With the snow pack melting and warm summer days ahead, a lot of California's getaway travelers are starting to plan those warm weather trips to the mountains. Hiking trails will be clear of snow soon, and the fragrant pine trees and colorful spring wildflowers beckon those who yearn to be back in the woods.
Whether it's the Sierra-Nevada range to the north or more localized mountain destinations like the San Bernardino Mountains in the south, California has an abundance of places to experience the Great Outdoors. The state also has many small towns — each with its own distinct character and charm -- that cater to those city folk wanting mountain getaways. Here are some of our favorites:
While nearby Mammoth gets most of the attention because of its world-class ski mountain and facilities, June Lake really is one of the state's most scenic vacation spots. The "June Lake Loop" area, just east of Yosemite Park, probably should have been included in the national park — its dramatic mountain faces, pine forests and sparkling lakes make it just that beautiful.
Driving into June Lake we were reminded of those pretty little hillside towns you come across traveling through the Alps. The first views of June Lake on this bright sunny day looked like a travel poster for Swissair. With the cragged snow-topped mountains in the distance, Highway 158 winds its way along the blue-green lake where anglers spend considerable time in summer persuading good-size cutthroat trout to jump aboard their boats. Since it was mid-week, a wide, perfect beach was being under-utilized by just two teen-age girls content to bathe in the ample sunshine.
A couple miles farther we rounded a corner to enter the town itself, a tiny community with lots of cabins and vacation-style residences serviced by just a handful of restaurants, a pizza joint with just enough room for one table and two chairs, and a couple of general stores that are always fun to browse when passing through these small settlements.
Just a few miles down the highway, past Gull Lake and just before Silver Lake, we came to the Double Eagle Resort and Spa, our accommodations for the night. Located just at the edge of the mountains and an easy stroll to Silver Lake, the resort apparently was designed to fit in with the numerous upscale log homes in the immediate vicinity. Picture Aspen or Vail and you get some idea of the setting, although this enclave of homes is tiny by comparison.
Actually, the Double Eagle is considered one of the world's top 10 spa resorts. The Creekside Spa offers 40 types of spa services, including massages, facials, body wraps and whirlpool treatments.
But when we're in the mountains we prefer the exercise that comes from discovering the many trails in the area or walking to various points of interest. In such gorgeous surroundings, we just feel like we're wasting our time in the area if we're not outdoors. Accordingly, we spent much of our time exploring trails and walks near June Lake. At the top of our list was a two-mile hike to Rainbow Falls, a spectacular site with its 101-foot drop. During our June visit there was still a bit of snow on the trail, but the views from the trail of both the falls and the valley were well worth the effort.
For more information on mountain getaways to June Lake and the surrounding area, contact the June Lake Chamber of Commerce at www.junelake.org or phone 760-648-7584.
A little over an hour's drive from San Diego's beaches and big-city attractions is a place that will transport you back through time and offer a glimpse of post-Civil War life in San Diego County. A trip to the small town of Julian also will take you through terrain that, at times, seems more like the Sierra-Nevada range than the foothills east of California's southernmost major city.
We'd like to say the trip to Julian is a road less traveled, but the truth is that Julian is a popular day or weekend trip for not only San Diego residents, but Southern California motorcycle and sports car clubs who find these curvy, scenic roads especially well-suited for their frequent excursions. If you like crowds and a certain kind of electricity, visit on a weekend; otherwise a weekday visit can offer a quiet respite from bustling city life.
Whether you come from the LA area through Warner Springs, or from the San Diego area through Ramona, the drive to Julian takes you through mountains — well, okay, maybe large hills if you come from real mountain areas — and valleys and meadows, and then along forested hillsides as the two-lane road snakes its way up to Julian's 4,000-foot elevation. The driving is not treacherous; it's just interesting. The views change from minute to minute as you pass farmhouses, horse ranches, cabins and the occasional outpost diner.
The Julian business district, in fact, is only about three blocks long and four blocks wide, although you'll find sporadic businesses outside of the downtown area. Most of the buildings downtown are historical in some sense — many dating back to the post-Civil War period when the town was founded. It actually became a town when displaced Confederate veterans headed west to find unsettled land. The town was named after Mike Julian, one of those early settlers. In 1869, gold was discovered and, by 1934, the region had produced up to $5 million worth of the precious metal. Later the town's residents took advantage of the rich local soil to produce many different crops, and foremost among those was apples. Julian apples began to win national awards in places as far away as Chicago.
Today, the town of Julian is known for its apples and a tourist ritual is to enjoy a fresh-baked apple pie and ice cream at one of several local eateries. For a town with just a few hundred souls, Julian has an unusual number of bakeries and pie shops such as Mom's Pie House, where visitors stop for their obligatory treat. The other shops in Julian run the gamut from tacky tourist shops to crafts of all types to the normal small-town fixtures like hardware and general stores.
For more information on mountain getaways to Julian, contact the Julian Chamber of Commerce at www.julianca.com or 760-765-1857.
Okay, Lake Arrowhead is not a remote mountain village, and it usually does not come to mind when discussing isolated places to commune with Nature. But it is a great place to find hiking trails, pine and cedar forests and a picturesque mountain lake -- and it's all within a two-hour drive of downtown Los Angeles.
We went to Lake Arrowhead to spend a weekend at the newly renovated Lake Arrowhead Resort, the biggest and best-located resort in the area. If your idea of a mountain getaway is a rustic cabin or tent camping, then this is not your place. A full-service, upscale resort, this is for mountaineers who don't want to stray too far from creature comforts.
Aside from the obvious charms that come with a mountain lake plopped in the middle of a scenic forest, Lake Arrowhead has a fun business district called the Lake Arrowhead Village. Not your typical shopping center, the village somehow combines high-end boutiques with tourist shops and carnival rides to appeal to just about any type of person who may visit.
There also are plenty of hiking trails in the Lake Arrowhead area — trips of various lengths and degrees of difficulty. The lake is at 5,100 feet elevation and is nestled in a forest of pine, cedar and dogwood that give way occasionally to excellent views of the San Bernardino Mountains. A very easy trail to start with is at the Heap's Peak Arboretum, easily accessed on Highway 18. This half-mile interpretive trail identifies some of the 2,000 species of flora and nearly 400 species of fauna found in these picturesque mountains. You'll enjoy views that offer a reminder of why the Lake Arrowhead area has been chosen as a backdrop for so many motion pictures. There also is a special kids trail that shows what various animal paw prints look like. And just up the road are several trails in the Big Bear Lake recreation area.
For more information on mountain getaways to Lake Arrowhead, contact the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce at 909-337-3715 or visit www.lakearrowhead.net.
Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway
(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)