As far as we're concerned, any trail that takes us up into or around the High Sierra is a good one. They all seem to have their own charm and delights. But let's be honest here. Some are more pleasant than others, for lots of reasons.
What's a good trail? Well, we have our favorites, but there are lots of possibilities. A good trail should have great views every once in a while, just to remind you how wonderful the high country of the Sierra really is. And not too many people, either. After all, if we're going into the mountains to escape from our urban lives, it makes sense that we don't want to have to say "excuse me" every few minutes on the trail. We'd like shade for at least part of the way, and it's always nice to have a stream nearby in case we get thirsty, or just want to rest and watch the water go by. None of those are absolute requirements, but they help. A nice lake at the end is always good. The trail itself can be a smooth earthen path through the woods or meadows, a solid slab of granite marked with stones, or just about anything in between, as long as we can hike it. It's all good.
What's a bad trail? Ah...this is easier. If you have to watch your footing so carefully that you can't enjoy the views, that's not so good. Big cobblestones or lots of scree and debris in the trail makes this a problem--often where there are too many horses.
Mud? Water? Snow? None are deal-killers, but if we have to take our shoes off every few minutes to navigate the water hazard, our Russian judge will mark that trail down a few points. And it won't ever win first prize. And while we don't mind switchbacks, those huge blocks of granite that require us to lift our entire body and pack up sixteen inches with the tired muscles of one thigh are not popular in our camp. Going up, they begin to make you feel like your knees are going to explode. Coming down, your knees explode. And as per above, with those kinds of steps, you can never take your eyes off the trail to see the views.
But there just aren't many ugly trails in the Sierra. Yeah, horses can leave behind enough manure to make it a little tiresome. And in the early season there are enough mosquitoes on some trails to make you want to sprint--as if there were any where you could go to escape. Deep sand is never much fun, which is one of the reasons we usually avoid the John Muir Freeway. And we will occasionally find something that is so steep and badly maintained that it takes a certain amount of courage to follow it wherever it may lead...
But we've never been on a trail that was so bad we stopped and turned around. Because we know that sooner or later, it will take us to where we want to go. And once we get there, we always seem to agree that it was worth it. Even the Russian judge.