“A popular and rewarding day hike for the June Lake area.
— Peng Shi
Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
A well maintained and popular day hike in the June Lake area. This hike offers a close up view of Carson Peak, access to Agnew and Gem Lake, and give you a sneak peek of the high Sierras. Even if you can't finish the entire trail, go as far as you can and you can still enjoy a great panoramic view of the June Lake area.
Need to Know
This is a well-maintained and popular trail, so come early before the parking lot completely fills up. The trail is rated easy to moderate if you are well acclimated to the altitude, and moderate to difficult if you are not well acclimated.
Late spring and early summer thaw brings a lot of flooding. Some sections of the trail itself turns into creeks. So check trail conditions before you go and be prepared for creek crossing.
The trail starts on the southwest corner of the parking area. For the first 0.35 miles, the trail is essentially flat, with Silver Lake Resort to your left. Soon, the trail begins a steady climb parallel to the June Lake Road. In another mile, with a few small switchbacks, you'll arrive at a rocky area and get your first glimpse of the cascading waterfall of Rush Creek. This is a good place to look back and enjoy a panoramic view of the June Lake area. To the far left is Parker Bench and the trailhead parking. Silver Lake and Silver Meadow are right below you. Oh! Ridge is right across the valley. Further right, you can see the June Mountain ski lifts. Finally, Carson Peak looms above the trail you are heading towards.
Continue on the trail. At around mile 1.85, you'll come to the first intersection with the incline railway track used for dam maintenance. As far as I know, the railway is still used several times a year. Although it might be tempting to follow the track and climb straight up, the switchback trail is much easier on your legs, more scenic, and takes about the same amount of time.
Following the trail, you begin a series of steep switchbacks, each getting longer. Finally, at around mile 2.5, the grade eases, and you'll reach the end of the switchbacks and the edge of Agnew Lake. At a trail junction, you have the option to turn left and head down to the first dam and Agnew Lake, or stay on the main trail and continue your climb. If you opt to go down to Agnew Lake, the two trails will eventually merge together again at the end of the railway station.
Look ahead and above; you can see the second dam and your destination. The climb continues, mostly moderately and occasionally steeply. As you get closer to the dam, a few switchbacks break up the monotonous climb, giving you a chance to look back at the June Lakes area you came from.
Finally, at around the 4-mile mark, you reach a rock outcrop and a beautiful view of Gem Lake below. This is a good spot for a break. If you feel up to it, you can continue on the trail all the way to Waugh Lake. The trail follows the north shore with plenty of ups and downs. Turn around whenever you like and return on the same trail.