June Lake Loop got on my radar years ago after seeing scenic photos online of bright yellow trees dotting a towering mountain with a clear blue lake below.
Throw in charming cottages, history, plenty of bearded men in plaid and promises of craft beer, I got ~all the feels~ and I knew come that autumn, I’d have to make the trek up to the Sierra Nevadas and discover the best things to do in June Lake Loop for ya’ll.
Back in 2018, I grabbed some girlfriends & drove into the mountains for a weekend exploring one of the most under-the-radar lakes in California. Since I’ve been back to Mono County countless time (I can’t stay away!) but now I get to bring you the ultimate June Lake Loop travel guide.
June Lake Is The Switzerland Of California
So, why should you visit June Lake? Above all, it’s beautiful. It’s sometimes referred to the “Switzerland of California” and I can see why.
June Lake Village is nestled within the mountains so no matter where you look, you’ll see the majestic Carson’s Peak towering above you.
Some of the cabins in town are designed to look a big like Swiz Chalets and I imagine during a wet June Lake winter when the whole town is covered under feet of snow, it looks even more like Europe.
As you can imagine, the hiking trails here are some of the best hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From easy ones that take twenty minutes and offer a view (Yost Trail!) to steep 3-mile hikes for you pros (Fern Lake!), there’s nothing short of amazing ways to walk among nature around June Lake California.
The town is small, but has hidden gems. From a fantastic brewery, a Hawaiian food truck, a modern cafe, a historic camp… there are so many corners that will delight you in June Lake.
It’s a small town but it’s not without charm! Plus, the locals are really nice.
What’s The Best Time To Visit June Lake?
You can visit June Lake any time of year, though I think autumn is the most magical season. There’s a fraction of the crowds, the roads are still open and the mountains are dotted with yellow trees.
Water activities will be open, too. On that first trip with my friends, we rented kayaks on Silver Lake and did such a fun (and chilly) paddle. We bundled up with plaid button-ups and beanies and had a blast paddling around the lake.
I’ve been up a few times in October and love June Lake that time of year. But of course, summer is great since all the trails, lakes and restaurants will be open.
June Lake Has 4 Lakes
There are actually four lakes in the area – June Lake, Gull Lake, Grant Lake and Silver Lake, each very different from the next.
Because there are four lakes, June Lake fishing is a BIG thing, but you don’t have to fish to enjoy the water! I mean, I personally love grabbing a cup of hot coffee in the mornings and just looking at nature… and taking photos for Instagram.
- Silver Lake: This lake is pretty historic, as Carson’s Camp was created on the banks of Silver Lake. If you grab breakfast at the Silver Lake Resort, you’ll find tons of old photos from the original camp. This lake is great for kayaking and were you can find the trailhead to Rush Creek Trail.
- Gull Lake: Gull Lake is between Silver Lake and June Lake. It looks to be the smallest lake, but the prettiest, in my opinion, because Carson’s Peak is RIGHT THERE! It’s popular among fishers and boaters, but we enjoyed it from the docks with morning coffee.
- Grant Lake: This is the biggest lake and also the most desolate. It’s not the prettiest lake – at least compared to the others. It’s big, wide and great for water skiing.
- June Lake: The lake the town is named after! It’s bigger than Silver Lake and Gull Lake and has the town nestled to one side of it. There’s also plenty of hiking trails and campgrounds dotting the shores. The proper June Lake Loop distance/drive is just under 16 miles round trip. It’s not a state park so it’s free to drive!
Fun things to do in June Lake California
There are so many wonderful things to do on June Lake Loop and around the town of June Lake in general. You won’t be bored, even if you don’t like to be outdoorsy!
1. Drive The Scenic June Lake Loop
Obviously, driving June Lake Loop is on the top of the list of things to do in June Lake! It’s a quick drive if you don’t stop, as it’s only about 16 miles. Even though you can drive it quickly, doesn’t mean you should.
This loop isn’t around June Lake (that drive takes like, 3 minutes to complete) but is instead Hwy 158. I like starting on the North end near Lee Vinning and then driving past Grant Lake, stopping in Silver Lake for breakfast at the cafe, and then making my way to June Lake.
You can head to Mammoth Lakes from here, or to complete the loop, swing by Mono Lake South Tufa Area on Hwy 395.
The entire loop is full of hidden corners, trailheads and amazing views of the mountains, lakes, trees and cottages. Carve out half a day to lazily explore.
2. Watch a Sunrise Over A Lake
TRUST ME – sunrises here are the best. One of my favorite June Lake things to do is wake up before dawn, bring coffee and settled in along one of the 4 lakes to watch a beautiful sunrise over Carson’s Peak.
Any lake will be great, but I specifically recommend Gull Lake on the docks or June Lake at the campground.
The latter is what the girls and I picked on my first trip to June Lake. I have such fond memories of rallying in the dark, making coffee and wrapping ourselves in blankets on the shores of June Lake to watch the sky turn from black to pink to blue.
3. Go Swimming In An Alpine Lake
Can you swim in June Lake? YES! Sunrise may be a little chilly, but come back during the afternoon to swim here.
Swimming is one of my favorite things to do in June Lake in summer. I’m a little water bug and love to jump into lakes whenever I see them. That’s why I always pack a swimsuit on all my trips.
Water levels change year by year, but swimming in alpine makes is truly magical and these lakes are safe to swim in.
4. Kayak on Silver Lake
I love swimming, but kayaking is one of my favorite things to do in June Lake summertime or autumn! It’s a lake paddle, so easy for beginners.
You can easily rent a kayak at the Silver Lake Resort and quickly launch and be out on the water. They don’t provide dry bags so bring your own or leave your phone in the car (it’s a pretty safe area to do so).
The views are stunning, especially during fall when the leaves change color on the mountain and along the side. You can paddle back into the river and wind deep into the mountain valley. SO. Dang. PRETTY.
5. Eat a Historic Breakfast At Silver Lake Resort
Silver Lake Resort was originally called Carson’s Camp, built in 1916, so people have been dining here for over 100 years.
The cafe at the Silver Lake Resort is historic and has FANTASTIC food, let me tell you. The cafe is cozy (read: small) but has that perfect mountain cabin cozy vibe thing going on.
We grab breakfast at Silver Lake every time we drive by, even if we’re on our way to Mammoth Lakes!
The food here is classic mountain diner food – pancakes, biscuits with gravy, bacon and strong coffee. The cafe closes at 2pm each day and the line gets long on weekend days so it’s best to get there early.
6. Do Some Leaf Peeping On The Scenic June Lake Loop Drive
Aka, fall foliage hunting! Each fall season, for a short window of time, the Eastern Sierra mountains light up in what I call “fire” – aka – orange, yellow and red leaves. But, not everywhere. You have to know where to find it.
And boy, we found stunning fall foliage along June Lake in California this past October. But it took a few trial and errors (the first year we tried, we missed peak season by about a week).
But we finally hit the jackpot. Below I have a list of all the best places to find fall colors in June Lake if you want to go leaf peeping. But here’s some tips to know when you are finding fall colors in California in general:
- Trees at higher elevations turn colors before lower elevations. This means peaks will turn before valleys.
- Peak colors change each year, sometimes up to 1.5 weeks difference. this makes trip planning a little hard, so be prepared to look at local leaf reports and run to the mountains last minute.
- The best time for photos of fall leaves is at sunrise or sunset.
- You’ll mostly find Aspens in the Sierras, which turn a bright yellow, but it is possible to find maples and other trees that turn red or orange.
7. Check out the views on Yost Trail
Ready to get hiking? Yost Trail To Yoast Lake trail is a 4.5 mile hike up and you’ll be rewarded with a view of the town, June Lake and Gull Lake Marina, all in one go.
Best at sunrise or sunset for photos.
8. Grab a brew at June Lake Brewing
The tasting room is small but has plenty of outdoor seating. Outside from 11am-4pm you’ll find, Ohanas 395, a Hawaiian food truck to grab lunch and a pint.
My favorite beer was the Lil Walker, but it’s worth trying a flight first. It’s such a vibe over here and clearly a place locals like to hang out. The girls and I did happy hour here one day and they even gave us a little tour of the back area! So much fun.
9. Hike Around Gull Lake
If you’re looking for a hike that’s not really a hike (aka for lazy people like me) the trail loop around Gull Lake is for you! It’s quick, taking about 30-60 minutes.
You can grab a map from the community center or just use your phone to track the trail. I recommend going in the morning when Carson’s Peak looks STUNNING!
Or, come at sunset to watch the sun sink over the mountains. In autumn, there’s a bunch of stunning trees that turn colors right on the shore of Gull Lake Marina and makes for beautiful photos.
10. Parker Lake Trail
Parker Lake Trail trail is steep at first but levels out to an easy to moderate hike. It goes around Parker Lake, which is a bit hidden off the main footpath, so you’re guaranteed little to no people.
June Lake offers so many great hiking trails and this is a favorite!
11. Eat At The Lift
The Lift was new when I visited the first time in 2018 but it’s still there and now a local favorite.
It’s open for breakfast from 7am and closes at Noon. They’re a women-owned business (girl power!) and offers a modern option in this old mountain town.
If you’re going for an early morning hike or fishing, grab one of their burritos to go (I had this – yum!) It’s also a good option to have up your sleeve if Silver Lake Resort’s line to sit down for breakfast is too long (in fact, on my most recent visit while waiting, some women came into Silver Lake, saw the link and immediately left saying “let’s go to The Lift!”)
Sometimes they even have a wine and paint night so look for special events like that when you come!
12. Grab Pizza At June Pie Pizza Co
Across the street from The Lift is June Pie Pizza Co which is the best (and only) place to grab a pizza in the mountains. On our last visit, we ordered pizza at the window and then brought it back to our hotel to eat but there’s the T-Bar Social Club downstairs if you’re looking for a sit-down option.
They serve the pizza here, too! And it’s really tasty and affordable. We got the Medium New Yorker (has ricotta!) and it was totally big enough for the two of us.
Note: June Pie usually closes down in the winter, but should be open from Spring – Autumn.
13. Visit Mono Lake South Tufa
Mono County is named as such after Mono Lake, a huge and very salty lake. Mono Lake is right outside June Lake about a 15 minute drive and is home to the famous Tufas (limestone rock formations that looks like something you would find on an alien planet!)
I highly recommend you visit the Mono Lake South Tufa area to see some of these formations up and personal. Breathtaking doesn’t begin to describe them.
It feels like you should have arrived via spaceship here, not car. Any time of day is good to visit, but sunrise is most popular if you’re a photographer. Justina and I went here at sunrise this year and I thought we would be the only ones up at this ungodly hour, but there were about 15 other photographers there.
Make sure to have a California State Park pass on your dash as there aren’t any ticket booths over here. You can access the parking lot through a mix of gravel and paved road, but our tiny beat-up car could make it down so unless it’s winter, you don’t need 4WD.
14. Frontier Pack Train
Dear LORDY, this is still on my bucket list but I want to do the Frontier Pack Train so badly. This is a company that offers back-country pack trips and daily guided trail rides on mules (or sometimes horses depending on what you book.)
I love a good horseback ride through hard-to-reach areas, like Smith Rock in Oregon, so I know these trail rides must be magic.
Depending on what you book, you’ll either go for shorter rides through the Ansel Adams / Minaret Wilderness areas near June Lake, or even as far as the Yosemite National Park back country. GOALS.
15. Soak In A Hot Springs
On our way back to San Francisco, we stopped by the Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport! There are a lot of hot springs in this region (check out Wild Willy’s in Mammoth Lake while you’re visiting June Lake!) I have a low-key obsession with finding all the best hot springs on the West Coast.
If you want to also visit hot springs, consider adding on a couple of days to your trip. You can go camping near Wild Willy’s in Mammoth, or spend a night or two in Bridgeport to be close to Travertine.
You’ll miss this if you go back West through Tioga Pass Road so make sure you’re taking the Sonora Pass.
Top Fall Foliage Spots Near June Lake
The entire June Lake area is popping with color and at the end of the day, it’s worth just driving around and seeing what’s turning color on that day.
As you probably know, not all leaves turn color at once. As it gets colder, more and more leaves turn. That being said, below are our top areas to road trip to see some fall foliage in June Lake!
On your way into town, you’ll take Hwy 158. Right before you turn the corner and start descending into June Lake, you’ll be surrounded by tons of yellow aspen trees.
At some points, you’ll be rewarded with views of Carson’s Peak, the lake AND yellow trees, all in one go. On the other end of Hwy 158 between Silver Lake and Grant Lake, you’ll find some more stunning trees lining the roads.
There’s this spot that’s near Iowa Street and June Lake Loop road that had a little field and mountain views sandwiching a line of fall foliage. (These are the photos of me frolicking through a field of orange with a red beanie!)
We went kayaking on Silver Lake and loved the yellow trees dotting the shores of the lake. From the water, we looked up in the mountains and saw the most beautiful orange, red and yellow trees cascading the mountain range. There’s a little creek that winds through the marsh that makes it a fun paddle, too.
Fern Lake Trail
This is that 3-mile hike I mentioned at the beginning of the post. We didn’t hike it because I’m wildly out of shape and it’s supposed to be steep, but the locals raved about this trail. It’s supposed to have fantastic fall foliage!
Ansel Adams Wilderness
If you’re up for a big back country hike, the Ansel Adams Wilderness is a 16 mile trail outside June Lake that has jaw-dropping views of the mountains. If hiking is too much, you can reach this area via the Frontier Pack ride mules, too!
It’s also part of the Pacific Crest Trail so if you’re here during the summer, you may see a few of the PCT hikers here!
Best Hotels Near June Lake
June Lake is a small town full of cozy vacation rentals, cabins to rent and family-owned hotels, along with plenty of camping sites and RV parks. Some spots are incredibly historic and have been operating for almost 100 years.
My general take away is that there’s a lodging place for every type of person around June Lake. Below are some June Lake hotels and June Lake cabins to note.
Silver Lake Resort
As mentioned above, Silver Lake Resort is pretty dang historic, dating back to 1916 when Carson’s Camp was founded. We had breakfast and kayaked here.
We didn’t see the inside of the cabins or spend a night here, so I can’t tell you how nice they are, but I really liked how it’s literally right on the water.
If you plan on doing a lot of boating, fishing or kayaking, this may be a good place for you. Looking for June Lake Loop camping? They have campground here as well!
Double Eagle Resort & Spa
Double Eagle Resort & Spa is the hotel we stayed at during our time exploring June Lake Loop. I loved our cabin – it was large (perfect for a group of 4!) had a fireplace and was stocked with pretty much everything we needed in terms of tools.
It even had coffee in the fridge so we could brew some in the morning. The property is stunning, it’s probably the prettiest hotel in June Lake. They have a big pool and hot tub that’s part of their spa, but available to use for guests. Guests can also attend fitness classes for free.
June Lake Pines
We didn’t go into June Lake Pines, but I noticed it each time we picked up food at the general store in town as it’s right across the street. It looked cute from the outside and has decent reviews on TripAdvisor.
It’s also apparently one of the first lodges built in the town. If you want to stay in town directly, this will probably serve you well! It helps with cutting down on driving for sure.
Not to be confused with The Four Seasons hotel chain, this Four Seasons is a group of adorable A-frame cabins! They looked very charming from the outside and capture that picture-perfect June Mountain lodging vibe.
They were a bit close together, but if you are looking for a different sort of cabin experience, check them out.
June Lake Camping
Camping is also popular in the summer! I don’t feel like I can talk on the campsites since we didn’t visit any but I know there are a lot of great campgrounds. I would recommend camping in late summer and early fall for the best weather!
(Check out the June Lake beach campground to start your campsite research! Also use the app iOverlander to find great sites!)
Best Restaurants In June Lake
June Lake is small, so there aren’t a crazy amount of dining options. I’ve already touched on most of my favorite places to eat along June Lake Loop, but the list is below again!
Silver Lake Resort Cafe
Best mountain breakfast! The wait at Silver Lake Resort Cafe can be long on weekends so get there early or add your name to the waitlist and browse the shop while waiting.
Grab a Mexican mocha and burrito for breakfast at The Lift, or wine and pizza at night.
Ohana’s 395 Food Truck
This is the Hawaiian food truck that’s parked outside June Lake Brewery from 11am-4pm daily! It was a fantastic lunch, I highly recommend it.
This is clearly a local’s bar, but Tiger Bar also houses a cafe that serves all 3 meals if you’re in a pinch.
Dang tasty pizza. Try the New Yorker.
Latte Da Cafe
Up the road in Lee Vinning is this awesome cafe that’s worth the drive out of town. Latte Da Cafe has literally one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve had in years.
Where not to eat…
A few locals also told us that the food at the Eagle’s Landing is a big hit or miss and it’s better to only grab cocktails/drinks there to be safe.
What To Pack For June Lake Loop
What you pack depends on the season you visit! It’s a mountain town, so if you choose to visit in the winter, you’ll need lots of warm clothes and proper winter gear.
The summer is warmer, but not really ever hot like you find in other parts of California, so make sure you still bring at least a light jacket for the evenings.
- Hiking Boots: June Lake Loop is a hiking paradise! Even if you don’t plan on doing any intense hikes, you’ll probably end up wearing your hiking boots all week long.
- Sunscreen: June Lake is at very high elevation, I want to say around 7,000 feet. Take it from the pale redhead – wear sunscreen!
- Jacket: A good outdoor jacket with pockets will be very handy in June Lake. Even in the summer, you’ll want a layer in the mornings and evenings. Look for one that can double as a rain jacket, as the weather changes very quickly in the mountains!
- Bug Spray: The bugs can swarm you in the summer, make sure to bring the good stuff with the deet! Some people have trouble using 100% deet but, after growing up in the Wisconsin woods, I can tell you that more deets = less bugs bothering you.
- A good book to read by on your cabin deck. I really enjoyed The Four Winds and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah!
I hope this helps you plan your trip to June Lake Loop! It has some of the best fall foliage in the United States. Do keep in mind that the roads into June Lake may close during the winter, so if you are planning a winter trip, check first if you’ll be able to get into town. It has some of the best fall foliage in the United States.
If you have any questions at all, leave a comment below or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll be happy to help!
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