Ansel Adams Wilderness is a 230,000+ acre protected area, nestled between Yosemite National Park and John Muir Wilderness. It is also one of the most beautiful areas of the Sierra Nevada. It was originally named Minarets Wilderness, which IMHO, is a more apt name :).
The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail pass through the wilderness and some of the iconic vistas along those trails are within the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
I have hiked through this wilderness thrice now, on various backpacking trips. This post is a collection of those hikes and some itinerary suggestions.
Ediza Lake and Thousand Island Lake loop
I did this hike in Sep 2018. The Strava path for this trail is here: https://www.strava.com/activities/1873981172
I did this with two other friends (with whom I would do long through hikes since then) over two nights and three days.
The easiest way to approach Ediza Lake has to be from Agnew Meadows. You need a wilderness permit from Inyo National Forest for this. The trail you are looking for is AA07, Shadow Creek Trail. There are other trails such as River Trail (AA08) and High Trail (AA09) to get there, but those would be longer and harder.
If you are planning to visit Thousand Island lake as well, then any of those three trails will work. It is easier to get to Thousand Island through River Trail or High Trail and come back to Ediza lake on the way back, but if your goal is to head to Ediza lake first, then the best trail is the Shadow Creek Trail.
Agnew Meadows is a few miles from downtown Mammoth Lakes. If you want to stay in a hotel, I recommend the Mammoth Mountain Inn, right across from the Ski resort at Mammoth Mountain. You are already on Hwy 203 / Minarets Road and it is about a 10 minute drive to Agnew Meadows.
In Summer, private vehicles are forbidden in Minarets road between 7 am and 6:30 pm and you have to take the shuttle from the Adventure center located by the inn. If you can avoid the shuttle, it will make your life easier (particularly when you come back).
The shuttle runs between Agnew Meadows, Devils Postpile and Red’s meadow and during weekends, it is pretty packed. On some weekends, you might run out of tickets as well, so reserve online and reserve early if you want to take the shuttle.
From Agnew Meadows trailhead, you are hiking along the PCT. You descend about 350 feet to Olaine Lake first.
Right after Olaine lake is a steep climb towards Shadow lake. It is recommended you do this section before the sun is out. The first time we did this stretch, we started late and suffered through this section.
The outlet of Shadow lake contains pretty cascading waterfalls as you climb along the trail. Shadow lake is on top of the topmost waterfall. It is about a mile of steep climb and you find yourself at Shadow lake.
Shadow lake is a pretty spot and your first closeup view of the Minarets from here. There is no camping allowed by Shadow lake. The John Muir Trail runs along the other side of the lake and you will be joining the JMT shortly.
As you exit Shadow lake, you will start hiking alongside Shadow Creek, that feeds the lake (and hence the name for the trail).
At the end of the lake, there is a bridge which you should not take. The bridge is where the Shadow Creek trail joins the JMT. The bridge continues towards JMT on the South and will go around Shadow lake on the other side and head up to Rosalie lake and Red’s meadow. You want to head up on JMT Northbound towards Ediza lake.
A mile or so hike along Shadow Creek and you get to see some pretty waterfalls. We took as many breaks as we needed here.
Shadow Creek is absolutely pretty in fall.
A mile or so from where the trail meets JMT, there is a branch off to Ediza lake. You will continue straight onto Ediza lake and the sign for JMT inexplicably says “Garnet lake”. You have to watch out for that. If you are headed to Ediza lake, you continue straight ahead.
There is a steep climb after this junction, where you get further away from Shadow Creek and climb a few hundred feet towards Ediza lake. As you near Ediza, the trail kind disappears and you need to cross multiple water ways that are the outlet of Ediza lake.
The first view of Ediza lake is absolutely jaw dropping. This is your first view of the Minarets, Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak.
There is no camping allowed on the South and West side of the lake, so you go around the lake and camp on the farther side from here. There is no trail right of this spot, if you are ok with boulder hopping, you can try that to your right here and it will save you a half mile of hiking.
Sunrise over the Minarets is absolutely astonishing.
Late September, Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter light up shortly after.
We reluctantly left the lake the second morning and traced our path back to the junction where we left the JMT. This time, you make a left towards Garnet lake and head on JMT North.
As you near Garnet lake, the trail disappears in a hurry into a heap of talus and scree. It is almost three years since I did this section north bound and it still gives me nightmares.
You go over an unnamed pass at roughly 10,000 feet and the first view of Garnet lake from there is absolutely stunning.
You start to see Banner Peak in a very different angle from here.
Garnet lake should be one of the prettiest lakes I have seen. There is no camping allowed in this side of Garnet lake, you have to go around the lake and start the climb towards Thousand island lake before you see any camping spots.
The climb out of Garnet lake is steep. We regretted leaving Ediza lake later in the morning since you will be climbing this later in the afternoon, under brutal conditions.
You pass through Ruby lake and Emerald lake. In general, there is no paucity of water and there is little reason to carry more than 1 liter of water in this section.
You eventually get to Thousand Island lake. There is plenty of camping around the lake, close to the JMT. Our stay at Thousand Island lake was extremely windy. I have heard that Garnet lake as well as Ediza lake can get very windy as well.
Sunrise from Thousand Island lake lives up to its hype.
Our permit was to take the High Trail back to Agnew Meadows on day 3. However, we were not keen on the steep climb on the High Trail, so we turned at River Trail and hiked along that instead, which turned out to be absolutely stunning.
Along River Trail was where we had a very close encounter with a mama bear and baby bear. Shortly thereafter was our fastest mile that hike.
We were back at Agnew meadows by 2pm on day 3.
Thousand Island lake from Silver Lake, John Muir Trial, Aug 2021
The second time I visited Thousand Island lake, it was part of our John Muir Trail section hike. We started the hike from Silver Lake. It is a long brutal day to start the hike from Silver lake and head to Thousand Island lake.
If given a choice between starting at Agnew Meadows or from Silver Lake, consider starting at Agnew Meadows.
If you are starting from Silver lake, then I recommend heading towards Gem lake first and then coming around to Thousand Island lake on day 2.
The hike from Silver lake is steep, but with beautiful views of June Lake.
We hiked along Agnew lake and continued towards Clarke’s lake. That is a steep climb. From the summit, you see Gem lake below. If you fork off at Agnew lake towards Gem lake, it is a gentler, but longer hike to Thousand Island lake. This is a popular loop if you want to stick to this loop, done over 3 days.
The trail eventually joins the River Trail and you are presented with an astonishing sunset.
Our day 2 took us from Thousand island lake to Garnet lake. The climb down the talus and scree is not easy, but not as hard as going North.
We went around Shadow lake, crossing the bridge and continuing on the JMT. There is a steep climb (700 feet over 0.8 miles) and we reached Rosalie lake.
Day 3 took us from Rosalie lake to Devils Postpile and Red’s meadow.
Agnew Meadows to Ediza Lake to Icerberg Lake and back, September 2021
My third hike to this area started at Agnew Meadows, through Shadow lake and Ediza lake. This was a one night, two day trip.
We stayed in the North east section of Ediza lake. Clouds moved in as we were looking for a campsite.
We were camped directly underneath Banner Peak so we could not see the peak from our campsite.
We were planning to hike to Iceberg lake that afternoon, but rain picked up and we stayed put. Sunset was fabulous.
The next morning, we woke up early, packed our tent and hiked to Iceberg lake. We decided to carry our packs with us and not leave it below. It is a 1 mile 500 feet climb from Ediza lake to Iceberg lake.
The meadows near Iceberg lake are beautiful.
We reached Iceberg lake just after sunrise and it was gorgeous.
We were left to wonder if we should have stayed at Iceberg lake overnight instead of Ediza. It was a 0.75 mile hike around Ediza lake to find a campground. Iceberg lake was a mile from that junction. Maybe next time.
We hustled our way back down to Agnew meadows before thunderstorms arrived.
If you are interested in exploring Ansel Adams wilderness, here are the three options mentioned above.
Agnew meadows to Ediza lake to Garnet lake to Thousand Island lake (visit Iceberg lake if you can) [2 nights]
Silver lake to Gem lake to Thousand Island lake to Silver lake loop [2 nights]
Agnew meadows to Ediza lake to Iceberg lake, back to Agnew meadows [1 night]