A Fun Day Trip to Yosemite from June Lake

We believe any summertime visit to June Lake is incomplete without a day trip to Yosemite.
~Don Morton, June Lake Accommodations.

What most people don't realize is that when vacationing in June Lake, when you gaze to the West you are looking at the Eastern border of Yosemite National Park. Most people come to June Lake for the incredible lakes, streams, brown trout, and great mountain fun, as well as the affordable cabins and home rentals. While residents of June Lake do pride themselves on the natural splendor and breathtaking scenery that is our Sierra Nevada mountains, we believe any summertime visit to June Lake is incomplete without a day trip to Yosemite.


Pack Up the Car and Let’s Hit the Road! 

Leaving June Lake follow Highway 395 North for a few short miles before the signs direct you to Highway 120 West into Yosemite National Park. On the 120 you will start the ascent of Lee Vining Canyon on one of the most breathtaking and historic roads in the US, Tioga Pass. Here you can feel the scope of the land firsthand as you rise many thousand feet above the valley floor. As a driver, don’t get too preoccupied with the view, however, as rockslides are common and boulders can often litter the road. Naturally, there are a few turnoffs which provide a safe area for drivers to pull off and appreciate the views of the colorful canyon and the great Mono Basin to the East. 

You’ll know that you have reached the crest of the canyon when you see Ellery Lake to your left, which signals that you have reached the high country. The next few miles are classic Eastern Sierra with peaks rising over 12,000 feet and numerous creeks traversing the landscape. Hiking in the high country of the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park is abundant an is often less crowded than many trails found elsewhere in the park… but that’s another story altogether.

Yosemite Admission Cost

Soon enough you will reach the East entrance to the park, a small booth where you will pay a $25 entrance fee. It is recommended that you buy the annual pass for about twice that much if you plan on entering more than once, though if you keep your receipt from paying the one-day admission fee, you are typically granted entrance for up to one week after. From there, the next hour is spent driving through the incredible alpine beauty of Tuolumne Meadows and the Yosemite high country. At over 9,000 feet of elevation, this is one of the highest roads in the United States, something that’s readily apparent as the towering granite peaks and abundant “domes” dot the landscape.

Tuolumne Meadows and Olmstead Point

There are a few must stop areas here with Tuolumne Meadows, Olmstead Point being of significant splendor. These are also great spots themselves to spend the day if you feel the calling. We can suggest specific trailheads to explore that would be like picking a favorite child. The fact is, each trail has its own personality. From deep lodgepole pine forests to stark granite cirques holding crystalline blue lakes within their basins, you are sure to feel the majesty of a place that John Muir so eloquently expressed when he wrote, “With every walk in nature one receives far more than he expects.” 

That said, May Lake and Cathedral Lakes are two easy day hikes that we would recommend to anyone with a reasonable sense of adventure and pair of working legs. Also, the park staff will provide a map and any closure or concern areas upon request. 

Ok, so sticking with the original plan, another hour or so in the car driving through the dense evergreen forests of the West slope will drop you down to Tamarack Flat, a junction where signs will direct you back east toward the intense Yosemite Valley.  

El Capitan

In a few short minutes, the power of this ancient landscape will reveal itself by way of “El Capitan”, the largest rock face of the entire valley. Rising over 3,000 feet from the valley floor, the sheer vertical rise of this chunk of granite truly puts things into perspective. But this isn’t the half of it… that’s reserved for another slice of rock that rests upon a special place at the head of the canyon. 

Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls

Looking around as the road winds through the valley floor you will see world famous waterfalls like Bridalveil, which has a propensity for attracting multicolored rainbows as the mist mingles with the afternoon sun, or the spectacular Yosemite Falls, which at almost 1500 feet is among the 20 highest waterfalls in the world and certainly the highest most of us are likely to see in our lifetimes. 

Spend Time Outside the Car

At this point in the journey it is suggested to park the car somewhere in Yosemite Village and tour the valley either by foot, bike or bus, if not for the buzzing atmosphere that floats through the valley then for the impending neck issues you might procure gawking from the car windows. 

Half Dome

Whatever your chosen form of exploration, by now you may have noticed the lingering presence at the end of the canyon, the defining monolith of our country and certainly the most unique natural phenomenon one can think of — Half Dome. Created at the end of the last ice age as giant glaciers moved through the snow-covered land, the once “full dome” shed its Northwest face in favor of a more sheer appearance. 

Hiking Yosemite

As far as hiking in the Valley goes, there are many short hikes to the base of the waterfalls or the fairly easy 1.5 mile round trip to the powerful and awe inspiring Vernal Falls via The Mist Trail. Getting to the top of Half Dome is another story, as it requires a permit and should be reserved for a full day or an overnight trip. Always be sure to check with the National Park Service before heading out on any hike of length due to many regulations and volume restrictions that define the parks conservation efforts. 

As you can imagine, it is easy to get sidetracked in an area of such immense beauty, and in fact, we recommend it! In the mountains we have to adapt, it is the way of nature. Trying too hard to adhere to a set schedule or expectations will often lead to a forced experience that is contrary to the freedom that just being in the mountains represents. So if you don’t make it down to “The Valley” or if a looming peak in the distance beckons your call, take heed and just do what feels right — there’s a lifetime of exploration to be found within Yosemite National Park.

Accommodations in June Lake

Come to June Lake and experience the High Sierra mountains, alpine valleys, and clear blue lakes. And be sure to take a day trip to Yosemite National Park while you're here. June Lake is the best option for accommodations because of our proximity to Yosemite, as well as our affordable vacation homes and cabins, trout fishing, local hiking and biking, as well as the High Sierra culture and traditions. Book a vacation rental today, or call the friendly staff at June Lake Accommodations (760) 648-1919

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