Back to index 1000 Island Lake Loop Hike

Trip Date:  07/01/2016

: 18.2 Miles

Vertical Gain: 3090'

Group Size: 1
Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard   Strenuous
1000 Island Lake Loop Hike
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1000 Island Lake Loop Elevation Profile1000 Island Lake Panorama
Start Coordinates:   N 37 40.929, W 119 05.193     End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates

Car Shuttle Req'd:   No
Parking Directions:   From Highway 395 turn west on Mammoth Scenic Loop Road.  Head on this road for approximately 6 miles until you reach Minaret Road.  Turn right, and head 5 miles, past the Mammoth Mountain resort area until you reach a park service booth.  Head past the booth (before 7am)  and continue on this road which becomes Postpile Road for another 4 miles until you reach the parking area on the right for Agnew Meadows campground area.  Drive in and park as far north as possible, passing by a couple of parking areas to get as close to the PCT trailhead as possible.  NOTE: You need to arrive before 7am to park here or you will be REQUIRED to take a hiker shuttle bus from Mammoth Mountain to the trailhead area.  There is a fee of $10 (as of Summer 2016) for use of the area past the booth.
Hazards of Note:   Long day hike, significant elevation gain, many trail junctions to be aware of.
Crowd Factor:   Moderate to High.  This is a crown jewel hiking area, with many PCT through hikers to be found along the first half of the hike and many JMT hikers along the second half of the hike.  The lakes are a popular destination and require reaching the destination early for the best available camping areas.
General Notes:
From the Agnew Meadows trailhead, find the signs for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and head north on what is called the PCT "High Trail."  This will lead you up about 500 feet of elevation gain in the first mile, but the next 4-5 miles along the eastern side of the mountain range offer incredibly spectacular views of the area, the mountians in the distance to your west and much of the area you will be traversing during the return portion of the loop hike.
Near the 7 mile mark the trail will start to drop down into forested area, losing a little bit of elevation and connecting up with the River Trail which also was an option for this hike starting at Agnew Meadows.  However, it doesn't offer the views from high above that the High Trail does.  Just before you get to 1000 Island Lake, you will see the distinctive form of Banner Peak off to your west, and be sure to look for a small use trail on the left side of the trail which takes you about 50 feet down to the water outlet from 1000 Island Lake.  This spot offers one of the most scenic picture spots ever. 
Reaching 1000 Island Lake, there is a trail junction with the John Muir Trail (JMT) where both trails combine heading north toward Yosemite or the JMT turns south.  This spot was a good area for a brief rest to refuel and enjoy the area, or you if doing an overnight trip head to the west along the northern side of the lake to find camping sites on the other end of the lake area.
Turning south on the JMT, in less than a mile you will reach the much smaller Emerald Lake.  This is another popular camping location, with a number of good sites on the far (eastern) end.  A bit further up the trail is Ruby Lake, another nice location, but only clearly visible if you leave the trail and head on down to the shoreline. 
After Ruby Lake you will head up another ridge climb, climbing another 400-500 feet in a mile until you reach the crest and the high point of the entire trip at just about 10,100 feet in elevation.  Head down into the Garnet Lake area.  Garnet Lake is another spectacular destination along this hike, similiar in size to 1000 Island Lake and also oriented with great views of Banner Peak off on the western side as well.  The trail winds to the east and crosses over the outlet from Garnet Lake via a makeshift log crossing (complete with a handrail,) and then climbs back up out of the basin on the south side for another climb up to the top of a ridge.
From here you will head down through a forested section for the next mile, slowly dropping down toward a trail junction just west of Shadow Lake that will take you either straight on to continue the JMT trail, to the right to head a couple miles up to Lake Ediza, or to the left to head toward Shadow Lake and the continuation of this particular loop.
The trail heads along the northern edge of Shadow Lake, and views back highlight the Minarets behind the water.  As you near the end of the lake, the outlet that was visible from the high trail earlier in the day comes into sight (and sound,) as water drops 400 feet from the lake outlet along the trail down to the river far below.  The trail itself switchbacks down to the valley as well, soon losing sight of the falls and continuing on down until you reach a bridge which crosses the middle fork of the San Joaquin River which runs north and south through this large valley.
Turn to the south along this trail and follow the river trail for the last couple of miles, climbing up about 300' near the end to return to Agnew Meadows and the terminus of the loop journey.

Pulling into the parking area near Agnew Meadows, there were some nice views to the northwest of some of the area that will get to be experienced on this loop.
Before the Hike

These are the trail markers you want to look for to start along the hike.  Make sure to head north on the PCT, otherwise you will head out on the River Trail and miss out on much of the High Trail views that start off this journey with a bang.
Trail markers

Less than a mile up the High Trail (on the PCT) you will pass into the Ansel Adams Wilderness area.  No wonder he was so overwhelmed with this area.  Anyone who passes through here would be.
Entering Wilderness

Just a few miles into the hike, the High Trail switchbacks you have been trudging up offer some incredible views to the west.  In this picture Shadow Lake is visible in the middle, with the Minarets in the distance and just a hint of the trail you will finish up with showing to the right of the waterfall spilling out of Shadow.
Shadow Lake View

Still on the PCT, the views north into the Donohue Pass area in which the trail crosses into Yosemite are phenominal.
Views north

The panorama from the PCT along this section are some of the best views from anywhere along the entire trail.
PCT Panorama

Much of the PCT High Trail on this section is exposed and out in the open, so hiking along it in the morning is your best option.  Later in the day this would be pretty hot.
Open Trail 

Not to be outdone by the northern views, looking south from the PCT to the area in the distance where Red's Meadow and Devil's Postpile are found, as well as further toward Kings Canyon far in the distance.
Looking South 

There are a couple of junctions ahead on the next section of trail, and as long as you be sure to continue to 1000 Island Lake you will be on the right path.
Junction 1 Junction 2

One of the many PCT thru hikers I met along this section of trail.  He had already been out for 2 months, and was enjoying this section and the view of Banner Peak.  Said the desert section he just finished was a fond memory.  Fond, because it was a memory.
Banner Peak with PCT hiker 

Just off the trail as you approach 1000 Island Lake is an unbelieveable viewpoint.  This was the epitome of this entire hike.

A first look at the spectacular 1000 Island Lake (and Banner Peak in the distance) from the PCT approach.
1000 Island Lake

The signpost here is the junction of where the PCT and JMT either merge going north or split going south.  There were many travellers of both directions on this day.
Junction 3

A closer look at Banner Peak with nobody on it today.
Banner Peak

Concerns about crossing the outlets for these large lakes were for naught as there were semi-permanent methods for getting across them already in place.
Outlet crossing 

Very picturesque Emerald Lake was next along the trail, just about 1/2 mile south of 1000 Island Lake.  A number of great campsites on the far side from this spot.
Emerald Lake

Ruby Lake appeared next a little further down the trail, tucked into a granite bowl and very, very cold.
Ruby Lake

Past Ruby Lake the trail reaches its highest point, and then begins a bit of a drop down into the Garnet Lake basin.  This area is right up there with 1000 Island Lake in terms of spectacular settings.
Garnet Lake

Nice trail maintenance makes the crossings of these lake outlets a non-factor on this loop.  Good thing, as this would have been a very dangerous crossing on a wet year such as this one.
Another crossing

On the far (south) side of the lake, the trail begins to climb again, taking its toll on your calves but offering some additional great views of Garnet Lake, Banner Peak and Mt. Ritter just to the left of Banner.
Looking back at Garnet

Finishing the climb out of the Garnet Lake area hikers are rewarded with far off views to the south and some downhill along a newly-routed section of trail.
Dana Meadow

Invitingly close, the Minarets loom high above the next section of trail as you approach Shadow Lake, with the gorgeous Lake Ediza and Iceberg Lakes tucked up next to them, a few miles away but in the wrong direction for this loop.
The Minarets

Almost an afterthought on a hike with so many amazing locations, Shadow Lake itself with the Minarets in the background is strikingly beautiful as well.
Shadow Lake

There was an abundance of water flowing both into and then out of Shadow Lake this season, creating this rush as well as an amazing cascade from the outlet all the way down to the San Joaquin River far below.
Shadow Lake water

Past Shadow Lake the trail would drop down into th e San Joaquin River valley far below, with the cascade from the lake ever to the right of the trail..
Down from Shadow

The last mile or so sees the trail climb 300' from the river valley up to Agnew Meadows once again, but the views of Mammoth Mountain in the distance were enough of a distraction to keep the pace going..
Mammoth Mountain

GPS Track of the full hike. GPS Track of Hike