by Hank Leukart
August 30, 2011
Quick Trip: Thousand Island Lake
An Ansel Adams Wilderness hike on one of the most beautiful sections of the John Muir Trail.
Hikers look out from John Muir Trail onto Garnet Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness in Northern California. (view all Thousand Island Lake, Ca. photos)
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, decide 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 find ourselves hiking through miserable weather: at the start of the High Trail, a lightning and rain storm takes us by surprise. On top of that, Wendy has been breaking in new hiking boots and ends up with painful blisters. When we reach a watery, gray view of Thousand Island Lake, reflecting snow on the mountain peaks behind it, the storm has chilled us to the point of misery. We can only think of eating dinner and hiding from the rain inside our tents. In the morning, in slightly better weather, we follow 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 view of Garnet convinces 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.