Mountain Town Profile: June Lake, California

Those of us at International Alpine Guides are very lucky to be based in the beautiful resort town of June Lake, California. Perhaps one of the most beautiful mountain communities in the state, June Lake has all the climber, hiker and skier could ask for. My guiding and climbing takes me to mountain ranges around the world, yet when I return to June Lake and the Eastern Sierra I always have an even greater appreciation of what my home region has to offer. It is truly world class

June Lake is a small community of private homes, a few restaurants, a world-class spa and an exceptionally good microbrewery. All wrapped around four beautiful mountain lakes that are surrounded by 10,000 foot peaks. Located ten minutes off the main highway 395 in the heart of California’s outdoor sports mecca known as the Eastern Sierra, June Lake is a bit of a secret. And we kind of like it that way

There are many reason we love June Lake…Yosemite National Park a mere 30 minutes up the road, backcountry skiing literally right out our front door and  some of California's best rock and ice climbing just minutes away. The June Lake loop is best known as a fisherman’s hub in the summer and a quiet ski resort in the winter. But scratch the surface and you’ll find much more if you're looking for human-powered mountain adventures. Following is just a sample of the best climbing, hiking and backcountry skiing options we have in and around June Lake.

Rock Climbing

Drive thirty minutes from June Lake up Tioga Pass road and you will arrive at the Eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne Meadows is the main area here and offers rock climbers some of the best rock climbing in a state that has the best rock climbing in the world. Climbing is on the famous granite domes in the Yosemite high country with everything from easy crack climbs to thought provoking run-out slab routes.

Just to the East of June Lake, you’ll find the rock climbing area Clark’s Canyon and it’s multitude of sport climbs. In fact, it may have the best selection of beginner sport climbs in the whole state. Climbing is on the volcanic rock that is so prevalent in the area East of Highway 395. Clark’s Canyon is situated in a whispering pine forest with splendid views of the high sierra. It is a great place to take the family for a rock climbing outing

 Rock climbing on Stately Pleasure Dome above tenaya lake in Tuolumne Meadows

Rock climbing on Stately Pleasure Dome above tenaya lake in Tuolumne Meadows

Hiking

The hiking around June Lake is almost endless. In the June Lake Loop there’s a few great options such as the Fern Lake trail which switchbacks up an old glacial moraine to pleasantly quiet Fern Lake.

Another favorite is the Parker Lake trail, which goes for about 3 miles to spectacular Parker Lake. Although it’s a great late spring and summer hike the fall colors are a special treat for those hiking up to Parker Lake.

The Gem and Agnew Lake trail that begins at Silver Lake will take one as far into the backcountry as you would like to go, even all the way to Mount Whitney or the Canadian border as the trail joins up with the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Go just outside the June Lake Loop and once again you’ll find some of the world’s best hiking in the high country of Yosemite National Park. There are so many great day hikes here it’s hard to nail them down, but favorites would be the mellow hike up Lyell Canyon out from Tuolumne Meadows along the John Muir Trail. There’s also the hike within the Inyo National Forest from Saddlebag Lake to the 20 Lakes basin passing by, you guessed it, twenty small lakes.

There’s also backpacking galore. California’s high sierra is known as one of the world’s top wilderness backpacking destinations. June Lake is a great base for a backpacking trip into Yosemite and the High Sierra.

 Fall Colors at parker lake

Fall Colors at parker lake

Backcountry Skiing

In June Lake we are lucky to have June Mountain Ski Area, a quieter alternative to nearby Mammoth Mountain. While June Mountain may be considered a smaller ski resort with mostly intermediate terrain, it has the best access to backcountry skiing in all of California. June Mountain has an open boundary policy, which means you are free to use the lifts and then ski out of bounds and into the backcountry. Of course, this is something only experienced and trained backcountry skiers should consider doing without a guide. Many hazards exist, not the least being avalanches.

The main backcountry skiing attraction here is what is known as "the Negatives". They are a series of Northeastern-facing bowls and chutes that come off of San Joaquin Mountain. The base of these chutes are easily accessed from the top lift at June Mountain. There’s also Carson Peak, which dominates the landscape in the June Lake Loop. The North facing Carson Bowl is a favorite which culminates with a ski down the “Devil’s Slide” that spits you out right at the hot tubs of the Double Eagle Spa.

 On top of Carson Peak getting ready to ski down. Mono Lake in the background

On top of Carson Peak getting ready to ski down. Mono Lake in the background

For experienced skiers and boarders who are looking to get beyond the groomers and explore the endless backcountry there are local backcountry ski guides available to safely show you the goods and teach you the basics. Stores in nearby Mammoth Lakes rent backcountry ski equipment and split boards.

Ice Climbing

Ice climbing in California? You bet. The June Lake Loop and nearby Lee Vining canyon boast the best waterfall ice climbing on the West Coast. Ice climbing may seem very audacious, and it is. Donning crampons on their heavy boots and ice axes in their gloved hands, ice climbers have made a sport out of climbing frozen water. June Lake has the best beginner ice climbing routes in the state on Horsetail Falls at the far end of town and at Roadside ice just past the winter closure of Highway 158.

 Ice climbing at Roadside Ice in June Lake

Ice climbing at Roadside Ice in June Lake

If you are looking for something a bit steeper you'll want to drive 30 minutes down the road to Lee Vining Canyon where you will find much longer and steeper ice climbing routes. Some of California’s hardest ice climbs will be found here. Hiring an ice climbing guide is a great idea if you want to give ice climbing a try. Ice climbing classes are available most weekends from late December till early March.

So there you have it, June Lake in California’s Eastern Sierra is not all just about trout fishing and skiing easy groomed runs. There is much more than meets the eye for the outdoor adventurer looking to get their adrenaline fix in the mountains. Just don’t tell anyone!

Dave Miller
Owner/Director
International Alpine Guides