Eastern Sierra Hikes
Just because the Eastern Sierras are home to the big mountains doesn’t mean that all the Eastern Sierra hikes are long or tough. There’s a great range of hikes in the Eastern Sierra and neighboring regions for all skill levels. From short hikes through rock formations, to moderate hikes to pristine alpine lakes, to hikes to the oldest trees on earth, and of course, hikes to the high mountains, the Eastern Sierras has it all.
|Cottonwood Lakes Hike||13||Moderate||Lone Pine||1350||Y|
|Lone Pine Lake Hike||5.6||Moderate||Lone Pine||1900||Y|
|Fossil Falls Hike||0.5||Easy||Olancha||30||Y|
|Hike the Mobius Arch Loop Trail||0.6||Easy||Lone Pine||65||Y|
|Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike||4.4||Moderate||Bishop||900||Y|
|White Mountain Peak Hike (California)||15||Hard||Bishop||3360||Y|
|Mt Whitney Hike||21.5||Very Hard||Whitney Portal||6960||N|
Eastern Sierra Hiking Tips
- Rt-395 is the main route along the Eastern Sierra. There are small towns where you can set up basecamp to explore. Lone Pine and Bishop CA, are probably the most popular places to stay in the Eastern Sierra.
- If you want some good free camping on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, try the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, CA. It’s a fragile landscape so please be respectful of the land if you do camp.
- Consumer goods are limited along Rt-395. There are supermarkets and some smaller stores with gear, but no REI stores. It’s best to get your gear (and use it) before coming here.
- The Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine, CA is worth stopping at. There are good interpretive displays, basic hiking gear, and a good gift shop.
- Winters commonly clobber the Eastern Sierra’s with snow. Unless you know what you’re doing and have good experience on a trail in normal conditions, don’t attempt a hike in the winter. Many roads and trailheads at the higher elevations are closed in the winter. Snow can last into September (from the past winter). Here’s how to check for snow on a hiking trail.
- In the summer mosquitos and bugs can be intense. Take insect repellant and a head net, they are worth every cent.
- The Eastern Sierra is home to black bears (but no grizzlies). Know how to hike and backpack responsibly in bear country.
Popular Hikes in the Eastern Sierras
- Mt Whitney
- Cottonwood Lake
- Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Family Hikes in the Eastern Sierras
- Mobius Arch Loop
- Lone Pine Lake
- Fossil Falls
The Cottonwood Lakes hike probably gives you the most bang-for-your-buck in the Eastern Sierra. The hike starts from the Cottonwood Lakes Campground, already at 10,000 feet, so your car does most of the legwork to get you to altitude. From there, the Cottonwood Lakes Trail gently makes its way through pristine alpine terrain to a series of several crystal-clear alpine lakes, all in the shadow of the high Sierra peaks like Mt Langley. Every step of this must-do hike is spectacular, so give it a try.
Lone Pine, CA - 13 miles, Moderate
For a taste of the big mountains around Mt Whitney without the massive effort or hard-to-get permit, try the very doable Lone Pine Lake hike which follows the Mt Whitney Trail. It’s a moderate effort but very doable by most people as a half-day adventure. When you finish the climb to Lone Pine Lake, you’re rewarded with a pristine mountain lake, a scenic picnic area, and a backdrop of the high peaks in the Eastern Sierra.
Lone Pine, CA - 5.6 miles, Moderate
The short, easy, and fun Fossil Falls hike brings you through a volcanic landscape to a 20,000 year old smooth, water-polished waterfall. The actual water disappeared 10,000 years ago when the Owens River took another path, leaving a geological wonderland for you to checkout. The landscape is beautiful and unique, and is well worth a stop to stretch your legs.
Olancha, CA - 0.5 miles, Easy
If you’re in Lone Pine, CA, don’t miss the Mobius Arch Loop Trail in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. It’s an easy hike that has one of the best photo opportunities in the Eastern Sierras. You’ll be able to perfectly frame Mt Whitney and the Sierras within a natural rock arch formation. And there’s more than just Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills Recreation Area is full of natural beauty and unique rock formations. You might even recognize some of the spots in Alabama Hills from Django Unchained, Gladiator and Iron Man.
Lone Pine, CA - 0.6 miles, Easy
This Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest hike takes you through awe-inspiring groves of the oldest trees in the world, the Ancient Bristlecone Pines. This trail will take you past living trees that are up to 5000 years old, shaped and gnarled by thousands of years of wind coming off of the Sierras and Nevada Basin, which you will also get incredible views of. This hike is relatively easy, on a well marked trail, and includes a very cool visitor center and interpretive info along the route.
Bishop, CA - 4.4 miles, Moderate
The White Mountain Peak hike brings you to the third highest peak in California, only a few hundred feet lower than Mt Whitney, and the highest outside peak of the Sierra Nevada. The hike is tough, but doable, and meanders through the White Mountains Wilderness section of Inyo National Forest: a rugged a beautiful mountain desert, tucked into the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada. The summit of White Mountain Peak offers great 360 views from the Eastern Sierras to Nevada.
Bishop, CA - 15 miles, Hard
The Mt Whitney hike is on every hiker’s bucket list. At 14,505 feet, it’s the highest point in the lower 48 and is one of those rare high peaks that you can hike to without any mountaineering skills. There is some prep work you need to do, like getting your Mt Whitney permit and dealing with the altitude. This hiking guide has everything you need to know to successfully climb Mt Whitney. Keep reading for all the info.
Whitney Portal, CA - 21.5 miles, Very Hard