Even though summer’s officially over, a lot of outdoor fun can still be had in California's Eastern Sierras. Just 20 minutes north of Mammoth, on Highway 395, is the alpine town of June Lake at 7,621 feet. The village of 500 is surrounded on the south and west by 10,000-foot peaks, high desert plains to the north, and a dormant chain of volcanoes to the east. Fall trout fishermen, hunters, and backpackers will still find relaxing outdoor adventures.
The four lakes that make up the June Lake Loop – June, Gull, Silver and Grant – will be well stocked for shore and boat fishermen up to the close of the season on November 15. But by that time, locals are praying for an early snow, as the village's economy is dependent on a mid-December opening of ski season.
This past summer's newest attraction was the opening of the June Mountain chairlifts, where one could ride to the top of the ski mountain – 10,090 feet – and take in the panoramic views for miles in any direction. ($10 adults, $5 kids.) Open only around lunch hours, the lodge restaurant at the top of June Mountain served hot sandwiches, pastas and burgers, along with a full bar, at nominal prices. The menu was surprisingly more gourmet than the average skier would find in winter operations.
On the day we visited, as we enjoyed our lunch overlooking the lakes basin, known as Horseshoe Canyon, we spotted three bald eagles circling below – a mom and two fledglings – soaring beneath us. The trio made their home this summer on tall pine trees down-canyon at Silver Lake. For the last several years, bald eagles have been spotted in the June Lake area, but this is the first year they’ve been visible on a daily basis.
Based on the large number of visitors that took the summer lift this year, June Mountain has applied to the Forest Service for permits to also operate mountain bike trails next summer. Unfortunately for fall visitors, the lift closes after Labor Day, as the mountain gets ready for winter skiing.
What will be a surprise to many fall campers who regularly visit the area is the premature closure of the popular Silver Lake campground (which usually stays open to November 1). The campground was closed after Labor Day to finally fix two years of problems with the improper installation of upgraded, prefabbed restrooms and showers.