High Trail, Mammoth Lakes
An extremely scenic trail begins at the High Trail/PCT Trail north trailhead at Agnew Meadows. The parking at that trailhead is somewhat limited, so better to park at the River Trail trailhead just 200 meters farther and walk back. Starting from the trailhead, the trail doesn't seem like much, winding its way past a pack house through foliage, climbing slightly and soon going into gentle switchbacks. After less than 10 minutes of hiking, the trail briefly emerges from the forest onto a wide, grassy slope where you enter the Ansel Adams Wilderness, marked by a wooden sign. The trail continues climbing, eventually allowing limited views of Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak. Lupine and other wildflowers are also abundant along this trail. The trail continues switchbacking, going through periods of forest and grassy slopes, passing pines and aspens.
This is best hiked early in the morning, around sunrise, when the peaks of the Ritter Range are brightly illuminated, while you hike in the shade.
As the High Trail reaches around 2 miles from the Agnew Meadows trailhead, it enters one of the most scenic stretches of trail I've ever hiked. At 2 miles, the trail begins leveling out after climbing over 1200 feet from the trailhead. There is a small spur trail leading to a ledge with an unbeatable view: Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, the Minarets, with Shadow Lake lying at their base, visible between a small cleft in two granite hills. Even if you don't plan hiking all the way out to Thousand Island Lake or further, this makes a nice short day hike for some great views.
Continuing on the trail, the views get better. As you hike on the slope of the Two Teats, not only can you see the Ritter Range, but also Mt. Lyell in Yosemite National Park, and Mammoth Mountain and Iron Mountain in the south. The trail continues through the open slope with views everywhere.
The scenery only gets better. The trail continues on the open slopes of Two Teats and San Joaquin Mountain, mostly level, passing multiple cascading streams, and fields of beautiful Indian Paintbrush and lupine. Views of the spires of the Minarets are awesome, and Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak are visible, rising gloriously above snowfields and small glaciers. To the south are equally unbeatable views of Mammoth Mountain, Iron Mountain, and what I believe was the Silver Divide, with aspens, brush, and small pine trees along the trail, making a quintessentially Sierran scene. This lasts for at least 3 miles with unbelievable, undescribable scenery.
Eventually the Minarets disappear from view, and the trail reaches a basalt-column like formation, a type of mini-Devil's Postpile with five and six sided short columns. This is a good spot for a picnic, with good views to Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak. Past the columns, it is only ten minutes to the trail junction with the trail to Clark Lakes and Agnew Pass, around 6 miles from the trailhead. Take the left fork towards Thousand Island Lake; the trail begins a descent through mixed forest and meadows, with occasional wildflowers and mountain views dotting the descent towards Badger Lakes.