Mt Whitney Hike Featured
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Hikes Around Mt Whitney

Mt Whitney Hike

  • 21.5 miles - Very Hard Effort
  • 12-16 Hours (Total)
  • 6,960 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 14,505 feet
  • No Dogs Allowed

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.

In this Guide:
  • Choosing the Correct Route Up Mt Whitney
  • Getting Your Mt Whitney Hike Permit
  • Planning Your Stay
  • Training for Mt Whitney
  • Gear For Your Hike
  • Dealing With Altitude and Weather
  • Mt Whitney Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Mt Whitney Hike Directions & Video

Choosing the Right Route Up Mt Whitney

cris hazzard on mt whitney
Play your cards right and this could be you.

Before you apply for your Mt Whitney permit, you need to decide on your route to the summit. This hiking guide focuses on the popular Mount Whitney Trail from Whitney Portal (by Lone Pine), which allows you to do the hike in a day or overnight camping trip. I highly recommend taking this route as it's the best option for first-timers. But there are other options too, all of which require specific permits.

Mt Whitney Trail Day Hike

Most people tackle Mt Whitney as a 21.5 mile round-trip day hike. It sounds long but is very doable with the proper training. Your chances for getting a permit on the day hike are also generally the best. There's also a great sense of accomplishment in hiking Mt Whitney in a day. It'll take you somewhere between 12-16 hours, and you'll probably leave before dawn. It's a great adventure, and I highly recommend going for the summit this way, at least on your first try.

Mt Whitney Trail Overnight (2-Days)

You don’t have to tackle all 21.5 miles of the Mount Whitney Trail in one day; you can also do the hike over two (or more) days and camp on the trail. There are pros and cons to camping. Big on the pro side is that you can split the hike up into smaller chunks, you can acclimatize, and get a beautiful night under the stars. On the con side, permits are tougher to get, and you have to haul a much heavier pack up the mountain. In fact for me, doing a longer day hike with a lighter pack is easier than carrying camping gear to Trail Camp, which might seem a little counterintuitive.

The most popular place to camp is Trail Camp (12000 feet), 6 miles up the trail. It’s pretty rocky and barren, and doesn’t offer much shelter from the elements. You can also camp at Consultation Lake (near Trail Camp), Outpost Camp (3.8 miles on the trail, 10400 feet), or Lone Pine Lake* (2.8 miles, 9900 feet). If you do camp at these spots, pick an established campsite, don’t damage the landscape by creating a new one. All of these sites offer water and are first-come, first-serve.

* Technically Lone Pine Lake is outside of the Mt Whitney permit zone, but you still need a Mt Whitney overnight permit to camp here.

mt whitney camping
There are plenty of established sites to put your tent up. Don't ruin the environment by creating a new one. When you're searching for a site, don't forget to walk back through the site to find spots hidden by walking in just one direction.

Some tips if you're camping:

Mt Whitney Hike Update 2019 3
If you used your WAG Bag, you should put it in the waste disposal boxes to the left of the bathroom at the trailhead when you return to Whitney Portal. Unless you'd like to save it or set it on fire in front of someone's house.

Instead of lugging all your gear to the summit, you can leave your main pack at the campsite and do the summit with a smaller daypack. Make sure all your food and scented items (like toothpaste) are in the bear canister. Leave your backpack loosely packed and tent flaps open so that critters can easily look around. Otherwise they’ll chew through your pack or tent. I've also had reports of marmots pooping in a persons tent, so pick your poison. Also, secure your gear against rain and high winds. If a storm blows through, you don’t want your gear scattered all over the place, wet. It happens.

backpacks on mt whitney hike
Through-hikers leave their packs at the JMT junction to lighten the load to the summit. You can also leave your pack at your campsite and pick it up on the way back down, but you need to protect your food against critters.

Technical Approaches To Whitney Summit

mt whitney mountaineers route
Unless you are experienced and feel great doing climbs like this, leave the mountaineering routes to those who know what they're doing. Photo Erik De Leon

There are over a dozen routes to the summit that involve mountaineering, the most popular of which is the (Class 3) Mountaineers Route which John Muir took to the summit. Leave these routes to those with climbing and mountaineering experience. Routes in the Sierra are graded according to the Yosemite Decimal System, with Class 1 being a hike, Class 5+ being a very technical climb. You want to stick to the Class 1 hikes (like the Mt Whitney Trail), which can be done with hiking boots. Class 2 and above can require climbing experience and climbing gear. You also still need a permit for the Mountaineers Route.

After the snow melts the Mountaineer's Route is basically a long hike followed by 1,500 feet of groveling up a steep, loose gully, and then another 500 feet of class three scrambling. Easy. So why do so many people get into trouble on this route? Poor planning, inadequate gear and clothing, weather, inexperience, altitude, bad judgment–the usual suspects. - Steve Larson on SummitPost

High Sierra Trail (HST)

high sierra trail
Switchbacks climb above Hamilton Lake on the High Sierra Trail. Photo Jane S. Richardson

If you want to do a week-long backpacking trip, you can start in Sequoia National Park and do the High Sierra Trail.  The hike is 72 miles, and requires a shuttle back to the start from Whitney Portal if going one way. This high Sierras website gives a good overview of the hike, HikingGeek has a very detailed guide that is great for logistics, and there’s a good book / trail guide if you want to dig deeper.

whitney shuttle services
There are hiker shuttle services if you want to do a point-to-point hike to Mt Whitney. The Eastern Sierra Visitors Center has all the info.

John Muir Trail (JMT)

john muir trail
A log bridge on the John Muir trail crossing part of Thousand Island Lake. Mount Davis is visible in the background. Photo Kaitymh

For a truly epic experience, consider hiking the John Muir Trail from Yosemite National Park to Mt Whitney. It’s 211 miles and will take you about a month. SoCal hiker has great guides on the John Muir Trail.

Non-Traditional Longer Hikes

You aren't required to follow a trail like the JMT or HST to get to the Mt Whitney summit. You can also look at a map and plan your own backpacking trip the includes Mt Whitney. Maybe it will be on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail with a side trip to the summit, or maybe a point-to-point from Cottonwood Campground, the options are many. If it's your first time hiking in the region, I'd recommend a traditional option before you go the "choose-your-own-adventure" route. You still need a backcountry overnight permit, and there are quotas based on where you're starting, but you don't a special Mt Whitney zone permit.

How To Get a Mt Whitney Permit

snow on mt whitney hike
Even in late August, you'll likely see some snow on the hike. The sweet spot for the best weather is mid-August to mid-September, but there are not guarantees. 

The hike to Mt Whitney is popular. I mean really popular. Generally 70,000 to 100,000 hikers apply to hike or backpack to the summit from Whitney Portal between May and November. So the parks service enforces a quota system. Only 100 day-hikers and 60 backpackers are allowed on the Mt Whitney Trail from Whitney Portal per day, from May 1st to November 1st. These quota-controlled slots are awarded in a lottery. Getting one of these slots will be your first challenge, and it starts months before the hike.

Hiking Mt Whitney Without Winning the Permit Lottery

If you were unsuccessful getting your permit, there are some other ways you might be able to do the hike.

First off, just check website. I've had reports of people finding availability after the lottery period. Why? People cancelled, or maybe there were slots that just didn't get claimed. Either way, it's worth a try. You can check the website up to the day before your hike to try and score a permit.

If you are not going to use your permit, please cancel it so that others may have a crack at the slot.

Often group permits have someone who bails out at the last minute. Join a hiking group on Facebook or Reddit and let everyone know that you're looking for a group to hike with. I've seen this work numerous times.

There are no more walk-up permits during quota season. It's all done through the website now.

Permit Availablity

Can't get a permit for your date? Try and get a text message as soon as a cancelled permit opens up!.

Other Permit Options

If you have the time, you can also try a longer backpacking trip from Cottonwood Lakes or another close trailhead which doesn't require a special Mt Whitney quota permit. Again, option is best left for those with experience.

Lastly, you can hike Mt Whitney in the winter (between November 2nd and April 30th). There is no quota, and you can simply walk up to the park office and get a permit. If you are not experienced in winter hiking and/or mountaineering, don't hike Whitney in the winter. In fact, don't hike Whitney until the snow is gone, which usually happens by July or August. Spring conditions when the snow and ice are melting can be most treacherous. People die when there is snow and ice.

Here are some tips on checking for snow on the trail.

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Even late in the season, there can be snow on the trail. This is late August after a winter with record snowfall. I'd say the sweet spot between melted snow and new snow is the last week in August, first week in September.

Even people who are prepared die on Whitney, people who are inexperienced and unprepared die more oftenThe summit is 100% doable without risking your life when you've prepared and the weather and altitude sickness cooperate.

If in doubt, turn around. I've turned around many times on many trails. And I'm still alive.

hiker in snow hiking mt whitney
A friend of mine who hiked Mt. Whitney after a snow. Notice the drop on the right-hand side. Not my idea of a fun day.

Oh, and if you are considering doing the hike without the permit, beware. There are rangers on the trail who check for permits, and I have heard stories of hikers without permits being walked off the mountain and fined.

Bringing Your Permit On the Hike

Before COVID you had to visit the the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center, just south of Lone Pine on 395, and pick up your actual permit. But now you can just print it out and bring it with you. You can also save a soft-copy on your phone, but if the phone dies and you get stopped for a check, it's a problem. And rangers do patrol the trail and check permits. It could happen going up or coming back down.

Planning Your Stay

Unless you live close to Mt Whitney, you'll probably end up staying in Lone Pine, CA. If you stay in Lone Pine, it's a 13 mile drive (with 4000 feet of uphill roads) to the trailhead at Whitney Portal.

There are a few options: off-brand hotels, chain hotels, AirBnB, campgrounds, and the Whitney Portal campground.  My goto hotel has been the Best Western, which tends to fill up far in advance. The rooms are big and clean, the staff friendly, it has free (early) breakfast, and you can park right in front of your room to unload your gear. Otherwise I'd turn to TripAdvisor for other options. If you can't find anything in Lone Pine, check out nearby Independence, CA, only 15 minutes up Rt 395.

view from the breakfast room at the Best Western in Lone Pine
The view from the breakfast room at the Best Western in Lone Pine.

I've also stayed at the Whitney Portal campground and it's an attractive option, since it's right at the trailhead. There's a general store that has food, drinks, beers, gifts, and limited gear. On the downside, it can get busy and loud with kids running around. The Whitney Portal campground doesn't just have hikers. It's full of folks just enjoying the scenery. Lots of hikers also sleep in their cars at Whitney Portal before an early departure.

If you want to camp at altitude, try the Cottonwood Lakes Walk-In Campsite at 10,000 feet. You can drive in and spend the night, and there are toilets and running water. You can also hit a number of good warmup hikes from the Cottonwood Lakes campsite.

If you are camping and need to grab a shower, you can pay a few bucks for one at the Mount Whitney Portal Hostel.

Wherever you stay, I recommend booking as far in advance as possible. It's not uncommon for Whitney Portal to be booked full 6 months out. Lone Pine is a popular spot for tourists doing the 395/Sequoia/Yosemite/Death Valley route, and gets a lot of through traffic.

Lone Pine is a small town. If you're coming from a major metropolitan area, set your expectations accordingly.   I recommend checking out TripAdvisor and Yelp beforehand to get an idea of the eating options. There's a small supermarket, and a couple of gas station convenience stores. If you need hiking gear, your choices are limited to a few small shops and the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center gift shop, so make sure you have what you need before you leave home. There are some interesting attractions in the area and it's worth a day of exploring and relaxing.

I have some hikes you can do around Lone Pine and on the way to Lone Pine on my hikes around Mt Whitney page.

Training for the Mt Whitney Hike

To start, the Mt Whitney hike is very doable. It can also kick your butt. Many of the hikers who try the hike do not make the summit. Training and preparing properly can mean the difference between misery and fun. You have a few challenges to prepare for.

First, you need to be used to the distance and effort. If you're lucky enough to live in an area with lots of mountainous climbs, you should have lots of options. If not, you'll have to improvise. Sometimes this means doing loops of the same hikes to get the numbers in. I've even heard of people getting on a treadmill, setting the grade to 15%, and hiking until they had the elevation and distance (which sounds soul crushing to me). Likewise, you could use a stair climber.

cris hazzard on San Jacinto
There's no better training than hiking. So even if you don't have mountains like San Jacinto to climb, try and at least get 10-11 hours on the trail at some point. Here I am halfway on a 19 mile hike to 10000+ feet.

A good weekend progression for a hiker who can do 10 miles comfortably would be something like this:

Ideally, these hikes would be done at altitude. But not everyone has that luxury, so do them the best you can. We will deal with altitude later.

In Southern California, a good training progression for Mt Whitney is:

(This is just a recommendation, there are literally 100's of hikes you can do in SoCal that would work. Adapt your plan based on your needs.)

There are a fair number of stairs on the trail, and they can be tough for some folks. A reader told me that she counted about 2500. So instead of climbing up a steep slope, you use your quads to step up. Add the altitude and distance, and it can add another dimension of toughness to the hike.  If you think you'll have problems here, make sure you train on some stairs with your pack.

In addition to your hikes, I'd strongly recommend doing some other exercise regularly during the week. Just 30 minutes a day of vigorous biking, running, circuit weight training, or exercise classes will work. HIIT training is effective and doesn't take long. The fitter you are in general, the more pleasant the hike will be. Exercise will also increase your body's ability to use oxygen, something that will be crucial when you're above 10,000 feet.

cris hazzard on bike to death valley
If you exercise a lot, you probably know about active recovery. The idea is that a very easy session will get the blood flowing and help you recover faster than just sitting around. Here I am doing a very easy recovery ride the day before hiking Mt Whitney. I went through 40oz of water on my 60 minute ride on the road to Death Valley.

If you're biking, running, and exercising, check out Strava, which is kind of like Facebook for fitness. You can also use it with hikes.

Gear For the Hike

weighing backpack at start of mt whitney hike
Weigh your pack at the beginning of the Mt Whitney hike to see how much you will lug up the mountain. My pack rarely goes over 20lbs with water, clothes, and emergency gear.

This is a long hike and you need to think carefully about your gear, and also practice with it. Here are my gear tips.

cris hazzard on mt whitney hike
Get used to hiking with a headlamp. When you hike with the headlamp, you tend to focus on the ground right in front of you, missing the scenery. You'll be able to enjoy it on the way down.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2Hit SOS or just tell loved ones that you're running late where your cell phone has no service.  Review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The best hiking footwear I've ever owned. No blisters. Get them wet, they dry quickly. Lots of cushion and comfort.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProHiking maps, route info, and fitness stats on my wrist. Review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26Lightweight, carries all your gear, and your back doesn't get sweaty. Oh yea, it's also one of the most inexpensive packs you can get.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated July 2024)

Dealing With Altitude

I'd say altitude is what stops most people who attempt to hike Mt Whitney and fail. There are two main challenges with altitude, getting enough oxygen to continue and avoiding altitude sickness (also known as acute mountain sickness, or AMS), which can occur in hikers when they go above 8000 feet. If you already live or train at altitude, AMS should be much less of a problem for you than most.

To start, air always contains 20.9% oxygen, at all altitudes, no matter what. But lower air pressure at high altitude makes it feel like there is a lower percentage of oxygen. On the summit of Mt Whitney, your effective oxygen percentage is not 20.9%, but about 12%, because of the low air pressure. If you do the math, that means your getting about 57% of normal oxygen levels with each breath. Think of it as exercising with one nostril plugged.

cris hazzard on mt whitney hike
Enjoying a rest on the hike to Mt Whitney. A prudent strategy is to pace yourself and take lots of breaks to let your body adjust to the altitude. It's also a good excuse to catch your breath.

As mentioned earlier, being fit will be a big help when hiking Whitney. In very rough terms, exercising increases your body's ability to use oxygen effectively. So you can do more with each breath you take. Your body will also do much better if you're hydrated, so take extra water during the hike, and drink tons of water the day before. We're often dehydrated when we wake, so hydrating before will help offset that. And lay off the alcohol until after the hike.

To increase your chances of dealing with altitude effectively, you should plan to acclimatize. Acclimatization is simply the process of getting your body used to extracting the oxygen from the lower air pressure. In an ideal world, you would spend 1 week acclimatizing for every 2000 feet of difference in altitude. But you don't need to go to those extremes to hike Mt Whitney. Here's an acclimatization plan that has worked well for me, based on the old climber's adage of "climb high, sleep low."

I've also been successful with this more accelerated progression:

cris hazzard on white mountain peak
If you do the White Mountain Peak hike to prep for Whitney, it's a totally different experience. There's a hut at the top too, but otherwise it feels totally different than the Eastern Sierras in a wild, beautiful way. I highly recommend it.

AMS can strike anytime, regardless of your perpetration.  It's different for everyone, and you need to stay flexible and alert for the symptoms. Which brings us to our next point...

To put it bluntly, altitude sickness (AMS) can kill you. But you'd be surprised at the number of hikers you'll see trying to push through it, treating AMS like it was a sore foot or blister. When hikers do that, they not only put their own lives in danger, but also endanger any other hiker or ranger who would potentially have to be involved in a rescue. Whenever I hike Mt Whitney, I always see at least a few hikers 'grinding it out' through severe AMS symptoms. Not smart; not worth it.

Here's a story from a HikingGuy reader, Rossa S:

The first time that I climbed Mt Whitney, we were approached by a guy whose girlfriend was having major issues in their tent. We checked it out, and she was suffering from late-stage AMS, with bloody diarrhea and other severe symptoms. A helicopter had landed nearby to evacuate someone else suffering a heart attack. We decided that if we didn’t get this girl on that helicopter, she was dead. We carried her the quarter-mile, and as we got to the chopper, the boyfriend keeled over with no pulse. The rescue crew squeezed both of them onto the helicopter, and off they went. I have no idea what happened to them.

If you have about 24 minutes, watch this video on a failed attempt to summit Kilimanjaro because of altitude. It will give you an idea of what can happen, even if you are an experienced hiker.

How do you know if you have AMS? The symptoms are usually subtle to start, and progress in intensity as you climb. They include headache, nausea, lack of appetite, swelling, diarrhea, and lightheadedness. For example, a light, dull headache is fairly common, a sharp, intense headache means you're in the danger zone. AMS can progress to swelling of the brain or fluid in the lungs, both acute, life threatening conditions.

If you start getting symptoms of AMS, stop climbing, take a break, and see if they subside. Mild symptoms can be manageable, but if they intensify, you must descend immediately. It's the only way to get better quickly. Don't expect a helicopter rescue, plan on walking off the mountain yourself. If you've climbed to the point where you're vomiting or lost your balance, you've gone way too far. Believe it or not, I've seen people with these symptoms trying to summit.

swollen hand
Even though I didn't have any AMS symptoms, my hands still swelled up like sausages. In hindsight, I should have also put sunscreen on my hands.

Some folks also have luck with a medication called Diamox. If you want to go that route, see you doctor and have them prescribe it for you. Another option is simple Ibuprofen. A Stamford study (that took place in the Eastern Sierra) found that popping 600mg of Ibuprofen can help with AMS too. I've personally had success with Ibuprofen to alleviate AMS symptoms.

Weather and Timing

Hopefully, the weather will cooperate with you on your hike to the summit. If the weather is bad, you need to play it safe and do the hike another day. Winter storms can still hit on the fringes of the summer season. If the weather is okay, you still run the risk of a pop-up thunderstorm and lightning on the summit. These storms generally bubble up after noon. You're in an alpine climate and the weather can change quickly.

lightning warning on mt whitney hike
A sign warning of the dangers of lightening at the JMT trail junction.

To avoid thunderstorms, most hikers leave in the early hours of the morning. 3am is a popular start time from Whitney Portal. That should get you on and off the summit before noon, unless your pace is very slow. The only downside is that there will be a lot of folks hiking at the same time. You can try and leave a little earlier to avoid the big rush. Alternatively, if the chance of rain is low to none, and you have the daylight, you can leave at dawn and maximize your daylight hiking time. Of course, you run the risk of having the weather turn, which would stop your summit attempt.

As you climb towards the summit, always keep your eye to the sky. Building clouds are not a good sign. When you reach Trail Crest (see directions), scan the horizon toward Sequoia National Park. If it looks bad there, that weather will probably be bad at Mt Whitney shortly.

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Here's a little puff of a cloud over Sequoia as seen from the Trail Crest area. If you see small clouds like this quickly appearing, it's time to turn around. If you just see one or two and they seem stable, you should be okay.

When you do the final stretch of the Mount Whitney Trail (past the JMT junction to the summit), you'll see a lightning warning sign. There have been some much publicized deaths on the summit from lightning, including the death of a hiker in the stone hut at the summit. The best way to avoid getting struck is to turn around the second you hear thunder. It's a bummer, but hey, you're still alive.

If you're caught on the summit in lightning, your best bet is to take refuge in the stone hut.  There's some controversy around this, and the official park signage indicates that it isn't safe in the hut, but this discussion was good enough for me to feel good about that option.

mt whitney hut
Confirmation that the Mt Whitney hut roof and window frames are now bonded and grounded. Head in the hut to play it safe.

To throw a wrench into this whole lightening issue, military jets often fly by the summit. They're loud and sometimes break the sound barrier, and that sound can easily be confused with lightening.

Other Notes Before You Hike

mt whitney hike
If you're scared of heights, there are some challenging sections. Here's an example of some of the cliffside trail on the hike to Mt. Whitney. The picture looks worse that it really is. The narrow parts are 3-4 feet wide at the worst.

Reader Q&A

mt whitney hike sign
Play your cards right and you could be reading this plaque on the summit of Mt Whitney.

How to Get to the Mt Whitney Trailhead

Here's the trailhead GPS address: Mt. Whitney Trailhead, Whitney Portal, CA, 93545, USA.

If you're arriving at Whitney Portal for the first time, early in the morning, finding the right place to park and trailhead can be your first challenge.

mt whitney hike parking
The parking spots on the left (green) as you first pull into Whitney Portal are your best bet. If there are no free spots and you pass the Portal Store, continue around the loop and park in the bigger lots.
Mt Whitney Hike Update 2019 2
Here's another view. When you first pull in, there are bathrooms on your left. The trailhead is directly across from the bathrooms. If you've driven to the store, you've gone too far. The parking and trailhead is just before it.
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The trailhead is right before you get to the Portal Store. It can be hard to spot in the middle of the night, but the store is a good landmark to find amidst the cars.
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There's a decent amount of parking by the trailhead. If there are no spots across from the trailhead, try the lower lot.
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If you want to use a real bathroom, the toilets across from the trailhead are your only choice on this hike, so take care of business before you start.
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There's also a faucet where you can do any last-minute water fills.

Don't forget to leave your parking permit in the window. Rangers DO give tickets if your permit doesn't match your stay.

Mt Whitney Trail Maps

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Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

Elevation Profile

Mt Whitney Trail Elevation Profile
Here's the one-way elevation profile to the summit. Aside for a small dip after Trail Crest and some random flatter sections, you're pretty much going uphill for the entire 11 miles to the summit.

Landmarks on the Hike

Lone Pine Lake Trail2.810300
Outpost Camp3.610380
Trail Camp5.912020
Trail Crest 7.913645

3D Map

mt whitney hike 3d map
I'll go into detail later about the specific sections of the hike. In general, you ascend along Lone Pine Creek to Trail Camp, then do a steep section to Trail Crest, then ascend along the ridge, behind the needles, up to the summit.

Mt Whitney Hike Directions

Video Directions

360 Video

Turn By Turn Directions

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The trailhead is right across from the first bathrooms that you see at Whitney Portal.
mt whitney hike sign
A nice big sign marks the beginning of the trail. Good for a photo op when you finish.
mt whitney hike start
You'll pass through a framed area with some info and warnings for the trail.
mt whitney hike notice board
Check out the hiker notice board for any last minute updates.
weighing pack at mt whitney hike
There's also a cool little scale to weigh your pack in the framed area.

It helps to break the hike into sections, both for navigation and mental consumption. Don't look up to the Whitney summit and think about how long it will take to get there. Just focus on the current section and the next landmark, it will help mentally break the hike up into digestible chunks.

mt whitney trail map
The first section takes you from the trailhead to Lone Pine Lake. The trail is a steady uphill with some level sections. Easy to follow and comparable to a mountain trail in Southern California.
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The first few minutes of the trail pick their way around a little boulder field.
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Then the trail becomes more defined and starts to climb up toward your destination, about 6200 feet above you.
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Keep left on the main trail at the Carillon Creek crossing.
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Stay straight on the Mount Whitney trail and avoid the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek Trail, which takes you to the Mountaineers Route. There's also a small stream crossing here.
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The stream crossing has rocks you can hop across. Early in the season there can be a lot of water here. In drought years it can be a gentle trickle.
john muir wilderness sign
Shortly after that, you'll pass the John Muir Wilderness sign.The John Muir Wilderness extends almost 100 miles, in the north by Mammoth Mountain, and to just south of Mt Whitney.

What exactly is a Wilderness Area?

mt whitney trail
There's also a hiker notice board once inside the John Muir Wilderness.
mt whitney trail
The trail is very easy to follow, but in case you get lost, the Mount Whitney Trail is marked with cut-out notches in the trees. You can see two of them here.
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If you're not doing this at night, you'll be treated to some impressive views on this stretch.
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And don't forget to look behind for great views into Lone Pine, which you will also be able to enjoy on the descent.
deer on mt whitney trail
Keep your eyes open for animals, there are lots of mule deer that don't get too scared of hikers.
 mt whitney trail
As you approach Lone Pine Lake, the trail starts to level off.
 mt whitney trail stream crossing
There are a couple of log crossings of Lone Pine Creek.
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Keep your eyes open for trout. The Department of Fish and Game stocks Lone Pine Lake with rainbow trout, and there are also allegedly brook trout here too. If you're into fishing and are camping, you can bring a rod with you and fish. I've heard to folks landing trout at both Consultation Lake and Mirror Lake. Word has it the fish are biggest at Consultation Lake.
mt whitney trail to lone pine lake
At around 2.8 miles, you reach the turn off for Lone Pine Lake. You've climbed about 1500 feet. You can hike to Lone Pine Lake without a permit, and it could be used for a nice acclimatization hike. You can also camp at the lake. Keep going right on the Mt Whitney Trail to continue (avoiding the turn-off to Lone Pine Lake).
mt whitney trail map
The next stretch of the hike goes from Lone Pine Lake to Mirror Lake, and is probably the easiest stretch of the hike.
mt whitney trail
There's a nice level section after Lone Pine Lake. Enjoy it, there are not many on the hike. You'll also notice that the landscape gets more barren and rocky.
Whitney Zone permit sign
Shortly after the Lone Pine Lake turnoff, you'll see the permit sign. You need a Whitney Zone permit to hike past this point.
mt whitney trail
The trail climbs gradually, and is very easy to follow.
blue grouse
I almost always spot blue grouse on this section of the hike.
mt whitney trail
The trail descends a bit after climbing. This will hurt a little on the way back.
meadow just short of Outpost Camp
There's a beautiful meadow just before you reach Outpost Camp. The trail follows the edge of the meadow.
deer on mt whitney trail
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife in the meadow.
stream crossings on mt whitney trail
There are some stream crossings on this stretch of trail.
Outpost Camp
At about 3.8 miles, you'll reach Outpost Camp. You altitude here is 10400 feet.
Outpost Camp
Outpost Camp is flat and has lots of tent spots. There's water here too.
Outpost Camp
In the back of Outpost Camp there's a nice waterfall. Outpost Camp has a stream that runs through it where you can fill up.
mt whitney trail
As the trail continues through some brush, there are some secluded campsites off the trail in the upper part of Outpost Camp.
mt whitney trail
The trail winds through Outpost Camp and then back out the other side, marked by a sign for the Mt Whitney Trail. There are some side trails to campsites, so take care to stay on the main trail, especially at night. This is a good place to cross-check your GPS position with the track.
mirror lake
As you climb you'll see Mirror Lake down to your right. There's no camping at Mirror Lake, but you can fish there. If you're staying at Outpost Camp, it's a nice place to hangout.
mt whitney trail map
The next stretch from Outpost Camp to Trail Camp are where they hike starts to really go uphill. You'll follow Lone Pine Creek for a good portion of this stretch.
mt whitney trail
After Mirror Lake, the trail climbs at a tough grade.
Clarks Nutcracker
Keep your eye's open for Clark's Nutcrackers, found in the Sierras. They use their beak to break through pinecones and get at the seeds, which they stash in a pouch under their tongue.
Lone Pine Creek
The trail climbs along Lone Pine Creek (where the green is).
Lone Pine Creek
There are some small crossings of Lone Pine Creek on this stretch of trail.
mt whitney trail
As you climb here, you'll notice that you pass the tree-line.
mt whitney trail
This section of the trail is rocky and steep, with some rock stair sections.
marmot on mt whitney trail
You might start seeing marmots here. Trail Camp is crawling with them, but it's still fun to spot them.
mt whitney trail
There are some sections of trail that go over sheer rock. Scan the permitter of the rock for the correct continuation of the trail. It's not always straight.
mt whitney trail
Look for the most worn trail to know the correct way to go. It not always obvious, but generally easy to spot after pausing.
Trailside Meadows
At about 5 miles in, you come to Trailside Meadows.
Trailside Meadows
Trailside Meadows is the last patch of green you'll see for a while. It's a beautiful area and a nice place for a break, but don't damage any of the fragile ecosystem here. You're at 11400 feet, and you might have started to feel the effects of altitude by this point. There is easy access to water here.
mt whitney trail
After Trailside Meadows, you climb again on the rocky trail.
trailside meadows
A view back to Trailside Meadows as the Mount Whitney Trail climbs past it.
Consultation Lake
Soon Consultation Lake will come into view off to the left. The trail continues west toward Trail Camp.
mt whitney trail
One last rocky, steep, half-mile stretch after Consultation Lake to Trail Camp.
Trail Camp
Welcome to Trail Camp! It's about 6 miles into the hike, 12000 feet, 5 miles to go. Depending on what time you get here, Trail Camp can be crowded. If you're camping, come early for a good spot. And remember that you can also camp at Consultation Lake, which is much quieter.
trail camp
You might notice gear at Trail Camp from campers who are summiting. Here's a bear canister. There are a ton of marmots and rodents here that will come up to you and sniff around looking for food. Beware of leaving your pack unattended. If Caddyshack was about hiking, Bill Murray would be going after Marmots here. There are coyotes up here too, but chances are that you'll never see one.
trail camp pond
If you need water, this is your place to refill before you hike to the summit. There's a walkway to Trail Camp Pond where you can fill up.
cris hazzard at trail camp
Trail Camp is a good place to take a break, eat, hydrate, and rest before your next stretch of trail to the Mt Whitney summit. It's also a good place to check the weather.
mt whitney trail map
Here's a map of the next part of the hike, which many folks consider the hardest section. From Trail Camp, you climb up the 99 switchbacks (also known as the 100 switchbacks or 97 switchbacks). This section is completely exposed and basically goes straight up the mountain for 2 miles. See the snow to the right of the trail? On the way down, some hikers slide down that on their butt (called glissading), slowing their speed with ice axes. It's a risky endeavor best left for those who have a ton of experience and a slight death wish.
mt whitney trail
Follow the trail out of Trail Camp and toward the mountain. The trees are long gone, but he trail is well marked with rocks and thousands of boot prints.
mt whitney trail
The trail is rocky and steep, but easy to follow.
mt whitney trail switchbacks
Look up at the hikers (in the upper left). This will give you an idea of the gradient here. The switchbacks go one forever, but are doable.
mt whitney trail switchbacks
One of the nice things about this stretch is that you can see down to Trail Camp Pond and Consultation Lake as you climb. I often find a nice overlook and take a break. Remember, you have less oxygen here, and you're well served by climbing slow and steady to minimize AMS.
mt whitney trail cables section
About halfway up the switchbacks, you will reach a section called "the cables" because of the cable hand railing installed to help hikers. This section of the trail doesn't see much direct sunlight, so it can be covered in ice and snow. After July it's less of a problem. Either way, take your time and use the hand hold if you need to. This shot was in August and there was still some minor spots of ice.
mt whitney trail cables section
The cables are kind of gnarly in places. This section is only about 50 feet. You can get an idea of the steepness in this shot.
ice on mt whitney hike
Watch your footing on this stretch through the cables. Here's some ice in late August.
marmot on mt whitney hike
Passing another marmot at the end of the cables section.
mt whitney trail
Once the cables are cleared, it's back to the switchbacks, which offer great views down into Lone Pine.
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Here's a view down on the switchbacks.
mt whitney trail
Toward the top the switchbacks become longer. You'll still be able to look up and see other hikers.
mt whitney trail
At around 8 miles the trail mercifully evens out and climbs at a gentle grade toward Trail Crest. You get a view of the ridge that you will hike behind after Trail Crest.
trail crest on mt whitney trail
At about 8.5 miles you reach Trail Crest. Getting here will almost feel as good as getting to the summit. To your left you'll see the beautiful peaks in Sequoia National Park.
trail crest on mt whitney trail
Here's the Trail Crest sign. This is a good place to rest, eat, and hydrate before the last few miles to the summit. If you're suffering from AMS now, you should rest or turn around. It's not going to get any better as you climb another 1000 feet.
Views into Sequoia National Park from Trail Crest
Views into Sequoia National Park from Trail Crest, including Hitchcock Lake. Trail Crest is a good place to do a gut check on the weather. If you see storms approaching here, you should probably head back down.
mt whitney trail map
The last stretch to Whitney summit doesn't have a lot of climbing, but will feel tough because of the altitude. The only junction you have to watch out for is the intersection with the JMT. Just hike to the right and head to the summit.
marmot on mt whitney hike
Check out the fat marmot on the trail welcoming me into Sequoia National Park. You enter Sequoia NP a few minutes after Trail Crest.
mt whitney hike
Okay, onto the summit. The next stretch of trail hugs the side of the cliff. If you're scared of heights, this part will be tough. Just go slow and you should be fine. The good news is that there are some downhill sections on this stretch.
mt whitney hike
Shortly after the stretch of trail along the cliff, you'll come to the junction with the John Muir Trail (JMT). Notice the sign in the bottom of the picture. Keep right here to head toward the summit. The trail also turns very rocky from here on out.
mt whitney hike
Here's the junction with the JMT up close. Hike to the right toward Whitney. Through-hikers sometimes leave their backpacks here to summit. If you're a day hiker or left your pack at Trail Camp, I don't recommend leaving your gear here. The summit is probably where you need your gear the most. This is also a good point to do a gut check on AMS. If you're feeling bad, rest and/or turn around.
mt whitney hike
The trail climbs up through the rocks to the summit.
mt whitney hike
Here's a view of the trail looking back toward the JMT junction. You can see the trail is well defined, even on the rocky terrain.
mt whitney hike
These sections are very rocky. Some hikers like trekking poles, but I find it easier to use my hands to climb and balance on these sections.
mt whitney hike
The trail has been carved through some higher ridges, creating stunning framing for the trail.
mt whitney hike
Soon you'll be able to catch a glimpse of the Whitney Hut on the summit, up to the right.
the windows on mt whitney hike
The windows are sections of trail (about 4 feet wide) where you can see thousands of feet down to the east and west. This picture gives you an idea of the width of this section. It's very doable and looks worse than it is.
mt whitney hike
Here's a view down to Lone Pine through one of the windows.
mt whitney hike
Another stretch that crosses one of the windows.
mt whitney trail
After the windows, the trail ascends gradually through the rock field.
mt whitney hike needles
Here's a view of the Needles looking backward from the trail. These are the jagged peaks you see from down below.
mt whitney trail
The very last section has some short and steep switchbacks up to the summit. The hut will come into view as you climb. Notice the hikers at the top making their way to the summit.
mt whitney summit
You made it! The hut comes into view and you're at the top of Mt Whitney!
mt whitney summit hut
Head over to the hut. There's usually a paper sign in there that you can take your Mt Whitney summit shots with. The hut, officially called the Smithsonian Institute Shelter, was built in 1909.
Mt Whitney Hike Update 2019 17
Don't forget to sign the trail register at the hut too!
Mt Whitney Hike Update 2019 18
If you need to take refuge, this is what it looks like inside the hut.
cris hazzard on mt whitney
Make sure you grab your obligatory summit shot with the sign.
mt whitney summit
The actual summit is a short distance up from the hut. Surprisingly, most folks have cell reception at the summit and are able to call a loved one and share the news. I've even gotten Chinese robo-calls when I turned my phone on here. Good times.
mt whitney hike views
Your 360 views will be great. In addition to Sequoia and Kings Canyon, you'll be able to look east to Lone Pine, the White Mountains, and Death Valley.
mt whitney hike
Once you're done exploring the summit, take some time to eat and hydrate (weather permitting). You're only halfway done your hike. There are rosy finches at the summit that will be looking for you to drop a crumb or two as well.
clouds on mt whitney hike
After I summited here, clouds started to build in Sequoia. You can see them dumping rain in the distance. Time to boogie and head back down.

After the summit, head back the way you came. You still have 11 miles of hiking, and you should still be trying to eat and hydrate. If you're feeling the effects of AMS, I'd recommend taking it slowly and making sure your footing is solid as you descend. Most of the times that I've rolled an ankle or slipped, it's because I was cruising back down a descent from a big climb, tired, and not paying full attention to my footing. If it's dark, take extra care. People have died descending in the dark.

mt whitney hike
Heading back down from Whitney is a feast for the eyes. Now that you're going downhill, you can fully enjoy the incredible views.
mt whitney hike
Back at Whitney Portal! No matter how fit you are, or how little AMS you suffered, the Mt Whitney hike is a tough day any way you slice it.
cris hazzard on mt whitney hike
When you get back to Whitney Portal, head to the Portal store. It's a tradition to get a burger and beer after the Mt Whitney hike. I can't always stomach a burger after this hike, but I do usually find room in my gullet for a cold beer.

What's next on your hiking hit list? How about Cactus to Clouds? Or Half Dome?

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.