June Lake's surroundings are the epitome of high mountain beauty with granite mountains that wear snow caps in winter, clear blue lakes, and — best of all — not as many people as Lake Tahoe or Yosemite.
At the eastern base of the Sierras in California, just off Highway 395, the town of June Lake is a good place to stay if you want to tour the scenic Mono Basin. The scenic June Lake Loop drive goes through the town and past a string of small, alpine lakes. Fishing is the area's most popular activity, but it's also one of California's best places to see fall foliage. In winter, there's a small ski area.
The lake's surface is at 7,621 ft (2,323 m). If you live closer to sea level, read up on tips for traveling to the mountains before you go.
Why Should You Vacation at June Lake?
If you're planning a trip to June Lake, it has a friendly, small-town feel. It's smaller than nearby Mammoth Lakes but more laid back and charming.
Fishermen will enjoy angling in June Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake, and Grant Lake. The annual Monster Trout contest, held in April is a good chance to try your skills. Trophy-sized rainbow, German brown, and cutthroat trout are the most common catch.
The lakes are also a good place for boating and kayaking. And you can find plenty of hiking trails to explore nearby, too.
Photographers flock to June Lake in the fall for the foliage, a blaze of aspen gold which usually peaks in early October. In fact, most of the best places to see fall foliage in California are in the June Lake area.
June Mountain is the local ski resort, with 35 trails and seven lifts.
Things to Do
Some of the most interesting attractions in the June Lake area include Mono Lake, a place with fantastical-looking rock formations and so alkaline that almost nothing can live in it.
You can take a side trip to Mammoth Lakes, Convict Lake, or Lee Vining.
You can also go looking for one of the local natural hot springs, which are a great place to get a soak and watch the scenery at the same time.
Where to Stay
You'll find some good hotel options in June Lake. They include the luxurious Double Eagle Resort and family-owned Boulder Lodge right on the lake's shore. You can also stay in other area towns and still enjoy the lake. Many hotels are full of "leaf peepers" in early October, so reserve ahead if you can.
Where to Eat
You'll find several restaurants in town, providing basic meals at reasonable prices. The restaurant at Convict Lake Resort is said to be one of the best east of the Sierras, albeit a bit pricey. For a more fun time and some of the best meals anywhere, join the other travelers in the know who flock to Whoa Nellie Deli at Tioga Gas Mart. It's north of June Lake at the intersection of Hwy 395 and Hwy 140 in Lee Vining.
There's a monster fish contest at June Lake in April and the fall color in October, and a triathlon in July.
Best Time to Go
The best time for a June Lake vacation depends on your interests. Anglers should plan their visit during the fishing season, which begins around the end of April. If you're a leaf peeper looking for fall color, early October is your best bet, although the leaves may peak earlier or later in any given year.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, it's hard (but not impossible) to get to June Lake in winter when the Tioga and Sonora passes are closed. Check the road conditions by entering highway number 120 for Tioga Pass or 108 for Sonora Pass at the CalTrans website. If the passes are closed, take I-80 east directly to US Hwy 395, or take CA Hwy 89 south around Lake Tahoe to US Hwy 395.