The Methuselah Trail is located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains in the Inyo National Forest, northeast of Bishop. From the trail you will see the oldest Great Basin Bristlecone pine – Methuselah.
Features: Methuselah is more than 4,840 years old. Compare that to the oldest known giant sequoia, which is only about 3,500 years old. To put that in perspective, that means that Methuselah was already living during the 18th Egyptian Dynasty (1300 B.C.) and when the Babylonian empire was flourishing (2635 B.C.).
The tree’s exact location is kept a secret in order to protect it from vandals (an arsonist set fire to the visitor center and several pines in 2008, which resulted in the destruction of the visitor center. A new visitor center has recently opened.) In 1964, with the permission of the Forest Service , a researcher cut down an older tree named Prometheus, which was about 4,900 years old, in order to study the species.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest provides extreme, adverse conditions, with its arid land and the rigors of an elevation of more than 10,000 feet. These hearty trees have adapted to their challenging environment and can even thrive in it. Wind-whipped sand, ice, drought, and fire have sculptured the bristlecone pines into many beautiful shapes and forms.
Naturalist John Muir wrote the following about the bristlecone pines:
“While on the roughest ledges of crumbling limestone are lowly old giants, five or six feet in diameter that have braved the storms of more than a thousand years. But whether old or young, sheltered or exposed to the wildest gales, this tree is ever found to be irrepressibly and extravagantly picturesque, offering a richer and more varied series of forms to the artist than any other species I have yet seen.”
Hiking directions: The trail is a 4.5-mile loop with a 900 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead begins at about 10,000 feet. The trail has numbered posts along the way – you can pick up a brochure guide at the visitor center that will provide information that correlates to the numbered posts. There are also several rest benches along the trail that provide spectacular scenic views. Dogs are allowed on the trail so long as they remain on leash. Pit toilets are located at the visitor center.
Although the Methuselah trail is only 4.5 miles long, you may find that the trail seems quite a bit longer to you than 4.5 miles given the elevation.
How to get there: travel to the town of Big Pine, California. Go east on Highway 168 out of Big Pine for about 12 miles. Turn left on White Mountain Road. Drive on White Mountain Road for about 10 miles – you will pass a scenic overlook on the left side of the road which is worth stopping at on your way to or from this hike. Turn right into the Schulman Grove Visitor Center when you see the sign for it. You will see a trailhead sign near the visitor center (along with signs for other, shorter trails in the area).
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.