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Have you ever pondered, “How on earth did this California High Sierra town get its name?” Us too! The fun thing about looking back at the origins is that they usually come with an interesting story. Here’s a few that will give you some insight on how they were formed.

Mammoth Lakes

Aerial view of Mammoth Lakes California
Photo by: Brad Peatross – Image appears courtesy: Visit Mammoth

There are no dinosaur bones. The only tusks you’ll see are on the Mammoth in front of the world-renowned ski resort. So, how did Mammoth Lakes get its name? Although mining started a few years later on the eastern side of the Sierra, it did arrive around 1877. General George S. Dodge came in 1878 and consolidated several of the mining claims on Mineral Hill to create the Mammoth Mining Company. Many think that’s where the town of Mammoth Lakes got its name from. Check out Visit Mammoth Lakes article: Mammoth Lakes beginnings including the historic Knight Water Wheel you can still see today to learn about the early history of Mammoth. Or if you want to walk amongst history, here’s three day hikes near town that you can catch a glimpse of the past AND enjoy the great outdoors.


The origin of the name of Bishop California High Sierra towns
Photo by: Emily Taylor – Image appears courtesy: Bishop Visitor Center

Located near the north end of Owens Valley, it’s the epitome of a basecamp for ALL outdoor fun. Situated within the county that’s home to the lowest AND highest points in the contiguous United States, you know you’ll find everything from fishing to rock climbing to skiing at your doorstep. Similar to Mammoth Lakes, Bishop also came to be because of mining. Not in the region itself but because of the booming mining camp 80 miles to the north in Aurora.

Aurora is also where Mark Twain spent a few of his formative years prior to becoming a famous author. Bishop served as a cattle ranching town. One of the first cattlemen in the region was Samuel Addison Bishop and also one of the first non-native settlers in the valley. He setup a market to sell beef to the miners and business owners in Aurora and established a town called Bishop Creek. The town grew, and in 1903, it became the City of Bishop. If you want to learn more, head over to Visit Bishop’s comprehensive History & Heritage page.

Kings Beach

Kings Beach California High Sierra Towns
Image appears courtesy: North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce

Lake Tahoe is home to an assortment of interesting stories of how places got their names. A great example of this is Kings Beach on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Nearly a century ago, the eccentric millionaire George Whittell Jr. played an all-night poker game with card shark Joe King. Rumor has it that it was on that night Joe King won the land. Despite it being a good story, it’s more likely he won the money from San Francisco developer Robert P. Sherman to buy the land from Whittell Jr. Mr. Sherman owned much of the land that is now Kings Beach, Tahoe Vista, and Brockway. No matter how he won it, Joe’s still credited for creating the town of Kings Beach. This is just one of the twelve unique towns and the story behind it that border the north shore of Lake Tahoe.


California High Sierra Towns downtown Visalia
Image appears courtesy: Visit Visalia

A bit further south and at the base of the Sierra Nevada is Visalia. This town is the oldest in the San Joaquin Valley. You would think that with a name like Visalia it would be a sea of visalia flowers. Instead, the area was home to a vast magnificent oak forest. To this day, the oak is still a symbol of the city and the community. You can get a glimpse of how the area looked at the Kaweah Oaks Preserve. Similar to the other towns on the list, Visalia’s early growth can be attributed to gold fever that happened in the mid-1800’s. One of the first white inhabitants of the area was Nathaniel Vise. He was responsible for surveying the new settlement and named it after his ancestral home of Visalia, Kentucky. For more of an immersive dive into its interesting history, head over to Visit Visalia’s Rich History page or better yet stroll through its past by getting a free copy of their brochure Visalia: Then And Now.

For more fun and interesting history of how mountains, places, and other cities got their names, check out our our post: History of the names of places in California High Sierra.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at

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