Backpack Thousand Island Lake Ansel Adams Wilderness

Thousand Island Lake camping


From the issue Tioga Party

Thousand Island Club

Ingredients for a stellar backpacking trip: an idyllic destination, stupendous views along the way, few people, and excellent company. A trip to Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness has the first three; you supply the company. This year snow will linger at the lake well into the summer (this photo was taken over the July 4th weekend), but don’t let that deter you. The High Trail (a section of the Pacific Crest Trail) is a 10-mile entrance into this beautiful slice of the Sierra, with a setting that’s—of course—straight out of an Ansel Adams photograph: a 9,500-foot-high glacier-fed lake in a granite bowl backed by iconic Banner Peak. Starting from the Agnew Meadows trailhead, The High Trail begins with a bang, zig-zagging up in a series of switchbacks that’ll get your blood pumping. Things level off after that as you traverse a balcony trail with superb views of the Ritter Range, the shark-tooth Minarets, and Shadow Lake. The final few miles is up and through a forest passing the shallow and grassy Badger Lakes before spilling out at Thousand Island Lake. Pick a campsite on the northern shore and celebrate with a feast fit for backpacking (you’ll be glad you hauled it in). Spend downtime fishing, lounging on the rounded boulders, or taking side trips to Clark Lakes or Island Pass. At night, try to stay awake for some high-altitude stargazing, where the Milky Way is extra milky. And don’t forget to snap some shots: a picture of Thousand Island Lake is worth a thousand memories.

You’ll need a wilderness permit to camp at Thousand Island Lake. Pick one up, along with a required bear canister, at the Mammoth Welcome Center/Ranger Station (2520 Main St., Mammoth Lakes; 760-924-5500). Make a reservation ahead of time for your permit or pick it up the day before your trip on a first-come, first-served basis. (There is a quota and spaces can fill up.) To get to the Agnew Meadows trailhead, take the bus from Mammoth Mountain resort to Devil’s Postpile and get off at the first stop. Consider hiking in on the combined Shadow Lake Trail, River Trail, and John Muir Trail. At the time of publication, this route still had quite a bit of snow and the High Trail was the best route into the lake. Consult the Mammoth Welcome Center for current trail information and maps for the hike. No dogs.

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