Settling in along the 380-mile drive between Santa Barbara and June Lake — as long stretches of highways 14 and 395 roll beneath cumulus white against the high blue — a pure wanderlust may compel you to queue up a bottomless playlist and just keep driving for days. It’s that good. But then you might blow past that left turn onto Highway 158 and the June Lake Loop. That would not be good. Here’s a quick sample of what you’d miss.
June Lake Loop begins its 12.5-mile curve bordering four prominent lakes — with its namesake dominating the foreground just after the first rise — and a mountain village scattered with campgrounds, lodges, trails, boat ramps, and other nudges from the universe to relax and take long deep breaths of cool Eastern Sierra air.
Arriving midafternoon, my family and I dumped our duffles in Aspen Meadows #10, a condo owned by my friends and managed by the attentive staff at June Lake Premier Reservations (junelakepremierreservations.com). The condo was perfect, providing a clean comfortable home base with a great kitchen, washer and dryer, wood-burning stove, and a Weber on the deck. One morning out front, we spotted young bucks in the nearby high grass.
We knew we’d have a full kitchen at our fingertips; we came with a cooler stuffed with staples, from tea and eggs to lunch meat and frozen veggies. One night on that deck, we grilled burgers (stacked with avo and sharp cheddar) and sausage links with toasted French rolls.
We did have a birthday to celebrate, and we ate out for that, sliding into a booth at the Double Eagle (doubleeagle.com), with a view of jagged Carson Peak. I claim you can’t go wrong with the chipotle chicken sandwich. My daughter dug the grilled teriyaki salmon. For dessert, we swung by the June Lake General Store, where you can find camping supplies and motor oil just as easily as birthday cake and ice cream and pretty much everything in between.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
We tend to treat vacations like long weekends — we’re not getting up at the crack of dawn so much as sleeping in, brewing coffee, and lying around a bit before venturing out.
Lakes along the loop welcome plenty of rest and recreation, with June featuring wide-open beaches, free parking, and restrooms. Grant Lake is fun in that you can drive right down and post up on the water’s edge. Fishers flock to Silver Lake, where the namesake resort (silverlakeresort.net) maintains a fleet of aluminum skiffs ready for nicely priced full- or half-day outings. There are also two-person kayaks available to rent by the hour. Fishing’s good from shore, as well.
As far as hiking goes, we shy away from steep and strenuous (especially at high altitude) in favor of family-friendly trudges ranked moderate or easier. In that respect, the trail to Parker Lake was perfect for making memories. After a 20-minute dirt-road drive to the trailhead, we packed water and lunches along a mostly flat two-mile creek-side hike through forests and boulder fields to a stunning reveal of Parker Lake. After quick dips (Parker is significantly colder than the lakes “in town”) and a long lunch in the shade, we floated with the mountain breeze back to the car.
For some, June Lake summer visits are merely warmups for the peaking fall colors that start arriving mid-September. And come wintertime, it’s all about snow trips centered around June Mountain ski and snowboard resort (junemountain.com), which hands out free lift tickets to kids 12 and younger.
Of course, year-round fun and food can be had in nearby Mammoth. Everybody knows that.
But don’t forget that June is also very close to the East Entrance of Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne Meadows — viewed expansively after an easy hike up Pothole Dome — is only 30 miles away. Beyond that, beach days are calling at Tenaya Lake, and deeper — about 85 miles from June — the famed Yosemite Valley has left the Earth gloriously cracked with soaring granite and plunging waterfalls.
And with all that world-famous grandeur in the rearview mirror — and the windows down and a favorite playlist on shuffle — the winding drive back to June Lake is another trip bonus. It’s that good.
Check out junelakeloop.org for more details, reservations, and travel tips.