Visitors to Santa Barbara sometimes marvel that those who live here would ever feel the need for a vacation. The truth is, everyone needs a retreat now and then. For a dramatic change of scenery and a tranquil setting just one day’s drive away, nothing beats June Lake. Even the journey there—through the orange groves of Fillmore, past the desert flatlands of Mojave, and along the ribbon of the 395 as it winds its way up the eastern flank of the Sierra—gives the traveler the open vistas and ample time necessary for reflection.
Just 20 miles north of the busy resort town of Mammoth Lakes, June Lake is a quiet alternative: a sleepy mountain town relatively unchanged by tourism. The community is virtually immune to sprawl, nestled as it is between the steeply rising Sierra and a chain of lakes that wind their way east. A few miles past the center of town, right at the foot of 10,000 foot Carson Peak, lies the Double Eagle Resort and Spa—where luxury meets rustic charm—the perfect setting for an escape from paradise.
Slowing Down to Sierra Pace
We left town after work on a Thursday and pulled in to the Double Eagle shortly before midnight. Our mission was simple: to spend the next three days treating our work-weary bodies and minds to a regimen of exercise and deep relaxation. We kicked it off with a 10-hour sleep, tucked beneath the down comforter of a giant bed with a frame made from rough-hewn pines. In the morning, I padded across the room and made it as far as the armchair by the fireplace, where I spent the next hour writing in my journal and gazing out the window. Below our room was a trout pond, where a single fisherman cast his fly in graceful arcs above his head. The snowy Sierras appeared as a reflection on the rippling water.
Eventually, we headed out the door and across the resort grounds to the Eagle’s Landing Restaurant for a late breakfast. The first course was the view: a breathtaking panorama of couloirs and craggy cliffs where snowmelt converged in feathery waterfalls.
Next came the food. My health-conscious companion had gone for bowl of steel cut oatmeal, while I tucked into an omelet of creamy fontina cheese, spinach, and mushrooms; crispy, buttery hash browns; granary toast with homemade huckleberry jam; and coffee with plenty of cream.
Then we sat, gaping at the mountains, content with silence. We had the restaurant to ourselves. In winter, our friendly waitress informed us, the June Mountain ski resort attracts thousands of out-of-town snow sports enthusiasts, but come April, the town settles into a long off-season. Yet the spring and summer months are in some ways the best time to visit the region: the wildflowers are blooming, and the bracing mountain air is ideal for hikes, bike rides, boat trips, and quiet strolls along the lakeshore. The trout season opens in April, drawing anglers to June Lake for the annual Monster Trout Competition. For the athletically inclined, there’s a June Lake triathlon in July, not to mention skiing at Mammoth—this year open through July 4 thanks to an epic snow pack.
It was April, and we’d brought our skis and snowboards, our running shoes and bicycles, and our swimsuits for the resort’s pool and spa; there was no way were we about to brave the icy lakes. It was time for some high-elevation training…just as soon as we’d had a midday nap.
Recreation and Renewal
The town of June Lake lies at 7,600 feet above sea level: a significant shift for coastal dwellers. I hardly noticed the thinner air until I set off on an afternoon run. As I jogged past Silver Lake and headed north, my heart pounded, and I wondered whether I’d make it more than a mile or two. Yet the cool air was invigorating, and the sun warmed my skin. At the far end of the lake, I stopped to drink in the view again: jagged peaks towering above me, their snow-dusted faces reflected in the still water. A fleet of rowboats waited on the lakeshore, their hulls facing the sky. As I ran on, time seemed to slow. Deadlines and duties slid from my mind as I let my eyes focus on distant peaks and snowfields, and my ears tune to the sounds of running water and birdsong. Soon, I realized I’d been running for over half an hour, and though I was tempted to venture farther, I turned back.
Meanwhile, my partner headed out on his bike for a 24-mile loop past Grant Lake. The climb back to town was grueling in a powerful headwind, and after a short stretching session, we headed to the spa for a well-deserved soak. Like the rest of the resort, the Creekside Spa has rustic charm: towels and terry cloth robes are handed out from behind swinging shuttered doors, and the shop’s décor includes vintage washboards and butter churns. The afternoon’s activities had satiated our need for exercise, but we took note of the extensive gym and yoga room with a view of the mountains. Then we headed for the pool and slipped into the massive hot tub, letting the swirling water soothe our sore muscles. That night we celebrated our accomplishments with another feast: succulent, garlicky roast chicken for me; an equally sensational blackened salmon filet for him.
Saturday dawned, and we loaded the car for a trip to Mammoth Mountain, where we met up with a friend for a day of spring skiing. The conditions were good, but after the slow pace of June Lake life, the crowded runs and packed lodges were a shock to our senses. Back in June and hungry from a day on the slopes, we walked hand in hand along the town’s main drag. I’d heard good things about the Carson Peak Inn, but in our après ski attire, we opted for the more casual Tiger Bar and Café, the town’s main watering hole since the 1930s. A turkey burger and a bowl of chili later, we headed home and fell once more into a deep sleep.
On Sunday, we rose early for a bike ride past the lakes and out to the 395. The sun sparkled on the water and the wind whipped past us as we rode the rolling hills back to June, our thighs burning from the climbs. We were ready for one last soak, and this time we treated ourselves to a private room with claw foot tubs and candlelight. Moving in slow motion on the way back to our room to pack, we stopped to watch a fly fisherman land his morning catch: a glistening rainbow trout he held for us to admire before letting it slip back into the pond’s murky depths. It was time for us to return home too, and we spent much of the drive back in silence, letting the stillness of the Sierras ride with us all the way back to the Pacific coast.
For more information on the Double Eagle Resort and Spa, call (760) 648-7004 or visit doubleeagle.com