Inyo National Forest Hiking Trails
At almost 3,000 square miles, Inyo National Forest offers tons of epic hiking trails, including the highest point in the lower 48, Mt Whitney. Intersected by the awesome road-trip route, 395, there’s a ton of great hikes for all levels. Don’t forget to leave your parks pass on your dashboard when you do these hikes.
|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|
|Hagen Canyon Trail Hike (California)||1.2||Easy||Cantil||120||N|
|Red Cliffs Trail Hike – Red Rock Canyon SP||0.9||Easy||Cantil||120||N|
|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|
You can check for any closures or alerts here.
Inyo National Forest Hiking Tips
- “Inyo” is a Native American word for “dwelling place of the great spirit.”
- Inyo NF has the least forest cover of any National Forest. Most of the trails here are in arid and rocky conditions.
- Prepare for extreme weather. Inyo NF is generally at altitude and has temperature extremes. Check the forecast before your hike, check the park website listed on each guide for closures, and check for snow on the trail.
- You can hike among the oldest living trees on earth here.
- Mount Whitney
- Ancient Bristlecone Forest
- White Mountain Peak
- Fossil Falls
- Mobius Arch
- Lone Pine Lake
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
The easy Hagen Canyon Trail hike takes you through a colorful geographic landscape that was once all underwater. The colorful layers are sediment washed down from the old Sierra Mountains. Over the last 10 million years plate tectonic movement and erosion have formed what you see today. At one point it was a tourist attraction run by the Hagen family, today it’s a state park. The hike is short and shouldn’t take you more than an hour.
Cantil, CA - 1.2 miles, Easy
The Red Cliffs Trail is an easy 1 mile loop hike in a unique Mojave Desert landscape. You’ll pass the namesake Red Cliffs, rock formations of eroded sandstone, mudstone, and volcanic rock, thrusted up above the desert floor by faulting. It’s also been the backdrop of many movies and television shows. The Red Cliffs Trail is a great place to stretch your legs if you’re traveling between LA and the Eastern Sierra or Death Valley.
Cantil, CA - 0.9 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