In a region known for its eye-popping scenery, June Lake Loop still manages to stand out. The spectacularly scenic road in California’s Eastern Sierra features alpine lakes and majestic mountains, and a variety of activities if you want to stop and explore.
Whether you choose to drive June Lake Loop as a brief detour on a longer Highway 395 road trip, or you do it as a day trip (or a part day trip) from Mammoth Lakes, you will be captivated by the beauty of the drive. You can even choose to spend several days in June Lake, staying in one of the resorts or cabins along the route!
Considering the beautiful June Lake Loop drive? Read on to discover what to expect, plus our tips for doing the drive.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What Can You Expect on the June Lake Loop Drive?
Essential Facts About The June Lake Loop
Which End of the June Lake Loop is Best to Begin Your Drive?
Map of the June Lake Loop in the Eastern Sierra of California
Tips for Driving the June Lake Loop Road
What can you expect on the June Lake Loop drive?
With four sparkling alpine lakes by the road, strung like sapphires on a necklace, June Lake Loop is jaw-dropping beautiful. The winding mountain road takes you past view after view that will hold you captivated. It is one of California’s most scenic drives.
We drove the route starting at June Lake Junction the south end, closer to Mammoth Lakes, and that’s how we’ve described it here, but of course, you can catch the drive at the north end, closer to Mono Lake, and drive it in reverse as well.
Stop at June Lake Overlook
The June Lake Overlook offers a first peek of June Lake, with majestic Carson Peak in the background. At one time, there was a tower here, the Oh Ridge Outlook Tower, which offered a superior view, but it has since been removed. The view is still worth the stop.
You will find an interesting historical marker here: Legend of June Lake Slot Machines. In the 1930s, local cafes and bars installed slot machines (even though they weren’t legal), as entertainment for people working on an infrastructure project in the region.
Demand declined after the project was complete, and many of the machines were removed in ensuing years. The last few were reported to have been hurriedly dumped into June Lake when a raid by authorities was imminent.
Dive efforts to locate the slot machines have not yielded any results. The machines were reportedly not emptied when they were dumped, so they possibly contain lots of old silver dollars!
Visit June Lake Beach
Take North Shore Road to June Lake Beach Road, to view June Lake from water level. The swimming beach is popular in the summer months, when you can rent equipment. You can wade, swim, sunbathe, or go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding.
You can walk along the beach (and shore) for a bit as well. When we visited in October, the water was ice-cold, but the stroll along the water was beautiful. We saw ducks on the shore, snoozing in the morning sun, with their heads tucked into their wings.
Take in Aerial Views of June Lake
Back on the June Lake Loop road, find safe pull-outs to park along the side of the road to take photos of June Lake from above. The views come up almost as soon as you get back up from the beach, so drive slow.
The aerial views of June Lake are some of the most spectacular on the entire drive, so make sure you have your camera handy to capture them. June Lake has bright blue water, and it looks fabulous on a clear bright day.
At the west end of June Lake are the June Lake Marina and the Big Rock Resort Marina, where you can rent boats in season. Near the June Lake Fire Station, look for the Perched Boulder, a large erratic boulder left behind by glaciers.
If you like, you can stop for coffee, tea, or a cold drink at The Lift or Tiger Bar & Cafe in June Lake Village. They serve breakfast as well.
Visit Gull Lake
Gull Lake comes up almost as soon as you leave the last views of June Lake behind. It is the smallest of the four lakes along the loop. Take Gull Lake Road to go down to the water level, where you will find the Gull Lake Marina.
We chose Gull Lake to go boating: it is a small lake, and you can stay close enough to shore for great photos from the water. The lake is also known for its trout, so if you enjoy fishing, there is a tackle shop for supplies.
Set amidst the mountains of the Eastern Sierra, the small lake is extremely picturesque, with its green-blue water, and willows on the shore.
Enjoy the June Lake Loop Drive
There’s quite a gap between Gull Lake and Silver Lake, the next lake on the loop, so this stretch of the road is perfect for an uninterrupted drive through the stunning alpine scenery. We did stop a few times to take photos though!
Aspens and willows line the route, and mountains form a towering backdrop to the winding road. Carved by glaciers during the last ice age, the June Lake Valley is horseshoe shaped. Look for Rush Creek as it passes under the road before you approach Silver Lake.
Hike Rush Creek Trail
If you are visiting for the day, and enjoy hiking, try the Rush Creek Trail to Agnew Lake. The out and back trail is about 4.2 miles round trip, and is rated moderate. The trailhead comes up a little before Silver Lake.
You will climb up, via a series of switchbacks, to Agnew Lake, a pretty lake set in the midst of mountains. Along the way, you will pass Horsetail Falls, which you can see from the June Lake Loop Road as well. The falls are at their best in the early summer.
You can hike a little bit further from Agnew Lake to Gem Lake as well, before turning back. Rush Creek Trail goes on to the Ansel Adams Wilderness and Yosemite National Park.
If you do not wish to hike, or you are short on time, you can also drive up to Agnew Lake and Gem Lake from the June Lake Loop Road via the Rush Creek Substation Road.
If you have more time, check out our guide to the best hikes in June Lake!
Stop at Silver Lake
Silver Lake is a great place to have lunch, if you did not bring a picnic. The cafe at Silver Lake Resort is most famous for their hearty breakfasts, but they have a good choice of sandwiches, burgers, and salads!
The lake has a stunning setting, and kayaks and fishing boats are available for rent. We saw anglers fishing from the shore at Silver Lake as well.
View Grant Lake
After you leave Silver Lake behind, the road runs beside Rush Creek, which flows out of Silver Lake and into Grant Lake. It is very cool to follow its path!
We found Grant Lake a tad less scenic than the other lakes along the route, for one because it is so big, and there are not as many trees just by the shore. On the plus side, we had it all to ourselves when we visited!
In season, boats are available for rent at the Grant Lake Marina, and you can go sailing, windsurfing, and boating. Speedboats and personal watercraft are allowed at Grant Lake, so you can waterski and wakeboard here are well. Fishing is also popular at Grant Lake.
A little beyond Grant Lake, you will come to the northern terminus of the June Lake Loop.
Essential Facts About the June Lake Loop Drive
The June Lake Loop Road is officially California Highway 158. It is a little less than 16 miles in length, and fully paved. Access at its north or south end is from US Route 395, the major road that runs along the Eastern Sierra of California.
The road is two lanes, one in each direction. It is a fairly narrow and winding road, with narrow shoulders in general. In the summer and fall, expect motorcyclists and bicyclists along the road.
There are a few pullouts along the road where you can safely stop for a brief while to take in the views and snap photos. It is natural to drive slow on such a scenic road, but watch for pedestrians crossing to take photos and for wildlife. We saw deer at a couple of places along the route.
A large portion of the June Lake Loop Road is closed on account of snow accumulations in the winter months, so plan to drive the full loop when it is open. In the winter, only the south junction is generally open, up to a few miles beyond June Lake Village.
Gas is available at the June Lake Junction Shell Gas & Food Mart, at the south end of the loop.
Which end of the June Lake Loop is best to begin your drive?
You can drive June Lake Loop starting at the south end at June Lake Junction (near Mammoth Lakes), or at the north end (near Mono Lake).
June Lake Loop is scenic regardless of where you begin, so we suggest doing what is convenient if you are doing it as a detour on a longer Highway 395 drive.
That said, we think the approach from the south end has a little more of the wow factor, because at the start of the drive, the view of the road heading for the mountains is so stunning.
We drove June Lake Loop in both directions on two different days, and enjoyed it both times.
Map of the June lake Loop Drive
Note: Google Maps will not highlight the route when the road is closed in the winter. You are looking for CA 158, the horseshoe shaped road between June Lake Junction and the CA 158 end past Grant Lake in the north. The route will show correctly when the road is open.
Tips for Driving the June Lake Loop Road
Drive the Route in the Fall for Stunning Foliage Color
Fall is, without a doubt, a fabulous time to drive the June Lake Loop Road. The leaf color here, at peak, is some of the best you will find in the Eastern Sierra, with aspens turning to burnished gold, and willows in the meadows along the route turning to red and burgundy.
While the colors along the road are superb, you will find equally beautiful color on the banks of the lakes. When we visited in October, the yellows and oranges of the foliage reflected in the waters of Gull Lake made for some memorable views.
Drive June Lake Loop in the Summer to Enjoy Water-Based Activities
Summer is another wonderful time to do the June Lake Loop Drive, with wildflowers along the road and trails, green foliage, and sparkling blue or blue-green waters on bright sunny days.
During the summer, you will likely find the water in the lakes warm enough to wade or swim, and the temperatures warm enough to sunbathe on June Lake Beach. Water-based activities are in full swing, so you can en joy a breadth of activities.
Drive the route during daylight hours
Since the main reason you will drive June Lake Loop is for its breathtaking scenery, you will want to drive it in daylight on a clear weather day.
Morning or late afternoon and evening light result in the best photos, so if you are doing a part-day excursion, start early, or start later and plan on finishing up by sunset.
Allow Plenty of Time
June Lake Loop is just around 16 miles, so you can drive it in about 30-40 minutes, without stops. But you will want to allow a couple of hours at a minimum, to be able to stop at various viewpoints along the way, and take photos.
In four hours, you can do the drive at a leisurely pace and plan on one or two brief activities, such as a short walk along June Lake Beach and an hour of boating at one of the lakes.
With a full day, you can add a couple of hikes, and more than one water activity, plus lots of time to savor the beauty of your surroundings in the “Switzerland of California.”
June Lake makes for the perfect day excursion from Mammoth Lakes or from Lee Vining.
Dress for the Weather
Check the weather forecast for the day of your drive, and dress appropriately. In the mountains, weather changes can occur abruptly, and it is not uncommon to experience all four seasons in one day!
Bring layers — a warm waterproof jacket is always a good idea in the mountains, and wear closed-toed hiking shoes with good grip if you plan to hike. You may see patches of snow on high-elevation trails into the summer in some years.
Start Early for a More Peaceful Drive
June Lake is one of the most popular leaf-peeping destinations in California in the fall, and it is a popular recreation area at other times of the year as well, including in winter, when you can ski and enjoy other winter sports here.
Expect there to be traffic along June Lake Loop Road, and start early in the day if you want to enjoy the scenery in relative solitude for at least a part of the day.
We started the loop in October at the south end at 7 a.m., and enjoyed June Lake Beach with pretty much nobody else around. By about 9 a.m., the road was much livelier.
Later in the day is another good time to start, working backwards so that you complete the route by sunset. We arrived at Grant Lake in the late evening and enjoyed it in solitary bliss.
Bring your camera and binoculars
If you enjoy landscape photography, this is a drive where you will want to bring your gear, especially if you drive it in the fall.
We did bring our larger cameras and a tripod, but we also brought our little pocket camera: the Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70. This camera is perfect for the hikes portion, when you do not want to lug a heavy camera around.
If you enjoy bird or wildlife viewing, remember to bring your binoculars. We use the Celestron Trailseeker: they are compact, waterproof, and good in low light.
Planning to explore more of California? Check out some of our other articles on scenic drives!
- Artist’s Drive in Death Valley National Park
- Tioga Road through Yosemite National Park
- Palms to Pines Scenic Byway
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