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A perfect dog-friendly getaway in June Lake

Mono Lake Maggie plays with a ball along June Lake’s shoreline.

“She looks so happy!” my son, Cooper, said as our border collie, Maggie, trotted over to him, ears flopping, yellow tennis ball in her mouth, lake water dripping off her black and white muzzle.

I’m no expert in dog expressions, but in that moment, she did appear carefree (yes, the tail wagging was a telltale sign) and much younger than her 12 years. She dropped the ball, then paused, panting, as if she were taking in the fresh mountain air and majestic view: The rippling blue waters of June Lake in California's Eastern Sierra lapped against the sandy-grassy shoreline; green pines covered the gently sloping hills. The scenery was a big change from our suburban Orange County backyard where Maggie usually hangs out. The only lapping sound there comes from her aluminum water bowl when she’s particularly thirsty.

Several months before the onset of the pandemic, our family had come to Mono County for a low-key getaway with Cooper before he headed off to college. We based ourselves in the alpine village of June Lake. Perhaps feeling wistful about parting soon with his childhood paw-mate, Cooper insisted Maggie come along.

Taking a walk along the shores of Mono Lake, California

Cooper and Maggie take a walk along the Mono Lake shoreline.

So, I started digging around for pet-friendly things to do in and around the 16-mile June Lake Loop (State Route 158), which encircles four lakes, as well as lodges, resorts, campgrounds, restaurants, hiking trails, and a quaint downtown. Our itinerary allowed us to spend tech-free mountain time together for a few days. How did we rate the trip? Two thumbs (and four paws) up!

Read more: A dog-friendly getaway in Big Bear, California.

Day 1

An alert Maggie pauses to take in the serene setting at Mono Lake.

An alert Maggie pauses to take in the serene setting at Mono Lake.

11 a.m. Because it’s about a six-hour drive from Orange County to June Lake, I included a couple of stops where we could stretch our legs, including the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center (currently closed due to COVID-19). In addition to having maps, guidebooks, and rangers on hand to answer questions, the center in Lone Pine has exhibits that provide a great introduction to the region. 

3 p.m. Upon arriving at June Lake, we checked in at the general store that fronted Fern Creek Lodge, a family-run collection of rustic-comfy cabins conveniently located on the June Lake Loop. Three of the eight cabins welcome pets; in the spacious Dutch Lady, Maggie promptly found a sunny spot in front of the sliding glass doors. 

6 p.m. After settling in at the lodge, we headed to Mono Lake, an ancient inland sea where migrating birds feed on the large populations of alkali flies and brine shrimp. I timed our visit so we’d arrive during the golden hour—about an hour before sunset—when soft light bathes the limestone tufa towers in a soft glow. From the South Tufa entrance at the reserve, we followed the pathway to the shoreline and enjoyed a leisurely evening walk among the otherworldly tufa towers.

Tip: Don’t let your pooch drink the water, because it’s nearly three times as salty as ocean water. 

Day 2

Maggie finds plenty to sniff and explore at Bodie State Historic Park, a modern day ghost town.

Maggie finds plenty to sniff and explore at Bodie State Historic Park, a modern day ghost town.

10 a.m. We time-traveled with Maggie to Bodie State Historic Park, where more than 100 buildings remain in a state of “arrested decay,” meaning the structures have been repaired but not restored. The eerie tableau served as a picturesque backdrop for our self-guided walking tour on the once-bustling dirt roads. As we wandered among the abandoned structures, Maggie busily sniffed nooks and crannies. Could it be she detected canine ghosts?

Tip: If you’re traveling with a friend, take turns dog-sitting outside the Red Barn so you can watch the 30-minute film inside that shows what this once-booming silver- and gold-mining town looked like in its heyday, 1877­-1881. The barn is currently closed due to COVID-19, but worth a stop if it’s open on your next visit.

Historic Bridgeport, which epitomizes small-town U.S.A., is a pleasant place to walk your furry friend.

Historic Bridgeport, which epitomizes small-town U.S.A., is a pleasant place to walk your furry friend.

12:30 p.m. Continuing north on Highway 395 to Bridgeport, we stopped for lunch at The Barn on Main Street, which not only had outstanding burgers, tacos, and onion rings, but also a pet-friendly patio.

We walked off our meal with a stroll around the historic town and saw the Mono County Courthouse, California’s second-oldest courthouse, which has been in continuous use since 1880. As we peeked into the creepy defunct Bridgeport Jail, built in 1883, on Bryant Street, past and present intersected: A van pulled up and inmates wearing black-and-white—striped jumpsuits were escorted into the Mono County Jail next door.

Tip: Be sure to stop by the Mono County Museum. Housed in an 1880-built schoolhouse, its collections include a fascinating display of barbed wire. If you’re traveling with friends or family, take turns dog-sitting at the adjacent Bridgeport Park, so you can go inside the museum.

4:30 p.m. With Maggie in tow, we felt obligated to stop at the spot called Dog Town, about 7 miles south of Bridgeport, and snap a photo of the commemorative roadside plaque. The site of the first Gold Rush to the Eastern Sierra in 1859, this short-lived mining camp earned its name from the miners’ popular term for “camps made of huts or hovels,” according to Liz Grans, economic development assistant at Mono County Tourism.

Tip: Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

6 p.m. Tired from our full day, we decided to eat dinner at our lodge. So we got take-out from T-Bar Social Club/June Pie Pizza Company in downtown June Lake. Our wood-fired, thin-crust New York–style Margherita pizza was baked to perfection.

Day 3

This gorgeous alpine view is the reward at the end of the Parker Lake Trail.

This gorgeous alpine view is the reward at the end of the Parker Lake Trail.

9 a.m. Dogs have their pick of hikes in Mono County, where trails for all level of human ability abound. I chose the moderate Parker Lake Trail—and the reward at trail’s end far outshined our effort. The 4-mile, out-and-back hike begins with a gentle uphill climb with some switchbacks, then levels off to a tree-shaded walk beside a creek. Along the way, we exchanged pleasantries with other dog-hikers, as well two men wearing FDNY (New York City Fire Department) T-shirts in honor of 9/11 (the day of our outing). The trail dead-ends at postcard-perfect Parker Lake, which lies in the shadow of 12,000-foot Sierra peaks. It’s nature at its finest.

Tip: Dogs on leash are welcome on Inyo National Forest trails; just be sure to bring bags to pack out their poop. DirectionsFrom the north end of SR 158 (June Lake Loop), take Parker Lake Road to the trailhead parking lot.

After ordering takeout from the Ohanas395 food truck, we tailgated with Maggie in the parking lot.

After ordering takeout from the Ohanas395 food truck, we tailgated with Maggie in the parking lot.

1 p.m. We were ready for hearty meal after our hike and we found it at Ohanas395, a food truck parked at June Lake Brewing off Main Street in June Lake. The eclectic Hawaiian Mexican Asian fusion menu, which includes vegetarian and vegan options, might seem incongruous in the alpine setting, but any disconnect disappeared with my first bite of the ‘ahi poke. Ohanas395 owner Rena McCullough says her influences come from being raised in a Mexican family and living in Hawaii for eight years. There was ample seating for Ohanas395 customers in the brewery’s beer garden, but we opted to tailgate in the parking lot with Maggie.

Maggie enjoys a romp at the lakefront Big Rock Resort Marina, which offers pet-friendly watercraft.

Maggie enjoys a romp at the lakefront Big Rock Resort Marina, which offers pet-friendly watercraft.

2:30 p.m. For the rest of the afternoon, we hung out at June Lake beach and visited Big Rock Resort Marina, which has pet-friendly watercraft, such as pontoons, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. After our visit to the pretty lakefront resort—which, I noted, has two pet-friendly cabins—we took Maggie for a walk along the lake. Being careful to keep our distance from anglers onshore, we found an open grassy area where Maggie could play fetch and practice her dog paddle.

Day 4

Visitors and their leashed pets can explore the grounds of Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War 2.

Visitors and their leashed pets can explore the grounds of Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War 2.

10 a.m. Whenever I travel along Highway 395, I try to visit Manzanar National Historic Site, 10 miles north of Lone Pine, where more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. As the daughter of a former internee (at a different internment camp), I have a personal interest in the stories told here, but it’s a worthwhile stop for anyone interested in history. It was a contemplative way to end a fun-filled four-day getaway.

Tip: Dogs aren’t allowed inside the visitors center or in the cemetery, but visitors and their leashed pets are permitted in the reconstructed barracks and mess hall, as well as on the grounds where excavated Japanese gardens and ponds, and exhibits, such as the camouflage net factory, are on view.

Leslie Mieko Yap is editor in chief of Westways magazine.

Free Eastern Sierra Guide Series maps are available at your local AAA branch. 

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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