NSEL ADAMS WILDERNESS, California — I haven’t managed to find a way to set aside enough time to hike the entire 211-mile John Muir Trail yet (it takes about three weeks), so, until then, I try to hike small segments of it when I get a chance. One fall weekend, my friends Wendy, Rich, Kristi, and I decided to walk to Thousand Island Lake and Garnet Lake, which lie on of the most spectacular portions of the Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
We found ourselves hiking through miserable weather: at the start of the High Trail, a lightning and rain storm took us by surprise. On top of that, Wendy had been breaking in new hiking boots and ended up with painful blisters. When we reached a watery, gray view of Thousand Island Lake, reflecting snow on the mountain peaks behind it, the storm had chilled us to the point of misery. We could only think of eating dinner and hiding from the rain inside our tents. But, in the morning, we spent time admiring the lake in slightly better weather and then followed John Muir Trail, past Emerald and Ruby Lake, until reaching Garnet Lake, a steel-blue oasis covered in mood-setting fog. Even enveloped in clouds under an overcast sky, the views of Thousand Island and Garnet convinced us to return to Ansel Adams again — in better weather. WB
How to Hike to Thousand Island Lake
- OVERVIEW: The hike to Thousand Island Lakes in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, via the High Trail and River Trail, is an 18-mile loop hike with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain starting at the High Trail trailhead in Agnew Meadows. The most scenic part of this hike also follows a segment of the John Muir Trail, passing Emerald Lake, Ruby Lake, and Garnet Lake. You can add more distance to this hike by continuing on the John Muir Trail to Shadow Lake.
- DIRECTIONS: From Los Angeles, take US-395 North to Mammoth Lakes, then take CA-203 West until it dead-ends at the Agnew Meadows Campground. From the parking lot, the High Trail trailhead is marked with obvious signs.
- LOGISTICS: While it’s possible to do this as a long day hike, we did the hike over two days with backpacks and camped near serene Thousand Island Lake. The High Trail has better views than the River Trail, but we took the River Trail back to experience a different route.
- ROUTE: View our route and download the Without Baggage Thousand Island Lake GPS track in GPX or KML format.