The Eastern Sierra Nevada area reveals its multiple personalities with every turn of California’s Highway 395. Nature has carved its landscape with mountain building, volcanic action, glaciers, and water erosion. Highway 395 parallels the eastern edge of our longest mountain range outside of Alaska, traversing serene valleys and mountain passes. The Highway serves as a corridor to explore the canyons and Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. One popular area for vacationers, fishermen, campers, photographers, and anyone wanting to escape hectic city life is Horseshoe Canyon, commonly known as the June Lake Loop.
The June Lake Loop is located off Highway 395 between Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining, at the intersection of Highway 158. This scenic byway follows the perimeter of Horshoe Canyon carved by a glacier during the last Ice Age. It left behind four lakes and carved the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The road connects to four lakes in less than 9 miles before looping back to 395. June Lake is the first lake along Highway 158. The second and smallest lake – Gull Lake is just beyond the small town of June Lake. The next is Silver Lake at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the fourth lake near the end of the Loop is Grant Lake. The road ends at the northern junction with Highway 395. Hotels, cabin rentals and campgrounds have scenic lake and mountain views, with no mega resorts in sight.
Horseshoe Canyon is hidden from view from Highway 395 by hills and forest. The turnoff is clearly marked from 395 at the June Lake South Junction. In less than a mile, the first view of June Lake with the dramatic Carson Peak and San Joaquin Mountain backdrop is awe inspiring. The Forest Service campground along June Lake’s eastern edge is appropriately named “Oh Ridge”. To access Oh Ridge take the first turnoff, Northshore Drive. There is an information kiosk here which is staffed on summer weekends and has information panels outside. The Oh Ridge Campground overlooks June Lake and has a large sandy beach for relaxing and swimming. Trout fishing from the shoreline or by boat is popular. In the later afternoon winds from the west bringout the windsurfers and kitesurfers, and at the end of the day panoramic Sierra sunsets.
Less than a mile northeast of Oh Ridge is Pine Cliff RV Resort, a privately owned campground with electrical hookups. Returning back to Highway 158, on the south shore is the small 28 campsite June Lake Campground. Just before entering the small town of June Lake, there is a gigantic 100 ton granite boulder precariously balanced and appearing ready to roll down upon the road. The town beyond appears frozen in time from half a century ago, before franchises and fast foods. From here to Silver Lake, there are family businesses operating hotels and cabin rentals, campgrounds, restaurants, and convenience stores. In the 1920’s Hollywood actors discovered June Lake and came here to vacation and helped establish it as a refuge from city life.
At the west end of town is Gull Lake, small in size but great in scenery, and popular for trout fishing. Turn right at Gull Lake Road to access the lake. At its end is a restaurant on the lake’s shore with outdoor dining for spectacular views. Back on the Loop Road, on the south side of Gull Lake is a small 11 site Forest Service Campground.
Continuing westward, Reverse Creek appears to the left, flowing towards the Sierra Mountains rahter than away from them. Interested in hiking? Look for the Yost Creek Trail sign on the left, less than a mile west of Gull Lake. A short but strenuous hiking trail of 1.7 miles has the rewards of Yost Creek cascades, wildflowers, vista views, and Fern Lake at its end, an idyllic alpine setting for swimming, fishing and relaxing.
Next on the Loop Road is Silver Lake, perhaps named for its photogenic waters reflecting the silvery colors of Carson Peak dominating the skyline like an immense skyscraper. Seasonal Horsetail Falls flows over a granite cliff, connecting at the bottom with Reverse Creek. On calm days, stroll Silver Lake’s shoreline for mirror like reflection subjects, aspens, craggy mountains, and fishing boats.
At the north end is Silver Lake Resort, the first one in the area. The original 1916 log cabin houses a small store and office for the surrounding cabin rentals and RV campground. The Forest Service campground nearby has 63 RV and tent campsites. For an oldtime experience there is Frontier Pack Train, offering day trips and overnight trips by horseback into the Ansel Adams Wilderness high country.
Five miles beyond Silver Lake is the last Loop lake and the largest, Grant Lake. Here the scenery changes to high desert with few trees, but plenty of water for trout fishing. The Grant Lake Resort has 70 campsites with electrical hookups and the only area with shade trees. Continue eastward on the Loop Road for its connection to the northern junction with Highway 395.