Admittedly, I'm highly biased in this regard, but I think there's really no beating the Cottonwood lakes area out of Horseshoe Meadow for either introductory hiking or as an convenient go-to spot from SoCal just to get back up in the mountains.Bronco wrote:we live in the Lancaster/Palmdale area
First of all, it's only 2-2.5 hrs from your house, so you could go whenever you had the time and the weather was setting up with high pressure over the Great Basin. In other words, brilliant blue skies with -0- clouds/chance of precipitation.
Secondly, it's only 5 miles to the first lake, with an elevation gain of only 1k (10k -> 11k), with plenty of day hikes available throughout the basin.
Third of all, if you like to fish, well, what can I say that already hasn't been said about the region?
Fourth, if you were feeling ambitious, you could head up to New Army Pass for the view - as a day hike - it's only 2.5 miles from Long lake.
Fifth, if you really having a good time, you could try and summit Langley. Even better, there's usually lots of groups camping at the lakes with that exact plan in mind, so if you ran into some, you could go along for the hike.
Sixth, if you really really into a groove, you could take your packs over NAP and head to Soldier for the night. The next day you could hike down the PCT towards Chickenspring lake, and from there, either spend the night, or continue down Cottonwood Pass back to your car. (The TH for Cottonwood pass is maybe .3 mile from the Cottonwood lakes TH where you would have left your car.)
It's a popular TH/region for good reason: high elevation mostly above treeline with little pain & suffering getting there, multiple, big blue lakes with lots of GT, and lots of variations possible without being locked into one plan.