Thousand Island Lake is a trek to get to but once you get there, well you don’t really want to leave. This view is absolutely beautiful, and it changes rapidly with the rising and setting sun so make you have your camera ready for it. This is completely back country so you gotta pack it all in. There are some rules you have to follow while camping at this lake, 30 feet off of the trail and then another 100 feet away from the water. This can be hard to do as your camp may be on a slant or in the wide open, however you have plenty of space to choose from at this location. There is another rule about camping past a certain peninsula but from everyone we talked to they had no idea which peninsula the map was actually referring to, so you just walk past a couple of them and hope you’re in the right spot. The water is very cold but still feels great after a long hike all day.
There are multiple routes to getting to this lake, you can come. The John Muir trail and the PCT lead to this location, also Mammoth California has a trail that leads here as well. We even encountered mule train options on our way in if you prefer that type of transportation. But this is definitely somewhere you want to visit.
This is not an easy location to get to, but if you take the PCT High Trail, it's relatively easy. Still a ~8 mile hike in, but it's SO worth it.
The lake is beautiful at all times of day. Campsites are plentiful, but you need to look for them. You will find small trials leading off from the mail trail along the lake, and those will lead you to campsites.
Rangers are very picky about checking permits. We didn't see any rangers up there when we went, but that's the rumor. Also, lots of bears in this area. Again, we didn't see any, but we're always very careful about food storage.
Thousand Island Lake is a backcountry camping area located at 9,839 feet elevation in Ansel Adams Wilderness within the Inyo National Forest, California.
If you desire 360 degree mountain beauty, a cool lake to fish, float, swim or reflect by, epic sunrises and sunsets, star-filled night skies…or just desire the unearthly quiet of being unplugged and being a speck in rugged vastness…this is for you!
This incredible dispersed backcountry camping area must:
- Be hiked into
- Possess a permit
- Use approved bear canisters
- Leave No Trace
There are a few methods of getting to Thousand Island Lake…all involve backpacks and hiking. First, if you are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail NOBO or SOBO, you will at some point of your journey reach Thousand Island Lake. Second, if you are hiking the John Muir Trail NOBO or SOBO, you will reach Thousand Island Lake during your journey. Third, you can choose a beautifully scenic 14.3 mile out and back from Mammoth, CA…the shortest of the three options. Fourth, there are horseback/mule train options.
We happened to reach Thousand Island Lake as part of our August 2018 SOBO John Muir Trail attempt.
Choosing to hike in by any of the options takes planning and preparation. This is beautiful country, but it is also rough and unforgiving. The trails are wonderfully cared for, but not groomed and flat…know this and adequately prepare.
Every hiking/camping group must possess a permit, which for a short hike directly into Thousand Island Lake is secured through the Inyo National Forest office. PCT and JMT permits are primarily lottery based (although several walk-in permits are granted each day on site…but that's a gamble).Inyo National Forest website page states: "Groups cannot be larger than 15 people (includes day use). Quota of 30 people permitted to start overnight trips each day from May 1 to November 1."
This is active black bear country, so you must use approved bear canisters for food and odoriferous items (toothpaste, soap, lip balm, insect repellent, etc). Stiff fines by rangers (and they do backcountry patrols) await if you foolishly ignore this law…worse yet, you might receive a catastrophic visit from Yogi or Boo-Boo. We did not see any bear or evidence of their presence but I’m sure they saw us.
Leave No Trace…pack it in…pack it out. Yes, that means everything. Know the rules and abide by them. Nothing more distasteful and damaging to pristine wilderness are those that believe they are the exception to this rule and leave trash…worse, waste and TP dotting the landscape. Unfortunately, I found myself burying selfish stranger's waste. So bring a small shovel (www.tentlab) and a Ziploc freezer baggie to pack out your TP.
There is signage at Thousand Island Lake advising where to camp, which is far away from the main JMT trail. Again, abide by the rules and camp at least 40 feet away from the trail and 100 feet from the lake. Read and obey the list of rules on the website.
We camped on the northwest area of the Lake. Numerous hikers were there, some groups that hiked in for a day or two, others were thru-hikers. I enjoy the "community" of backcountry backpacker's. Day hikers can bring "Fido."
It is unnecessary to pack in hordes of water, as there seems to be streams and lakes aplenty. I'd recommend a reliable water filter or boiling the water to ensure a parasite free thirst quencher. We used a simple Sawyer Squeeze, which was both lightweight and effective.
Once camp is set, hike around the trails of this pristine wilderness and soak it all in…or just pull out your sleeping pad and relax.
I have read and been admonished to use 100% DEET for the mosquitoes on the JMT…particularly June-July, and though prepared, we experienced none in mid-August, nor at this elevation. The elevation should not be bothersome healthwise, as it is not above 10,000 ft. As Floridian Flatlanders, we had no adverse altitude maladies…other than being out of breath while climbing passes. June and early July hikers may experience snow at this elevation depending on the winter accumulations.
Several notable peaks shadow Thousand Island Lake, Banner Peak being one of them.
For those securing a day hike permit, search out several websites/blogs for the best starting locations (https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/thousand-island-lake-pct).
If you are looking for the best bang for your buck in backcountry short trips, file this one away as a "must do!" There are others in the eastern Sierra Nevadas…but that's for another post.