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.
Since you’re driving all the way to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, I recommend continuing your journey on the spectacular Bristlecone Pine Forest Scenic Byway. It’s 12 miles on an unpaved road from Schuman’s Grove Visitor Center to the Patriarch Grove, where there’s a self-guided nature trail and bathrooms. It’s a rough road but doable in cars.
If you leave very, very early (and maybe take a nap in between), you can do this hike and hike White Mountain Peak in the same day. At 14,252 feet, White Mountain Peak is only about 250 feet lower than Mt Whitney. It’s a long day, especially if you’re not used to the altitude, so tread carefully and respect the symptoms of altitude sickness. Read the altitude sickness section of my Mt Whitney hike guide if you’re not familiar with the symptoms.
Gear For the Hike
This is a pretty standard, well-marked hike that doesn’t need any specialized gear. The trail through the Bristlecone Pine groves is well marked and you don’t need any hardcore mapping here. Although you can do this in exercise clothing, I would recommend:
If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.
Many of the Bristlecone Pine trees that you will see on this hike are thousands of years old, with the oldest being 5,066 years old. That makes it the oldest living tree on earth (as far as we know!). When that tree started growing, Stonehenge was just starting to be built. When Homer wrote the Odyssey, that tree was already 2000 years old. Crazy stuff to wrap your mind around.
The oldest trees are unmarked to protect them. And some of the dead pine trees and wood that you see are up to 10,000 years old.
The trees are Great Basin bristlecone pine tree and are unique. These Bristlecone Pines are only found in California, Nevada, and Utah between 9,800 and 11,000 feet in xeric (aka alpine desert) conditions. There are similar species found in the Rocky Mountains and the southern Sierra Nevada.
These Bristlecone Pines grow in the white limestone soil that gives the White Mountains their name. The soil used to be underwater and is hard for plants to grow in due to its high alkalinity, giving the Bristlecone Pine an environment of less competition.
Every year the trees grow a new layer of wood under the bark. In years of high moisture, the band is thicker. Scientists have used the bands on the Bristlecone Pine to study climate change over the years.
I recommend picking up a guide book at the hike start for a small donation. The interpretive guide is great for understanding the hike on a deeper level.