Driving from Las Vegas to San Francisco included a night stop at June Lake. Staying at June Lake in Mono Country is a gorgeous and homely location for couples and families. Also named as the “Switzerland of California”, in 2 days we experienced sunshine and snow. This cosy fishing, skiing and hiking village was formed by a glacier at an elevation of 2333 m / 7654 ft.
The first day, route to June Lake was the second longest drive we had done in one day. Including our stop north visiting Bodie State Park we drove a max 7.5 hours in total. This calculated to 400 m / 650 km on the first day – maybe we were a little crazy! June Lake was chosen as the location to stop the night as it was close to Yosemite. Unfortunately for us it snowed the next day and our plans had to change for Yosemite, but still a beautiful location. We had to drive all the way to San Francisco, which was our second day. This calculated to another 306 m / 493 km on the second day.
Day 1: Las Vegas to June Lake
Leaving Las Vegas gave us an exciting feeling, as we found it all rather too much. The 4 nights at the Luxor hotel allowed us to explore all we wanted, but we were longing to leave and get back into the nature. All those city lights, music and atmosphere is great to experience, but I can’t imagine needing to visiting any longer! We checked out early at 06:30am and packed the car up ready for our next road trip section to California. The sunrise was gorgeous, which we saw as we drove away and viewed in the rear view mirror.
We’ve made a separate detailed post about our 4 Days In Las Vegas here!
Around 2.5 hours later we had reached the entrance to Death Valley. By 10:00am and it was getting very warm, reaching already 35°c degrees. Our drive to June Lake would be a long one, but an enjoyable one.
Death Valley National Park
We had a few places within Death Valley that we wanted to explore such as the Devil’s Golf Course and the scenic 2.5mile drive. What we loved the most here was how different it was to other national parks in the US like Zion. More time was definitely needed to explore Death Valley but we did our best during our day trip.
We’ve made a separate detailed post about Death Valley here!
Bodie State Historic Park
However before stopping at June Lake, we headed further north towards Bodie State Park. A ghost and historic mining town more than 2133 m / 7,000 ft above sea level. It was here that we got out the car and realised how cold it was compared to Death Valley. Bodie State Park was rather eerie to walk around, with houses still full of belongings. It was like walking around a film set from the 1800s.
We’ve made a separate detailed post about Bodie State Park here!
June Lake Villager Hotel
Checking in at June Lake Villager we were shown to our private cabin with kitchen. With our own parking spot and entrance to the cabin, it felt very homely from the moment we entered. The cabin had a small lounge area with open kitchen, perfect for those who would stay longer than a night. The bathroom was very clean and connected with the bedroom. Our night’s stay for two people was perfect – and we had a fantastic comfy night’s sleep.
Tiger Bar Cafe
By dinner time we had experienced 40 degrees in Death valley to 4 degrees outside our cabin! With a quick walk from the hotel we arrived to the local recommended restaurant Tiger Bar for dinner. Small but cosy, with little booths next to the windows and in the style of an old saloon. There were plenty of dishes to choose from, and I definitely struggled to decide after our long drive. In the end I had a plate of fried chicken and chips while my partner had a carbonara pasta. Our dinner choices tasted great and we paid a decent price.
We liked it here so much that we went back for breakfast the following morning! With snow falling outside it was cosy to drink hot chocolate and warm up from the short walk from our cabin.
Day 2: June Lake to San Francisco
Unforeseen Weather Conditions
Waking up to snow sure was a big shocker! We went through all the emotions you can think of within an hour.
- Excitment that it was snowing after our 40°c in Death Valley since it was so beautiful with the mountains
- Curiousity if roads were clear for the car to drive
- Nervous because our only clothes were mostly suited for summer temperatures
- Worried that we’d be hiking in snow in Yosemite
- (Which turned to) Annoyed that we wouldn’t even be reaching Yosemite!
- Joy of ultimately having an extra day in San Francisco
What were the chances! The 4 degrees outside the night before had lowered even colder to -2°c in the night. We had to decide what to do during breakfast, as the Tioga Pass was closed, cancelling our plans to drive into Yosemite! We were absolutely gutted!! This is something you cannot plan for on a road trip, unforeseen weather conditions. Being September we were told it was very early for snow to close the road, but unfortunately we had no choice but to chance our itinerary. Informed by the locals, the Tioga pass would be closed for at least a couple of days before it could be opened again. Our only choice was to skip Yosemite and drive around the mountains to San Francisco a day early.
Absolutely gutted to miss our day trip to Yosemite, we packed up the car ready for another long drive. A rather large itinerary disaster turned into a great one as we gained an extra day in San Francisco.
Within a few hours north from June Lake we had driven through hundreds of burnt trees and land from wildfires. Arriving at Lake Tahoe was a good stopping point, but being very snowy and cold we couldn’t see much across the lake. We stopped for snacks and a brisk 10 minute walk for some fresh air before bundling back into the warm car and driving further.
Arriving In San Francisco
By San Francisco we were back to 22°c degrees and sunshine. Such a big difference a few hours can make! Arriving from the North we entered through the tunnel to the amazing view of San Francisco below us. We had to drive over the famous Golden Gate Bridge at least once before we handed in the car the next day and it was perfect to do it as we arrived.
However it was a nightmare to drive in the city and it had taken us a few tries to get the right street for our motel with all the one way streets. The plan was that we would arrive a day later after Yosemite and drop the car off straight away, but now we had to battle through the traffic and road signs. Let’s just say it was an adventure all on its own, one we wouldn’t do again.
You can read all about our full driving experience as Europeans in the US on a separate post here!
Overall the route was very easy to drive to June Lake and to San Francisco from Las Vegas, with sections completely empty of cars making us the only ones for many miles. At one point we were worried the car was having overheating problems in Death Valley but by the evening with the cold weather it was back to normal. Looking back, it would have been better to have planned an extra night near June Lake to visit Bodie State Park separately. But it didn’t stop us from making it suit us and our schedule. As we were both able to drive we responsibly took turns to keep our energy levels up.
The full distance of driving 650miles / 1046km in two days was very long for us. It was an additional 50 miles / 88km to Bodie and back to June Lake too. It definitely took our energy levels down to a low. So once checked into our Travelodge by Wyndham Presidio in San Francisco, we left only once to pick up pizza at a local take away. Was one of the best pizza’s we had eaten in America too – delicious to stuff our faces before we crashed out and slept.
Good driving tips for this route:
- Have extra water in your car on road trips – we also had some snacks throughout our road trip always in the car too in case we got stuck in traffic
- Fill up with petrol when leaving Las Vegas, so you know you will survive Death Valley!
- Prepare for the weather differences
- Only drive what your capable of energy wise
- Try and relax if driving in San Francisco (even now I get annoyed when thinking back)
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Have you ever driven long distances on vacation? Been to June Lake or Lake Tahoe? Let us know in the comments!
These two days were part of our 2 week road trip through the US – See the whole itinerary here!