Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike

In This Guide
  • How to Get to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
  • Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Trail Maps
  • What to Look For in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Video
  • Gear You Need For the Hike
Distance4.4 miles (7.1 km)
Time2 Hours (Total Time)
DifficultyModerate
Total Climbing1,750 feet (533m)
Highest Elevation10,203 feet (3110m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park NameSchulman Grove Visitor Center
Park Phone760-873-2400

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.

Getting to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is pretty remote. It’s an incredible journey just getting here, and is well worth it. Use this as the trailhead address: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center, Bishop, CA, 93514, USA.

In the winter the road to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is sometimes closed, so call the ranger station if you’re visiting on the shoulder seasons.

Make sure your gas tank is full and you have snacks and food. The nearest services are on Rt 395.

If you want to camp nearby, try the Grandview campground or the primitive camping at the White Mountain Peak trailhead.

white mountain peak hike tent
There’s some basic camping and fire pits to the right of the White Mountain Peak trailhead.

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.

white mountain peak drive
Keep your eyes open for wildlife on the Bristlecone Pine Forest Scenic Byway. I saw dozens of mule dear and even a wild horse.

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.

dust on jeep
I had a nice layer of dust on the car after driving the Bristlecone Pine Forest Scenic Byway. That means it was tons of fun.

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:

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

What To Know on the Hike

Methuselah Grove
This is what the oldest trees in the world look like. You’ll be walking amongst them on this hike.

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.

schulmans grove
I recommend taking some time to read the interpretive signs around the visitor’s center.

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.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike 3d map
The hike does a loop after a short stretch from the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center. You’ll get great views into Death Valley on the first part of the hike, which follows the top part of the mountain.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike elevation
The climbing isn’t too tough on this hike. There’s a little steep climb to start, then you hikedown into a valley, and then have to hike back up to the start.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

Schulman's Grove Visitor Center.
The hike starts at the Schulman’s Grove Visitor Center. It was recently rebuilt after some jerk burnt the old one down.
schulmans grove parking
There’s plenty of parking in the lots. There’s a small fee that you pay in the Visitor’s Center, or just use your National Parks pass.
schulmans grove
These were the opening hours when I did this hike guide.
schulmans grove
The center is named after Edmund Schulman, who was born in Brooklyn and made his way to this remote part of the world to discover the oldest living tree on earth.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
The hike starts on the edge of the parking lot. You’re hike is the Methuselah Walk, named after the Methuselah Tree, thought to be the world’s oldest tree at 4848 years old, until an older tree was discovered in 2013. That tree is 5066 years old. You’ll walk through the Methuselah Grove where all these trees live.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Bring $1 for the excellent guided hike brochure. It’ll help you understand what you see along the way.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
The trail is easy to follow from the trailhead.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
After a few minutes a sign tells you that you’re in the right place. Overall, the hike is very well marked.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Hike along the easy to follow trail.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
There are twenty or so posts along the hike that correspond to entries in the hike brochure. They point out everything from young Bristlecone Pines, growing conditions, and some old trees. Again, worth the cost.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
At the sign, hike to the right. The left trail is where you’ll emerge at the end of the hike.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Now you start going up. The trail heads back and up the side of the hill. The views will make it worth it.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
The trail winds around and climbs up the side of the slope.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Made it! At the top of the climb there’s a bench to catch your breath.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
For the next half mile or so, you’ll have incredible views into the north-west part Death Valley National Park. The mountains you see are the Last Chance Range.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
The climbing is over for a while, so enjoy hiking down a nice long downhill section of trail.
Methuselah Walk
At about 1 mile in, stay to the left and continue on the Methuselah Walk. To the right is the Bristlecone Cabin Trail, which leads back to the Visitor’s Center. If you need to bail out, you can do it here.
Methuselah Walk
Here’s a closeup of the sign at the junction.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
The trail is well defined as it makes it’s way through young Bristlecone Pines.After a downhill stretch, you climb again.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Another bench! One of the things I loved about this hike were the well placed benches. There weren’t many other people out, so it was nice to sit in solitude and take in the views. The trail continues to the right of the bench, but a few feet to the left is a little overlock that’s worth checking out.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Here’s the view from the overlook to the left of the bench..
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
After soaking in the views, you continue hiking downhill past the bench.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
The numbered posts are a good way to track your progress on the hike. The brochure has a map with all the posts listed in it to give you some reference.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
When you get to the low bench, make the hard left and avoid the small trail to the right.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
You’ll notice that the fauna is different on this section of the hike. It’s interesting to note the different types of fauna that you see when the direction of the hillside changes. Some get rain and sun, some don’t. There are also handy mile markers along the way.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
As you make your way towards the Methuselah Grove you’ll start seeing more mature Bristlecone Pines, both alive and dead.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
At marker 12, keep hiking to the right, avoiding the trail to the left.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
At around marker 15, you’ll start entering the Methuselah Grove. You’ll notice a lot more old Bristlecone Pines as you descend into the grove.
Methuselah Grove
Take your time to soak in all the trees here at Methuselah Grove as the trail winds its way through.
Methuselah Grove
Is this the  5000 year old tree? No idea. But it’s least a few thousand years old. It’s fun to look around Methuselah Grove and speculate on which tree is the oldest one.
Methuselah Grove
There’s a lot of dead Bristlecone Pines too. Remember that the older, larger dead trees can be up to 10,000 years old.
Methuselah Grove
After Methuselah Grove, the trail starts to climb back towards the Visitor’s Center.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
As you hike back up the hill, another bench is a welcomed sight.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
The 3.5 mile marker lets you know that you’re almost done the climb.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
Remember, the hike is at 10,000 feet, so take your time.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
At 4 miles you’ll reach the spit in the trail where you started. Head right/straight back to the Visitor’s Center.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
A sign will point you in the right direction at the junction.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
And you’re done! If you want to explore the area some more, there are a few other short hikes from Schulman Grove Visitor’s Center. Happy trails!

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