Fall Road Trip: US Highway 395 & June Lake Loop - With Educational Links & Travel Tips

Are you looking for an immersive fall experience to a beautiful, quiet, and unique destination? I recommend taking a road trip through the breathtakingly rugged and remote Highway 395! Scenic desert and mountain landscapes will greet your eyes from Death Valley in the south up through the backbone of California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range in the north, all the way up to the California/Nevada border. Highway 395 has been designated as the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway and certain areas along this highway have long been favorite fall color destinations for many; such as the June Lake Loop, in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. This region is considered one of the West’s best fall foliage destinations, and one of its best kept secrets in general, with many different blogs recommending it as a top fall destination in California for families.

Many native Californians aren’t aware of the distinctions between the two sides of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains are located in the high desert of Mono County and are part of the Great Basin. This steeply elevated majestic backdrop of California is drier, with less rainfall than the Western side, and is surrounded by remnants of ancient volcanic activity which has left behind incredible sights to behold. Autumn in this remote region is longer than in other areas of California. Fall foliage includes an abundance of deciduous brush, native aspen, cottonwood, and willow trees as well as blooming fall grasses and wildflowers. The magnificence of gold, orange, yellow and red foliage is only matched by its wondrous reflections in the serene lakes and streams found throughout the region.

Most people are more familiar with Yosemite National Park, one of our nation’s true treasures, which is located on the Western side of the Sierra Nevadas. This area is truly wondrous all year long, but it does have a shorter fall season than the Eastern Sierras since most of Yosemite is in a higher elevation which experiences its fall bloom earlier, and many of its trees are evergreens. Highway 395 is the gateway to the Eastern Sierras (and can be accessed through Yosemite Park, to make a truly memorable trip!). As you drive through the different elevations of Highway 395, you will notice the fall scenery unfold in different colors, as fall bloom occurs first in higher elevations and spreads through the lower elevations as the season goes on. From deserts to mountains, from towering mountain peaks to low lying boulders, there is much beauty to behold along this historic scenic road.

The gem in the crown of Highway 395’s autumnal glory is the June Lake Loop - a 16-mile loop of road in the northern area of the highway, adorned with pristine lakes. June Lake Loop connects with Highway 395 at two different junctions along the road. 

Whenever I read a blog about a recommendation for a destination I want to know how the author discovered it and why they are so passionate about it? What’s the story there - what’s the story here? Well, I’m originally from Southern California, and I have strong roots there. My family is not a group of experienced travelers or adventurers, and we come from modest means. But we have had a longstanding tradition since the 1940s, started by my great grandfather and my grandparents, of camping every summer at one of several lakes (June, Gull, Silver, or Grant) along the June Lake Loop. In the summer these lakes are sparklingly blue and picturesque, surrounded by lush green trees that always seem to have a calming breeze blowing through them. There is plenty of hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and relaxing to be had here. The tiny mountain town of June Lake is idyllic and charming, the Silver Lake Resort (my favorite place of all!)  is an inviting retreat, and the public campgrounds all along the loop are accessible, clean, and comfortable for a week’s long stay.  Since the explosion of the internet, the treasure of the June Lake Loop has been made known to people across the world and continues to receive rave reviews. It is a popular and often crowded summer destination, but not as many people realize that fall is just as magical a time to visit.