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Ancient Bristlecone Forest

Off-road Route

California, USA

Road Trip high up into the White Mountains where ancient Great Basin Bristlecone Pine populate the Patriarch and Methuselah Grove.

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Ancient Trees, Mountains

70 mi / 113 km

Not Required

Mammoth (MMH)

Paved, Dirt (Grade B)

Spring, Fall

Visit the Magical Realm of the Bristlecone Pine

It's like a journey into another realm as you traverse into this inhospitable yet magical environment that the oldest living trees on Earth call home.

Even before you hit the White Mountains its a stunning view with shadows from the clouds creating a palette of browns against the beaming blue sky. It's all uphill from here, first through the low-lying hills, then winding higher along the ridge-line.

As you reach the 9,000 foot mark, stop by the Sierra View Overlook for a 220 degree panoramic view of the snow capped Sierra's to the west. At this point the high-elevation pines, limber and Bristlecone begin.

Look for needles growing on long, narrow, sometimes twisty, bottlebrush-like branchlets - these are the mighty Bristlecone pines. The oldest survive on the most barren, coldest, windswept sites imaginable. A tree that truly favors the most uncomfortable of conditions.

It was here in 1964 when scientist Donald R. Currey discovered 'Prometheus', estimating its age to be around 4,900 years old, making it the oldest known living organism at the time. However, unaware of the tree's slow growth rate, Currey made the controversial decision to cut it down for further study.

This unfortunate event sparked a conservation movement and highlighted the importance of preserving the ancient Bristlecone pine forests. Although Prometheus was lost, its legacy continues among the many Bristlecones still living here.

The turn off to Schulman Grove is coming up next. Here you can stop by the visitor center and enjoy the interpretive trails around these friendly giants. The 4,854 year old Bristlecone named 'Methuselah' is also very close by. Its location however remains a secret and is unmarked to prevent vandalism. It is considered to be the world's oldest known and confirmed living non-clonal organism.

After this point the road turns to dirt (Grade A) for the next 13 miles to Patriarch Grove. It's mostly level but it can be rough at times. A 4WD is good to have but the Forest Service advises only against light passenger vehicles past Schulman.

You'll be right within the Bristlecones now, up close and personal. However as you climb higher again, the baron expanse takes over. That is until you arrive into the Patriarch Grove where you can walk down an incredibly scenic slope, up among these ancient wonders. It's here that you'll also find the largest of all Bristlecone pine, known as the 'Patriarch Tree'.

Driving back you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the mountain ranges and if you timed it right, enjoy the often spectacular sunsets that sweep west across the legendary Sierra's.

Stay in Big Pine's numerous motels - there's cottages here too. Alternatively head up Glacier Lodge Rd to stay in the cabins at 'Glacier Lodge'. If you prefer staying in a larger town but a little further from the routes start point, head to Bishop with its endless options.

For camping, check out the two campgrounds directly on the route - Cedar Flat and Grandview. There's also a bunch of great campgrounds West of Big Pine at the start of Big Pine Creek Trailhead.

No permits are required, however the Forest Service has some restrictions in place. Got a tip for this route? Send us yours! The road is paved all the way to Schulman Grove. It's well graded dirt (Grade A) after that, to which the Forest Service advises only against light vehicles using the road. View current alerts and warnings from the Forest Service.

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