Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||4.4 miles (7.1 km)|
|Time||2 Hours (Total Time)|
|Total Climbing||1,750 feet (533m)|
|Highest Elevation||10,203 feet (3110m)|
|Park Name||Schulman Grove Visitor Center|
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.
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:
My Top Gear Picks
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Trail Maps
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 Directions
Subscribe to HikingGuy on YouTube
Turn by Turn Directions
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