Hiking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness

Notes by piero scaruffi | Other California trails
Pictures of this hike | Ansel Adams Wilderness' Weather
The Minarets | Mt Ritter and Banner Peak

From Silver Lake

A number of hikes starts from Silver Lake and touch Agnew Lake (4 kms), Gem Lake (7.5 kms), Waugh Lake, the Thousand Island Lake and Garnett Lake.

Directions from the Bay Area: drive across Yosemite on 120 to Mono Lake and turn south (right) on highway 395 to the June Lake loop. Drive on the June Lake loop to the Silver Lake resort. The parking lot for the Rush Creek trailhead (2,300m) is on the right hand-side.

The trail ascends rapidly to Agnew Lake (2530m) in about 4 kms. Right after the dam, look for an unsigned trail that crosses to the other side of the lake. After coasting the lake for ten minutes, it heads south and takes to the Clark Lakes and then to Thousand Island Lakes (2,997m). It's about 4.5 hours from Silver Lake to Thousand Island Lakes. You can then visit Garnett Lake (4 kms) and return from there (again the trail is unmarked but in good conditions). It's about one hour from Thousand Island Lakes to Garnet Lake. If you have two cars, you can park the second one at Agnew Meadow and do a one way from Silver Lake to Thousand Islands Lake (4.5 hours) to Garnet Lake (1 hour) to Agnew Meadow (3.5 hours).

From Agnew Meadow

If you keep driving south on highway 395 and turn right onto 203 through Mammoth Lakes and then turn right on Minaret Summit Road and continue past Minaret Summit, you reach the right turn to the Agnew Meadow trailhead (a short dirt road). If you use Agnew Meadow as your entrance to the area (beware that cars are not allowed most of the day), there are three possible trails: the high trail, which is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that takes you straight north to Thousand Island Lake; the river trail that takes you straight north to Thousand Island Lake but stays lower and is therefore shorter; and the Shadow Creek trail that takes you to Shadow Lake, where you pick up the John Muir Trail (JMT) to go north to Garnett Lake and then Thousand Island Lake. The turnout to go south to Minaret Falls is off this third trail (first you have to head north, then you'll find the turnout to go south). The second and third trail are the same trail at the beginning, then they split just before Shadow Lake. Beware that this trail, the "river trail", goes downhill for a long time, which means that on the way back it will be painfully uphill when you are coming back tired.

The shortest route to both Garnett Lake and Thousand Island Lake is the river trail (to actually reach Garnett Lake you'll have to take a very steep detour but there is a trail that connects the north shore of Garnett and the south shore of Thousand Island).

For example: Agnew Meadow (2530m) north to Thousand Island Lake (3000m, 11 kms) on the river trail, then south to Garnett Lake (3 kms) and back to Agnew Meadow via the river trail (9 kms). Any loop done from here tends to be easier because it starts at higher elevation. But don't underestimate the bureaucracy: you cannot drive your own vehicle to Agnew Meadow during the day. Bureaucrats specialize in ruining a hiker's experience and in making simple things really complicated. See the Mt Ritter page for the Mt Ritter and Banner Peak routes that also start from Agnew Meadow.

Note: the Garnett Lake trail is recommended only to masochists with a good sense of humor.

Lakes north of Garnett Lake:

From Yosemite: Mono Pass trailhead to Rush Creek trailhead

A nice trail connects Yosemite High Country and the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Park one car at the Mono Pass trailhead in Yosemite east of Tuolumne Meadows (west of Tioga Pass) and the other car at the Rush Creek trailhead of Silver Lake (take the June Lake Loop from highway 395 and look for a large parking area on the west side of the road and the north end of Silver Lake near the Silver Lake campground).

Take the Mono Pass trailhead and turn right onto the Parker Pass trail.

The hike starts at the Mono Pass trailhead off Tioga Road (Highway 120) just west of Tioga Pass. Usually two ways to the top are described: via Helen Lake and via Parker Pass. Be aware that there is no way to reach the real summit via Helen Lake. Kuna Peak has two horns, the southern and northern horns. The real summit is the southern one and nothing connects the two horns (there is a deep chasm between the two).

The Parker Pass route is relatively simple. Follow the Mono Pass trail and just before Mono Pass turn right into the Parker Pass trail. The trail to Parker Pass is a straight line that hardly gains any elevation. After Parker Pass the trail is another straight line that hardly loses any elevation. But then (after great views of the valley to the east) the trail bends right and starts ascending via steep switchbacks (with increasingly great views of Mono Lakes and the lakes south of it). The switchbacks take you to Koip Pass. On the other side you can see the Alger Lakes. The trail that descends to these lakes is a one big waste of time because it unwinds via long, long switchbacks. Once at the Alger lakes, the trail goes up again shortly, then down steeply, then up to Gem Pass, then down to Gem lake. Alas, there is one more steep uphill section along Gem Lake to get to Agnew Lake. From there it's all downhill to the Rush Creek trailhead.

  • Mono Pass trailhead (2950m)
  • Turnoff to Parker Pass: 5.5 kms
  • Parker Pass: 8.5kms, 2h15'
  • Bottom of switchbacks: 11 kms
  • Koip Peak Pass (3736m): 15 kms, 4h15'
  • Alger Lakes outlet (3290m): 19.5 kms, 5h30'
  • Gem Lake (2761m): 25 kms, 7h30'
  • Agnew Lake (2530m): 28.5 kms, 9h
  • Rush Creek trailhead (2,300m): 32.5 kms, 11h

Or, if you want to make a loop, from Gem Lake turn right to Thousand Island Lake and then you can return to Yosemite via Donahue Pass and the John Muir trail.

  • Mono Pass trailhead (2950m)
  • Gem Lake (2761m)
  • Thousand Island Lake (2997m): 3kms (cross-country via Sullivan Lake) or 6 kms (trail)
  • West side of the lake: 2kms
  • Lake Catherine (3365m): 3kms
  • Banner Peak (3946m): 4kms
  • John Muir trail (3200m): 4kms
  • Donahue Pass (3370m): 8kms (10 kms from Thousand Island Lake and 20 kms from Tuolumne Meadows)
  • Ireland Lake junction (2700m): 11 kms
  • Mono Pass trailhead (cross country shortcut): 8kms