The hike to White Mountain Peak brings you to the third highest peak in California, only a few hundred feet lower that Mt Whitney. The hike is tough, but doable, and the peak is spectacular with incredible 360 views that stretch from the Eastern Sierra to Death Valley.
Hikers often call this the easiest 14,000+ (aka 14er) hike, but do not underestimate the hike to White Mountain Peak. You have to deal with some of the same challenges that you would in the high Sierras, including extreme weather and altitude sickness. It’s great prep to hike Mt Whitney.
The trail is a dirt / rock road, and not a pristine single-track. Don’t let this deter you, the hike is absolutely beautiful. Although it’s only miles to the Eastern Sierra, it feels like you’re hiking on Mars.
The climate on White Mountain Peak is that of a mountain desert. Winds can reach over 160mph, and there is no real cover to shelter in, as you are above the tree line for the entire hike. And it’s dry. In fact, the lowest recorded air moisture ever recorded on earth was here in the White Mountains. So bring more water than you think you need. I went through 4.5 liters, but brought 6 liters.
The hike to White Mountain Peak passes the highest research facility in North America, Barcroft Station, run by the University of California.
White Mountain Peak is actually an extinct volcano, rising with 7200 feet of prominence above the valleys below. The summit is composed of metavolcanic rock, which is lava lifted and melted by rising granite.
The drive to the trailhead is half the fun – the last 16 miles are on a dirt road. It’s doable in a car, but you’ll enjoy it more in a high clearance vehicle. Beware of sharp stones, flats are common, and tow trucks are far away. The scenery along the way is jaw-dropping. Plan on 60-90 minutes to tackle the dirt road.
You can camp at the trailhead. It’s first-come, first-serve, and free. The area exposed, but there are some rocks and a gully you can shelter from the wind in. The campsite is primitive with a bathroom and some fire pits. Grab a campfire permit in Bishop or Lone Pine.
You don’t need a permit to hike White Mountain Peak or park at the trailhead (according to a call to the ranger office). I left my National Parks Pass on the dash, just in case.
Here’s a fun one. When you park at the trailhead, Marmots might chew through the cables and hoses in your car. Anti-freeze has a sweet taste, and somehow they can eat it without dying. Evidently it occurs mainly in the spring, up until mid-July. The NPS recommends you wrap a tarp around the bottom of your car. It’s a hassle but worth it. You are literally in the middle of nowhere and a tow will be expensive.
Drive to the Trailhead
I’m including some shots of the drive to the beginning of the hike because it was so spectacular. If you want to visit the ancient bristlecone groves, you can do it on the way or the way back.
A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.