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mt whitney needles

Mt Whitney Hike

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. This hike guide has everything you need to know to successfully climb Mt Whitney. That includes choosing a route, getting your permit, extra hiking gear considerations, planning your trip, training, and dealing with altitude. Keep reading for all the info.

Rating:
5 / 5
Distance:
22 miles (35.4 km)
Time:
12-16 Hours
Difficulty:
Very Difficult
Climbing:
6100 ft (1859 m)
Trail Condition:
Marked Trails
Challenges:
Altitude, distance, climbing
People:
Moderate
Known For:
Iconic Hike, Views
Best Time:
Early Morning, Summer
Dogs:
No
Bathrooms:
Yes
Parking:
Permit

Mt Whitney Hike Trail Maps

Use this address in Google Maps to get to the trailhead:
Mt. Whitney Trailhead, Whitney Portal, CA, 93545, USA

mt whitney hike location

LA, Las Vegas, and San Francisco are popular jumping off points for the Mt Whitney hike. From LA, it's a 3-5 hour drive depending on traffic. From Las Vegas, it's 4-5 hours through Death Valley. And from San Francisco, it's 6-8 hours.

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 elevation

You can plan on about 11 miles of straight climbing, with some minor portions of level and downhill. The little sections of uphill on the way back to trail crest can really hurt after all the climbing to the summit.

Interactive Map

Mt Whitney Hike Map Downloads

hiking map on garmin fenix 3

If you have GPS device (I use this one by Garmin and I love it) for your hike, load the GPX file below into your device to navigate the hike. For help on loading the GPX file, read this article on converting and transferring to a Garmin GPS.

Also, don’t rely on electronics as your sole means of navigation. There’s a basic printable PDF map below, and I strongly picking up a good topo map too.

View a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

Mt Whitney Hike Video

Mt Whitney Hike Directions

mt whitney needles

You can’t just show up and hike Mt Whitney. The hike requires a bit of prep work, including getting your Mt Whitney hiking permit. The directions below explain everything you need to know and do to climb Mt Whitney successfully. The combination of solid prep work with a little luck should get you to the summit.

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

Choosing a Route to Hike Mt Whitney

Before you apply for your Mt Whitney permit, you need to decide on a route. This guide focuses on the Mount Whitney Trail, which you can hike in a day or two. There are some other popular options listed below. All of these options require permits.

If you want to hike Mount Whitney as a day hike or overnight camping trip, keep reading!

Mt Whitney Camping

You don’t have to tackle all 22 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.

backpacks on mt whitney hike
Through-hikers leave their packs at the JMT junction to lighten the load to the summit.

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 Consulation 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.

mt whitney camping
There are plenty of established sites to put your tent up. Don’t ruin the environment by creating a new one.

Some other tips when camping:

Instead of lugging all your gear to the summit, you can leave your gear at the campsite with a daypack (keep reading for gear recommendations). 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. 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.

Planning For Your Mt Whitney Permit

The hike to Mt Whitney is popular. I mean real popular. In 2016, 64,939 hikers wanted to hike or backpack to the summit from Whitney Portal at some point in prime hiking season. So the parks service enforces a quota system. Only 100 day hikers and 60 backpackers are allowed up 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.

group on mt whitney
There will be at least 160 other hikers with you on the trail, plus those hiking the High Sierra Trail and JMT.

The first thing you need to do is pick 16 dates that you would like to hike Mt Whitney on. The permit lottery lets you choose 1 main day, and 15 alternates. When picking a date, ideally you want a weekday, full moon in July, August, or early September. These months are the best option to avoid snow, blizzards, and ice on the trail. The full moon will be nice for the pre-dawn portion of the hike. These dates are, of course, the hardest to get.

snow on mt whitney hike
Even in late August, you’ll likely see some snow on the hike.

Then you need to decide on your group size. You can have between 1 and 15 people (for the main Mount Whitney Trail). The more people you have in you party, the tougher your chances for a permit. It’s also tougher to keep a big group together. A group size of 4 is ideal – if there’s a problem, 2 people can go for help and 2 people can stay together. You’ll also need to name a group leader. Usually it’s the person who’s picking up the permit.

The Mt Whitney Permit Lottery

Here’s the general process for the Mt Whitney permit lottery (the dates and times may be a little different every year, but this is generally how it rolls).

winning the mt whitney lottery
You will get a simple email that let’s you know whether you got your permit or not.
winning the mt whitney lottery
You purchase your permit on the same site used to book campgrounds, etc. at the National Parks.

Once you purchase your permit, you’ll get a confirmation with the actual permit info on it. Print this out and bring it to the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center to get your actual permit the day before your hike. Yes, there is another piece of paper. More on that later.

winning the mt whitney lottery
This is the permit confirmation that you need to bring to the Eastern Sierra Visitor’s Center immediately before your hike.

Visit the Whitney permit lottery page for up to date information on the application dates, process, and links.

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.

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.

You can also show up at the Eastern Sierra Visitor’s Center the day before or day of your hike and see if there are any unclaimed permits. Weekdays are better than weekends. According to the rangers, no-shows are fairly common. You can’t call and have them hold the permit for you though. You need to be there in person to get it. The good news is that it’s free.

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.

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.

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.)

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 14,000 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 exercise session will get the blood flowing and help you recover faster than just sitting around. Here I am doing a very easy recovery bike 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. Feel free to connect with me on Strava.

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.”

cris hazzard on white mountain peak
My Mt Whitney hike prep includes a hike to White Mountain Peak, about 90 minutes north of Lone Pine.

I live at sea level, and this acclimatization plan had me feeling very good on Whitney. I did have mild AMS symptoms on White Mountain Peak though. It’s different for everyone, so stay flexible and always stay alert for symptoms of AMS. It’s onset can happen regardless of your fitness, and tends to be a bit random. 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. The last time I hiked Mt Whitney, there were at least a dozen hikers ‘grinding it out’ through severe AMS symptoms. Not smart, not worth it.

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 to 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.

Additional Gear Considerations

weighing backpack at start of mt whitney hike
Weight your pack at the beginning of the Mt Whitney hike to see how much you will lug up the mountain.

Staying in Lone Pine

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.

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 down side, 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 Pass Campsite at 10,000 feet. You can drive in and spend the night, and there are toilets and running w

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 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.

Mt Whitney Permit Pickup

Okay, back to the paperwork. Before you do your hike, you need to visit the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center, just south of Lone Pine on 395, and pick up your actual permit. Some important points:

Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center
The Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center is right outside of Lone Pine.
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center
The Visitor Center services the whole area, not just Whitney, and gets a lot of traffic.
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center
Check the board outside the entrance for the latest weather conditions and any bulletins.
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center
The permit desk is immediately to the right as you enter. The rangers here are super-friendly and can answer any questions you might have.
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center
The visitor’s center has exhibits on the history and geology of the area. The center covers Inyo, Sequoia, and Death Valley.
relief model
Make sure you check out the relief model of the area to check out Mt Whitney in relation to the other mountains and landmarks.
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center
There’s also a gift shop that has some basic gear and a ton of great books.

At the end of the permit process, you usually get three pieces of paper. Here’s what to do with them.

mt whitney permit
Put you actual permit in your pack. You don’t necessarily have to have this handy.
mt whitney permit
You will probably get a permit tag. Rangers do a quick visual scan of hikers to see if they have this tag, so put it somewhere prominent on your pack. The top handle is usually a good choice.
mt whitney permit
You might get a parking permit for Whitney Portal. Leave this on your dash while you do the hike. There are designated parking areas for hikers (see directions below).

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 summer thunder storms 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 at Mt Whitney shortly.

Mt Whitney Trail enters Sequoia National Park
When you get to Trail Crest, you should be able to see approaching weather coming from the west in Sequoia National Park.

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 can be confused with lightening.

Other Notes Before You Hike

Turn by Turn Hiking Directions

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.

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.

mt whitney hike parking
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.
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 at the beginning.
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.
mt whitney trail
The first part of the Mount Whitney Trail from Whitney Portal is steep but easy to follow.
mt whitney trail
The first landmark comes at about a mile into the hike. Stay straight on the Mount Whitney trail and avoid the North Fork of the Lone Pine Creek Trail, which takes you on the Mountaineers Route. There’s also a small stream crossing here.
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, to just south of Mt Whitney.
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.
deer on mt whitney trail
Keep your eyes open, 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.
trout in lone pine creek
Keep your eyes open for rainbow 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 spotted some 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 small 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You’re actually at 13700 feet here, less than 1000 feet from the Mt Whiney summit. This is a good place to rest, eat, and hydrate before the last few miles to the summit.
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
Sign the trail register at 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.
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, some folks had cell reception at the summit and were able to call a loved one and share the news.
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.
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 the trail 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.

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.

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