The numbers: 22 miles, 2 to 3 days
The hike: A long weekend in the Ansel Adams Wilderness combining primo stretches of the Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails? If that’s not enticing enough, Muir himself called this hike’s centerpiece, 13,150-foot Mt. Ritter, the “noblest mountain of the [Sierra].” From the Agnew Meadows trailhead, go counterclockwise, starting on the High Trail (PCT) for an overview of Ritter and its neighbors, Banner Peak and the Minarets. These craggy summits, comprised of dark metamorphic rock, tower above the surrounding lakes and glacier-polished granite shelves like sentinels. The High Trail passes a tremendous viewpoint of the peaks about 3 miles in, then continues through meadows thick with corn lilies and lupine. Contour around to Thousand Island Lake at 7.8 miles and find unobstructed views of 12,945-foot Banner Peak (pictured), with crevasses riddling the remnant glaciers on its north face. Go to the southwest side of the lake for the best campsites. In the morning, continue south along the John Muir Trail past Emerald and Ruby Lakes, and over an easy pass to Garnet Lake. (These lakes and the nearby creeks are good places to try for brookies, rainbows, and brown trout—possibly even a golden trout, the California state fish.) At the Shadow Creek Trail, take the 1.6-mile detour west to a campsite by Ediza Lake. Get up early for the sunrise reflection of the Minarets, all gold against still water, before returning to Agnew Meadows via the Shadow Creek and River Trails.
Trailhead Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center; take shuttle to Agnew Meadows (37.682849, -119.084818)
Red tape reserve permits ($5/person plus $6 booking fee) at recreation.gov; bear canisters required
Season Mid-July to early October