Fair warning: Making this hike through a High Sierra alpine paradise your first overnight is like learning to drive in a Ferrari—you’ll be forever spoiled for anything less than the very best. The 20 Lakes Basin, just east of Yosemite in the Inyo National Forest, boasts soaring granite fins, steep talus, sparkling sapphire lakes, and rainbow-hued bursts of columbine, all accessible via a beginner-friendly, 8-mile loop. From the trailhead on the shore of Saddlebag Lake, gain just 300 feet in elevation as you delve into the basin, passing cliff-cradled Greenstone Lake at mile 2. Near mile 3, select one of the established sites along Wasco Lake (at least 100 feet from the water) for the best wake-up of your life: a view of morning sun on 12,590-foot Mt. Conness and 12,242-foot North Peak looming above the surreal, rocky expanse. On day two, wind past a string of glittering tarns—Steelhead, Shamrock, and Hummingbird Lakes among them—and nameless pools to close the loop on the northwest side of Saddlebag Lake.
Go Late summer and early fall Get there From Mammoth Lakes, take US 395 north; turn left on CA 120. Turn right on Saddlebag Lake Rd. and go 2.5 miles. Permit Required; free Map Trails Illustrated Yosemite NE Tuolumne Meadows & Hoover Wilderness ($10, natgeomaps.com) Contact fs.usda.gov/inyoTrip ID*17038