Ask folks whether they've been to the Sierra, and they'll likely cite a well-tromped trail in Yosemite. But plunge deeper into California's iconic backyard and you get to Thousand Island Lake, a spot around 10,000 feet above sea level where teensy granite islands glitter in the sun, where alpenglow bouncing off Banner Peak rivals the Northern Lights, where you could spend slack-jawed hours staring at the landscape. Ansel Adams snapped it; John Muir dubbed it "Islet Lake." Do it as a day hike, or sleep over to catch the light show over the lake at dusk and dawn. Far from Mt. Whitney's crowd, the lake showcases the Sierra stun factor. Quietly.
Info: Thousand Island Lake is seven miles from the Agnew Meadows Trailhead off California 203 near Mammoth Mountain. Camping permit required. Info: Inyo National Forest, (760) 873-2400
-- Mary E. ForgioneKen Hively / Los Angeles Times