Basin, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, along with nine Congressionally-designated Wilderness Areas.