Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail
Outstanding views of Mount Whitney (the highest peak in the continental United States) and the eastern Sierra escarpment, Lone Pine Creek, the Alabama Hills, and the White and Inyo Mountains are the key features of the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail. The trail begins in the Lone Pine Campground at 5,900 feet elevation in the Great Basin Desert and climbs four miles along the south rim of Lone Pine Creek to Whitney Portal at 8,400 feet elevation in the sub-alpine zone of the Sierra Nevada.
The lower portion of the trail is open year-round. Although it can be hot on summer days, it offers an impressive wildflower display in the spring. The upper trail segment receives winter snow but provides a pleasant walk through a forested stream canyon the rest of the year. The Whitney Portal Road is closed due to snow in the winter, which restricts access to the upper trailhead. Unlike the trail that leads from Whitney Portal to Mt. Whitney, there are no use quotas established for the National Recreation Trail, which allows visitors to experience this area without a permit. The Lone Pine Campground provides an excellent spot to base camp and hike this scenic trail.
The trail parallels scenic Lone Pine Creek. The Forest Service has determined that 8.6 miles of Lone Pine Creek from its headwaters to the National Forest boundary to be eligible for National Wild & Scenic River protection due to its outstanding scenery and recreation values. The creek provides an important biological corridor between the scenic Alabama Hills (the film location of many Westerns) and the High Sierra. The Forest Service is currently seeking public input on its draft Inyo National Forest Plan, which includes the Wild & Scenic eligibility determination for Lone Pine Creek.
The trail was constructed from the town of Lone Pine to Whitney Portal in 1904, providing access to the lower 48’s highest peak and opening up much of the area to tourism, as well as high altitude scientific research based at the 107-year old stone hut on the summit of Mt. Whitney. Abandoned in 1933 when the Whitney Portal Road was constructed, the trail was reconstructed and designated a National Recreation Trail in 1969. The trail is also a National Historical Trail recognized by the Smithsonian Institute.
Directions: Click here for a trail map. From Highway 395 in Lone Pine, CA, turn west on Whitney Portal Road. Drive six miles west through the Alabama Hills. Just before the road crosses Lone Pine Creek, veer left on the road to the Lone Pine Campground. Drive to the day-use parking area at the east end of the campground. The trail begins here and climbs to the top of the canyon’s southern moraine along a closed dirt road. The upper trailhead is at the end of Whitney Portal Road (about 13 miles west of Lone Pine) near the picnic area. Both trailheads have potable water and restrooms. The upper portion of Whitney Portal Road and upper trailhead is closed due to snow in the winter. Road construction during the summer of 2016 may result in traffic delays on upper Whitney Portal Road. Contact the Inyo National Forest at (760) 876-6200 for the latest information about road and trail conditions.
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.
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- Sierra Forests Hikes