48 mi / 77 km
You'll be in the presence of giants on this 48-mile road trip to two of the Sierra's stunning mountain destinations. It all begins at Lubken Canyon, nestled just a few miles south of Lone Pine. The road winds up this narrow gorge with breathtaking views of the Sierra mountains as the back-drop.
Get ready for a real climb once you're heading south as you'll be zig zagging up Horseshoe pass to one of the highest roads in the Sierra's. Take in the sweeping views of Owen's Valley as you ascend up to 10,000 feet.
As you raise in altitude during spring and summer look out for lupines blooming. You'll notice gnarled pinyon pines, then mountain mahogany with its curled leaves and fuzzy silver tails in summer.
As you reach the top of the pass you'll level off and head down past the mighty Cottonwood Canyon. You'll know when you hit it as soon as you cross Cottonwood Creek. This area is home to lodgepole pines with their twisted twin needles and drooping mountain hemlocks.
Back in the day, there was a thriving sawmill here. Trees were cut, then sent all the way back down into the Valley where they fueled massive kilns to produce charcoal. Imagine the challenging task of getting all that wood down the pass!
You'll soon hit the end of the road where you'll find the serene Horseshoe Meadows just beyond the trees. The meadows offer panoramic views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada range, with its snow-capped peaks and verdant valleys. In spring and summer if you time it right, the area is a hot bed of wildflowers. The perfect setting for a picnic.
There's some fantastic hikes to enjoy that head up to the alpine lakes from here. Both recommended trails are 4 hours minimum with a 1,000 ft gain. If you prefer something milder, the shorter Cottonwood loop is still a great hike. You'll be alongside Cottonwood creek which is home to the beautiful California Golden Trout.
On the way back down to Owen's Valley, take your time down the pass. This is one dangerous road to be speeding on. Head north to Whitney Portal Road and turn your focus to the towering peak of Mount Whitney. The whole area here is steeped in film history thanks to the nearby western film location of the Alabama Hills.
Mount Whitney originally opened in 1925 and was a favorite fishing retreat for stars needing an escape from the movie set. It was regularly visited by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mabel Normand, Joan Blondell and George Brent.
It's a fast ascent up the switchback where you'll get glimpses of what is the highest peak in the contiguous United States. Each year over 25,000 people obtain permits to make the strenuous 22-mile round trip hike to Whitney's summit.
Once you arrive into Whitney Portal, the peak becomes shrouded by pine. However it's a spectacular spot to stretch the legs with picnic areas, waterfalls and the Whitney Portal Store. Enjoy short nature walks to observe the diverse flora and fauna, and keep an eye out for local bird species that inhabit the region.
In 1947, a group of four friends known as the "Whitney Portal Butt Sliders" embarked on an unconventional expedition. Their mission: to descend Mount Whitney by sliding down on homemade sleds. Armed with specially crafted wooden sleds, they defied skeptics and hiked up to the summit.
With excitement and trepidation, they launched themselves down the snow-covered slopes, skillfully maneuvering around obstacles and executing daring jumps. The Whitney Portal Butt Sliders' exhilarating descent captured the town's attention, leaving a lasting impression. They helped to inspire others to embrace unconventional approaches when it comes to mountain adventures.
At the northern side of the car park, the trail to the top of Mount Whitney begins. Due to its popularity, you'll need a permit to hike the summit. The whole process is now done via a lottery, with a 28% chance of getting the golden ticket.
Never mind the permit though, you can hike up as far as Lone Pine Lake provided you don't travel beyond it or camp overnight. This is a half day hike, or it can be done as short as you like!
As you traverse the scenic roads and ascend into the breathtaking Eastern Sierra, you'll be captivated by the breathtaking mountain vistas of the region. From the dramatic horseshoe pass to the tranquil falls at Whitney Portal, there's something here for everyone. A little alpine paradise tucked away in the back of California.
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