June Lake… the “Switzerland of California”

June Lake is the name of the June Lake Loop area about 20 miles north of Mammoth Lakes.

The “Loop” is a natural horseshoe-shaped canyon that runs approximately 12 miles from the south end of Hwy. 395 to a northern end of Hwy. 395. Along the Loop are the natural lakes of June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake and the man-made lake (reservoir) of Grant Lake. The elevation is ~7,600 feet of elevation. This is the western edge of the Great Basin with Mono Lake to the north and Yosemite National Park located to the west.

Despite the spectacular beauty of the area, it was of little interest to anyone beyond some hunters and fisherman until the early 1900’s when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) surveyed the area. The water resources and hydroelectric potential of Rush Creek were far too attractive. Rush Creek was dammed to create Grant Lake and electricity was being produced and exported by 1916. By the mid-1930’s LADWP had acquired the water rights to the surrounding areas downstream of Rush Creek and an 11 mile tunnel was dug from below Grant Lake to the headwaters of the Owens River.

So the June Lake Loop essentially became the very northern-most water source of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. That water diversion eventually caused the lowering lake level at Mono Lake and all of the subsequent attention and litigation; “Save Mono Lake.” It wasn’t until after the big winters of 1982 and 1983 that Grant Lake overflowed and re-watered and re-established a fishery in Rush Creek. A local attorney and fly-fisherman utilized an old California statute to maintained the water flow in Rush Creek. It still flows today and is an excellent fishery.

The volume of workers and improved roads established to develop the water and electric facilities started a small boom of recreation in the area. Campgrounds and small lodges started springing up in the 1920’s and beyond. A post office was established in 1927. Today, the Loop road is nicely improved with modern campgrounds along the lakes. There have been decades of commercial and residential development and various small government based facilities added. But June Lake remains a sleepy alpine village even today. The 2010 Census found just slightly more than 600 permanent residents. And many of the old motels and lodges are still operating, at least during the busy summer months.

June Lake is an area of special beauty. It is often referred to as the “Switzerland of California” and deservedly so. The colorful granite peaks rise above the lakes and village. Local waterfalls are reminiscent of Yosemite. Glacial moraines frame the Loop. The crystal blue waters of June Lake and the road overlooking it have been popularized in numerous car commercials. In Fall, the turning and flaming colors of the thick aspen groves are a popular attraction.

The area is a renown destination for trout fisherman including boaters and float tubers, trollers and fly fisherman. And there are numerous trailheads in the vicinity for outstanding hiking and access into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. A small ski area, June Mountain Ski Resort, was established in 1961 and was purchased by Mammoth Mountain in 1986. In winter, the Loop is also a popular ice climbing location.

June Lake does not have a booming economy. The core business is in summer. The downtown village area is quaint. The landmark Tiger Bar has one of the oldest standing liquor licenses in the state of California. There is another small commercial node at Fern Creek including the infamous Carson Peak Inn restaurant. In the past 20 years the Double Eagle Resort and Spa was developed at the former Dream Mountain location bringing a world class lodging, restaurant and spa facility to June Lake.

The residential subdivisions are disjointed along the Loop and some like the Person Tract date back to the 1930’s and 40’s. There is a broad mix of classic cabins and modern homes. These are mostly second homes and more specifically summer homes. Many of the roads in the older subdivisions remain unpaved and are substandard. There was a modern high-end subdivision created in the early 2000’s above Gull Lake called the June Lake Highlands.

June Lake remains an appealing and desirable location for those seeking a quieter experience than Mammoth Lakes, both for residents and visitors. It is an outstanding location for summer and winter recreation and relaxation.