A Long Weekend in Mono County, CA
A fall foliage wonderland
It would be impossible to capture all there is to do and see in Mono County in one blog post, just as it's impossible to experience everything the area has to offer in one trip.
From about April through October, visitors coming from the Bay Area can arrive at Mono County by driving through a portion of Yosemite National Park on Tioga Road. In the winter months, many of the mountain pass roads to Mono County close due to snow, so make sure you map out your route ahead of time. If you're feeling really fancy, you can even fly into Mammoth Lakes.
Mono County is home to multiple National Forests and Wilderness areas, a National Monument (Devils Postpile National Monument), over a dozen lakes, and endless hikes in the Eastern Sierra mountain range. Day trips from the area include hot springs, a natural reserve, craters, the infamous ghost town of Bodie, and about a million more activities. Like I said, don't try to do it all in one trip.
On our recent trip to Mono County, my partner and I focused on scenic lakes and fall foliage. The area is known for its vibrant fall colors, and we went searching for yellow leaves in canyons, mountains, and forests. We arrived on October 14th, and we were just in time to see the leaves changing.
Where to stay
Honestly, there are 10,000 options of where to stay in Mono County. You could opt for this super cute Hipcamp campground in Bishop, CA, stay in one of the many cabins or cottage rentals in June Lake Loop, look for a place to camp in the warmer seasons (just look out for bears!), or stay in one of the ten million condos in Mammoth Lake. After a lot of debate, we chose the condo option, and I have zero regrets.
If you're looking for a predictable and cozy place to stay that you could book easily through Airbnb without having to do years of research, a Mammoth Lake condo is for you. Our place was low-key and no-frills, and it's honestly the least exciting part of this post.
1 lofted bedroom
1 queen bed upstairs, 1 sofa bed downstairs
A little more:
Private balcony for the warmer months
Full kitchen (including pancake mix!)
Heat, AC, and WiFi
Super cute ski village that's minutes (walking or driving) from tons of cafes, restaurants, bars, and breweries.
Super central location just a 20 minute drive to June Lake, 30 minute to Mono Lake
seamless check-in and check out experience
What to do
Drive June Lake Loop
June Lake Loop is a 16-mile long scenic drive that takes you by four lakes, with the opportunity to see more if you stop and hike. The views are spectacular (especially in the fall), and the quaint downtown of June Lake Village offers several cute and touristy shops, cafes, and hotels. June Lake Loop offers endless activities, from scenic strolls around any of the lakes, multiple hikes, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, and more.
*portions of June Lake Loop are closed in the winter due to snow—be sure to check for updates before visiting!
Hike Pinecrest Lake
We packed as many hikes as possible into our trip to the Eastern Sierras, and June Lake Loop presented a variety of options. We decided on Pinecrest Lake—a trail that's rated as "easy" on some tourist websites, which I'm sorry, is just a straight-up lie. Regardless of the difficulty level, I would highly recommend this hike to anyone looking to hop out of their car on June Lake Loop and see a lake that's only accessible via a hiking trail.
Miles: Alltrails says 3.9 miles, but our phones showed closer to 5 miles by the end. iPhone aren't the most reliable, so who really knows.
Difficulty: I'd say moderate. The first bit is mostly straight uphill, and if you're not quite adjusted to the altitude yet, it can be tough. It gets flatter as you carry on, and the route back took a quarter of the time as the way there and was significantly easier.
Hike Lundy Canyon
If you do only one hike during your visit to Mono County, it should be Lundy Canyon. Lundy Canyon is located just opposite Mono Lake and about 15-20 minutes north of June Lake Loop. The hike takes you on a climb past several waterfalls and winds through mountains with views of Mono Lake in the distance. This was one of the best hikes we did not only on the trip, but one of the best hikes I've ever done period.
The hike can be as long or as short as you'd like, ultimately ending at Lake Helen. The final portion can be a dangerous scramble and slippery depending on the conditions. We ended up turning around at the base of a waterfall about .5 to 1 mile from the end of the trail.
There's also the option to backpack in the area and extend the hike onto other trails in the Hoover Wilderness area.
Miles: 5.9 total according to Alltrails, but we turned around before the end and clocked about 6 miles total.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult, depending on how far you go.
Visit Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve
I almost skipped this and I'm so, so glad I didn't. We visited the South Tufa Trail, which I've heard is by far the best area to visit if you have limited time. The trail is an easy 1.6 miles stroll through the grassland and onto the sandy beach along the lake. The lake itself is absolutely massive, coming in at 65 square miles, and it looks even bigger up close.
The highlight, of course, is the many unique rock formations towering around you. There are no words to describe this otherworldly Mars-like atmosphere, so instead I'll share some of the hundreds of pictures we snapped in during our short visit. For more detailed information on how the tufas are formed, visit the Mono Lake website.
Visit Convict Lake
As our final stop on the way out of town, Convict Lake exceeded expectations with some breathtaking fall foliage scenery. Just 15 minutes south of the town of Mammoth Lakes, Convict Lake is an easy addition to any Mono Lake trip. The crystal clear water is set against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and there's a 3-mile long trail surrounding the lake should you want to go for a walk. The area is also great for fishing and boating, and there's a campground nearby.