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#90 - 09/26/09 08:27 PM Re: Orientation Notes for Whitney first timers [Re: VersatileFred]
VersatileFred Offline

Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 130
Loc: SoCal

Prepare a Mount Whitney Lottery Application

As noted in Learn about the Inyo NF Permit Reservation Process, you need a wilderness permit for all overnight trips and for day hikes up the main trail past Lone Pine Lake and up North Fork past Lower Boy Scout Lake (but not for day hikes originating on other trails). There are daily entry quotas on a number of trailheads between May 1 and November 1, and you have the option of reserving a permit in advance or taking a chance that there will be permits available when you arrive in Lone Pine. See Wilderness Permit Options for more information on these strategies. The following paragraphs amplify Step 4, which covers the Mount Whitney Lottery.

Due to the heavy demand for main trail overnight permits and Whitney Zone day hike permits, 100% of the quota space is reservable, starting with a lottery held in February/March of each year. Starting in 2012, lottery applications need to be submitted on the website using the procedure in Options Step 4.

To maximize your chances of success in the main trail lottery, you should enter as many entry dates as possible on your application and submit your application online by March 15. Up to 15 possible entry dates can be specified in a single lottery request. Submitting more dates will require multiple lottery entries. A $6 transaction fee is charged for each lottery request submitted online. In addition, multiple lottery entries are each subject to the $15 per person reservation fee if they result in a permit reservation. Saturday entry dates in the summer months usually have the most demand, so try and plan your trip to begin on an alternate day of the week. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are usually the easiest dates to get, if you can work your schedule accordingly. Here are some additional posts on the subject: Mt Whitney Main Trail Lottery starts February 1Permit Lottery

If you submitted a lottery application in February or early March, you probably should see something arrive in the mail sometime in late March or early April (see Lottery Results Received).  You will either receive a confirmation letter or a rejection letter. If you receive a confirmation letter, you will need to pick up your permit at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center up to two days before your hike (so try and work out your travel plans so that somebody can pick up the permit during the day). Starting in 2007, day hike permits also need to be picked up by noon on the day before the entry date or the space will be declared a no-show and released to other hikers. If you received a rejection letter, you still have not exhausted Steps 5 and 6.   You may be able to reserve another date by checking the website in April. If you have the flexibility in your travel plans, you also may be able to get one of the walk-in permits that become available (from cancellations and no-shows) at the visitors center the day before your desired entry date (see Whitney Permits - Pleasant Surprise and Walk-in permits for the Whitney Trail).

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Develop your acclimatization plan

The campground at Whitney Portal is only at 8,000 feet elevation. You can acclimatize better if you can camp above 9,000 feet elevation. To find out more about campgrounds in the Inyo National Forest, go to the Inyo NF Campground page. Here are some areas to look for that are over 9,000 feet (starting with the campgrounds closest to Whitney):

Horseshoe Meadow Area (Cottonwood)10,000 feet
Onion Valley9,200 feet
North Lake9,500 feet
Rock Creek Lake9,600 feet
Saddlebag Lake
(and other campgrounds near Tioga Pass)
10,000 feet

Horseshoe Meadow is a fairly popular acclimation point for Whitney hikers with two backpacking campgrounds (Cottonwood). Here is a link to a discussion on Horseshoe Meadow.

If you are looking for more developed accommodations (with beds) and do not mind the drive, you can also check out Rock Creek Lake and Bishop Creek that are at least 9,000 feet in elevation. You can also read how a couple of people acclimated in different locations at Acclimatize without camping.

As for warmup hikes, there are high altitude trails near many of those campgrounds. Look at the following topic on hiking options for several ideas. It all depends on how high up you want to get and how far away from Lone Pine you are willing to drive (see additional discussion on Mono Pass and Mt. Dana for higher elevation hiking). A hike to Lone Pine Lake or to Meysan Lake is very convenient for people staying at Whitney Portal.

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Determine if you need campsite reservations at Whitney Portal Campground

Whitney Portal Campground is in a very convenient location for hikers to stay the night before their hike, since it is only two-thirds of a mile away from the main trailhead. Nonetheless, only 25 of the family sites are reservable between late-May and mid-October, and they can be reserved on the web site as much as 6 months in advance. (Note: Under the reservation system change in 2007, the rolling window changed from 8 months to 6 months).

For popular hike dates, it is possible that all the reservable campsites may be booked when the results of the lottery are mailed out. If you cannot reserve a site in the Whitney Portal campground when you get your permit confirmation, there are 17 reservable sites at Onion Valley campground and 27 reservable sites at Lone Pine campground. (See Inyo NF Campgrounds for more details on each of the campgrounds).

Even if you do not reserve a campsite in advance, there are still are a number of first-come-first-served (FCFS) campsites in the area. You still may be able to get one of the 18 unreservable campsites at Whitney Portal if you check-in with the campground host early enough on the day of your arrival. The walk-in campground across from the main trailhead has 10 backpacker sites and is rarely full. Horseshoe Meadow has 30 backpacker sites in the Cottonwood walk-in campgrounds. In addition, 40 percent of the sites at Onion Valley and Lone Pine campgrounds are not reservable.

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Make Travel Plans

Picking an airport

Here are some posts from other members on picking airports: flying in from east, flight options, and more info.

Your primary airport options lie to the north and to the south of Lone Pine. (You can use airports to the west such as OAK, SJC, SFO, FAT, SMF, or MOD, but the trip to Lone Pine is longer, as noted in Driving in from the west). You have a lot more airport options if you come in from the south, but the terrain is mostly desert and can get HOT on summer days (particularly in Death Valley). The route from Reno is longer but is generally at higher elevations and more scenic. You also can make stops in Lee Vining or Mammoth Lakes and make side trips to Mount Dana and Yosemite NP (if Tioga Road is open). AAA members can also get information on the area between Bridgeport and Lone Pine with their Eastern Sierra Guide map.

There also is limited bus service from Reno Airport to Lone Pine as well as transportation connections further south. For more information see Using bus/train service. You would still need to work out transportation to the Portal from Lone Pine. Whitney Portal is about 12 miles west of (and about 4,600 feet higher than) Lone Pine.

Here are the approximate distances of various airports from Lone Pine along with some airport information links. I stopped at Palm Springs, since it is about the same distance away as Reno. I also included some general aviation airports that are closer than Inyokern. As noted in the other posts, the driving times are affected by a number of factors besides distance. I-405 and I-5 can get pretty jammed during rush hour, and I-15 can get a lot of traffic as well. For additional information on California freeway exits see Exit Numbering.

Commercial airport north of Lone Pine
  Reno (RNO) - 257 miles (US-395)

Commercial airports south of Lone Pine
  Inyokern (IYK) - 70 miles (US-395)
  Bakersfield (BFL) - 165 miles (Cal-178, Cal -14, US-395)
  Burbank (BUR) - 197 miles (I-5, Cal-14, US-395)
  Ontario (ONT) - 197 miles (I-10, I-15, US-395)
  Los Angeles (LAX) - 215 miles (I-405, I-5, Cal-14, US-395)
  Las Vegas (LAS) - 224 miles (I-215, I-15, Nev-160, Cal-190, Cal-136, US-395)
  Long Beach (LGB) - 232 miles (I-405, I-5, Cal-14, US-395)
  Orange County (SNA) - 237 miles (I-405, Cal-55, Cal-91, I-15, US-395)
  Palm Springs (PSP) - 259 miles (I-10, I-15, US-395)

General aviation airports
  Lone Pine (O26) - 1 mile
  Independence (2O7) - 16 miles (US-395)
  Bishop (BIH) - 60 miles (US-395)

Using bus/train/shuttle service

Eastern Sierra Transportation Authority provides limited bus service up and down US-395. There is limited bus service between Reno Airport and Lone Pine. The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) also provides bus service between Merced and Mammoth Lakes via Yosemite National Park when Tioga Pass is open. Check out the following links: Eastern Sierra Transportation AuthorityCREST Lone Pine-RenoYARTS. For hiker shuttle service in the Lone Pine area, look at the following links:   Bob E/Mount Whitney Shuttle,  Mammoth ShuttleJohn Pennington and Dave SheldonWilderhouse ShuttleHigh Sierra Transportation. NOTE: The shuttle services are only accessible certain times of the year, so don't be surprised if you cannot reach anybody months in advance of your date.

To find out more about other mass transit systems in California go to the California Transit Links web site. See Sea To Summit for information on a member's trip south using Kern Regional Transit and Metrolink. You can also take the Metropolitan Transit Authority trains on the Red Line, the Blue Line, and the Green Line to get to a shuttle stop for LAX, and now there is Flyaway bus service between Union Station and LAX.

Driving from the north

The route from Reno is at higher elevations than the southern route, and the route is more scenic than the desert route to the south. US-395 starts at around 4500 feet in Reno and climbs as high as 8138 feet at Conway Summit just north of Mono Lake before going back down to around 4000 feet around Bishop. The highest elevations are between the California-Nevada Line and Sherwin Summit (just south of Tom's Place). Here are the approximate milages from Lone Pine of several landmarks:

257Exit 65 (Terminal Way in Reno)
230Carson City (at US-50 E)
227Carson City (at US-50W to Lake Tahoe)
191California-Nevada Line
123Mono Lake Visitors Center & Lee Vining
122Cal-120W (to Tioga Pass/Mt Dana/Yosemite)
103Crestview Rest Area
96Cal-203 (to Mammoth Lakes and Devil's Postpile)
86Crowley Lake
82Tom's Place (to Little Lakes Valley and Mono Pass)
57Bishop (at Cal-168W to Lake Sabrina)
43Big Pine (at Cal-168E to Bristlecone Pines)
26Division Creek Rest Area
16Independence (at road to Onion Valley)
5Alabama Hills

Here are links to several attractions along the way:

Lee Vining AreaVisitorsMono LakeTioga Pass ResortMount Dana,

Tioga Gas Mart/Whoa Nellie Deli
Yosemite NPParkLodgingServicesRoad Conditions
Mammoth LakesVisitorsArea InfoSki AreaDevils Postpile NM
Tom's PlaceTom's Place ResortRock Creek Lake area
BishopVisitorsBishop Creek areaSchat's Bakery
Big PineVisitorsAncient Bristlecone Pine ForestWhite Mountain
Lone PineVisitors

Driving from the south

From the Ontario Airport area, the route is urban until I-15 starts gaining elevation. Once you go over Cajon Pass, the remaining route up US-395 is mostly desert with only a few places to stop for gasoline (also parts of the road are two-lane highway). There are gas station/convenience stores at Pearsonville, Coso Junction, and Olancha. Stop at the Interagency Visitors Center to pick up your wilderness permits as well as get general information on other attractions in the area. Here are the approximate distances of several landmarks from Lone Pine.

196I-10 exit 55 (Archibald)
193I-10 exit 58A to I-15 N (I-15 exit 109A going back)
163I-15 exit 141 to US-395 N
70Inyokern Airport (IYK)
65Cal-14 merge (from LA)
44Red Hill (a colorful landmark)
40Coso Junction Rest Area
23Olancha (Cal-190)
2Interagency Visitors Center (Cal-136)

From Bob Hope/Burbank Airport, I-5 north (Golden State Freeway) merges with Cal-170 (Hollywood Fwy), crosses the 118 freeway, merges with I-210, and merges with I-405 (San Diego Fwy) before the exit to Cal-14 (Antelope Valley Fwy). From LAX, I-405 crosses two other freeways before merging with I-5 (Note: from rental car agencies you can also take Airport Blvd north, turn right on La Tijera, and left on I-405 to avoid a lot of airport traffic). All the freeways can be jammed during rush hour. Once you get on the 14 freeway, you leave LA and enter Santa Clarita before going into less developed canyon areas after Sand Canyon Road. As you approach Palmdale, the route leaves the mountains and becomes desert the rest of the way. Mojave is the last major stop before Lone Pine and is where the freeway becomes a desert highway (now mostly four lanes, but still with several two-lane stretches by Inyokern and Olancha). Red Rock Canyon SP is a popular OHV area (and there is an info station at Jawbone Canyon). Route 14 eventually merges with US-395 after Inyokern Airport. Here are the approximate distances of several landmarks from Lone Pine.

214I-405 Exit 46 (Century Blvd., LAX)
197I-5 Exit 149 (Hollywood Way, BUR)
187I-5/I-405 merge
183Cal-14 Exit (I-5 Exit 162)
165Escondido Summit
89Red Rock Canyon SP
65US-395 merge
->(see previous table for remaining landmarks)

Driving from the west

It is not any shorter coming from the west side of the Sierra Nevada than from Ontario Airport. Of the three commercial airports in the SF Bay area (SFO, SJC, OAK), Oakland is the easiest to access. The shortest route from the SF Bay area is Cal-120, and in 2005 it was closed until June 24 (from the winter snow). Cal-108 through Sonora Pass is also closed in the winter, but it usally opens earlier in the spring (Check the CalTrans road condition link for the current condition of the highway. Also look at Route 108 for more tips). The most reliable route is to head south and take Cal-58 through Tehachapi, since that route is mostly freeway and four-lane highway, and any winter storm effects are only temporary. Of course, you have to go out of your way for that convenience (see quickest route from SF).

Yosemite National Park has some beautiful views along the way. If you go that route (and pay a $20 park entry fee), you might as well add 34 miles to your trip and visit Yosemite Valley if you have the time (by going straight at Crane Flat).

Here are some approximate milages from Lone Pine for Cal-120 starting with the freeway exit in Manteca (east of Oakland and south of Sacramento).

276Manteca (Cal-99 exit to Cal-120E)
257Oakdale (Cal-108 merges with Cal-120)
228Chinese Camp (Cal 49 merges with Cal-120)
188Yosemite National Park (W Entrance)
180Crane Flat (Left turn)
149Tenaya Lake
141Tuolumne Meadows
133Tioga Pass (E Entrance, Mount Dana)
122US-395 (continue route from Reno)

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Lone Pine Layout

Main Street Stores

Here is the general layout of Main Street in downtown Lone Pine (Note: The data was based on an unofficial visual survey taken in December 2005 and does not include every storefront in the business district). Aside from Statham Way, Tim Holt, and Gene Autry, most of the street names are listed on the right side of the map. The only traffic signal is located at Whitney Portal Road (about 0.2 mile south of the 58-mile marker on US-395 for Inyo County).

| Sierra View MH & RV Park
| Frosty Chalet (closed)
+--------------------------- BEGOLE
Carl's Jr. Restaurant | Dave's Auto Parts
& Shell Gasoline | El Dorado Savings Bank
STATHAM WAY ---------------------------+--------------------------- LOCUST
Mt. Whitney Motel | Mobil Gasoline
----------------------------+--------------------------- WILLOW
Lone Pine Budget Inn |
(760-876-5655) | Double L Bar
Lone Pine Thrift Shop | Lone Pine Drug Store
----------------------------+--------------------------- BUSH
Lloyd's Boots | Silver Star Real Estate
Expresso Parlor |
Jake's Saloon |
Lone Star Bistro |
Subway Restaurant | Bonanza Mexican Rest.
----------------------------+--------------------------- MOUNTAIN VIEW
Joseph's Bi-Rite Market | Gardner True Value/SpGds 760-876-4208
Totem Cafe | Wild West Show Gallery
Indian Trading Post | Old Lone Pine Hotel
| Slater Sporting Goods 760-876-5020
| Elevation Mountaineering 760-876-4560
(to Portal)<===========================X--------------------------- WHITNEY PORTAL
Mt. Whitney Restaurant | Seasons Restaurant
| Merry Go Round Restaurant
Lone Pine Rocks & Gifts | Lone Pine Sporting Goods 760-876-5365
Alabama Hills Cafe <= | Whitney Portal Hostel 760-876-0030
----------------------------+--------------------------- POST
Pizza Factory | Historic Dow Hotel &
Bakery (closed) | Dow Villa Motel
TIM HOLT ----------------------------+
Car Wash | High Sierra Café(closed)
Portal Motel |
GENE AUTRY ----------------------------+
McDonalds +--------------------------- MUIR
Trails Motel | Lone Pine High School
| Mt Whitney Admin Office
----------------------------+--------------------------- INYO
Lone Pine Film Museum |

To the south there are more services such as:
Best Western Frontier Motel (about 1 mile from center)
Comfort Inn (1¾ miles)
Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center (2 miles)
Mount Whitney Golf Course

You also can get information on the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce page. People can now get permits at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center.


There are about 10 restaurants as well as a couple of saloons in Lone Pine. Note: The High Sierra Café (formerly PJ's) is closed. The Mount Whitney Restaurant has a lot of b&w photos on the wall from the movie days. As for restaurant chains, there are Pizza Factory, Subway, McDonalds, and Carl's Jr restaurants in town. See Best Food in Lone Pine for a more complete list. There also is a small supermarket in Lone Pine (Joseph's Bi-Rite) if you need to buy groceries.


Note: The Whitney Portal Hostel is now open in downtown Lone Pine. There are several posts on the subject of lodging in Lone Pine such as Lodging Recommendations. A topic in 2003 has a list of motels and phone numbers in a post near the bottom, and the Chamber of Commerce site has a LP Lodging page. The Comfort Inn is the newest motel but it is not in the center of town. The Best Western Frontier Inn is on the southern edge of town and has good reviews posted by members on other topics. The Dow Villa Motel is right in the center of town and also has good reviews (Note: Please do not confuse the Dow Villa Motel with the Historic Dow Hotel even though they are next to each other and have the same owners. As noted on the Dow Villa web page, the hotel is not AAA rated and the historic rooms are not air conditioned).

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Whitney Portal Layout

The drive up from Lone Pine

Whitney Portal Road starts at the traffic light in Lone Pine and gains about 4,600 feet in about 12 miles of road as you head west. The rise is very subtle at first, since the terrain is at a fairly constant slope of about 300-400 feet per mile. (It is easy to think that you are level, until you try accelerating, plus you will need to watch your downhill speed when coming back). When you reach the end of the Owens Valley, the road traverses across the first cliff face (right for almost a mile and then left) and then enters the canyon leading to Whitney Portal along Lone Pine Creek. The main Whitney Portal Campground is about two-thirds of a mile from the trailhead and the WPS. Beyond the WPS there is a day use parking loop for Portal visitors. On the left side of the trailhead area there is parking for hikers and backpackers (and the walk-in camp area). See the next two sections for more information on the Portal area.

Here are the approximate distances of several landmarks from US-395 in Lone Pine.

03730US-395 (at Whitney Portal Road)
3.14550Horseshoe Meadow Road
6.55700Lone Pine Campground fork
8.46600Right Traverse
9.27050Left Hairpin Switchback
10.07500Canyon Entrance
11.08000Family Campground
11.28100Group Campground
11.78360Whitney Portal

WP Campground

You can learn more about individual sites in the Whitney Portal Campground at the web site. The family campground is about two-thirds of a mile down the road from the Whitney Portal facilities as you can see on the map: Portal Map
Note: there are several errors on the Web site:

  • The name of the creek should be Lone Pine Creek.
  • The S-curve [with two 180 degree turns] in the road is just past the group campground.
  • Only the reservable sites are shown on the map (the FCFS sites are not displayed).

Some sites are larger than others, and several sites do not have a lot of space for tents (and are designed for short RVs. See additional discussion on campsites). Some sites are also not reservable (About 18 sites are first come first served. Note: Just because they are FCFS does not mean that all sites will be available on any given day. Most people stay at least two nights. There are also 10 walk-in backpacker sites located across from the trailhead that are first come first served, if there is no room in the campground). Each site has a picnic table and a fire pit. Most sites also have a small charcoal grill (I did not see one in three sites, but there could be more without one). There are water spigots in several locations, but the only restroom facilities are pit toilets (that were installed in 2003). There are no electrical hookups. The only shower in the area is two-thirds of a mile up the road at the WPS, and the pay phone at the store is on a shared phone line.

In 2013, more walk-in sites were built, just below the backpacker overflow lot. See this description: Sleeping in your car at Whitney Portal

The site states that the bear boxes are 18" high, 18" deep, and 50" long, but they were upgraded about the same time the new pit toilets were installed (2003). The new boxes look the same as the boxes that were originally installed in the group sites and the outside dimensions are about 30" high, 34" deep, and 48" long. The old boxes could barely hold a medium sized ice chest, but the newer boxes should have enough room to store your toiletries and scented items as well as your food. You definitely want to make sure that your bear box is properly latched since bears are very active in the area. In 2004 they got in one of the boxes that was not properly latched and somebody reported a missing camera.

WP Store and Grill

After the campgrounds, the road switches back twice in a S-curve before heading toward the Portal area. As you approach the Portal, you will see parking on your left, along with signs to the backpacker area. The Mount Whitney Trail trailhead is on the right side of the road and the Whitney Portal Store is located just past the trailhead. At the WPS, the road becomes a one-way loop around a pond. The loop crosses the main outlet from the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek, loops to the left by the old trailhead, and comes back around next to the main part of Lone Pine Creek (on the south side of the pond). There, you can view the cascading waterfalls on the creek.

At the Whitney Portal Store grill, you can get a huge "10 inch" pancake for about $3 and get eggs for a few dollars more at breakfast time. For lunch and dinner you can get hot dogs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches. The burgers are huge, come with fries, and cost around $8. The chicken sandwiches also come with fries and cost about $9. The store hours are posted on the WPS home page.

May 2006 Update: The store hours listed on the home page should be correct in 2006. They changed in 2004, and in July 2005 the hours were 8 am to 8 pm (with grill orders ending at 6:45 pm). You can see a 2005 post on Portal Store/Food and a post on WPS showers.

Aside from the grill, the food items in the store are mostly cold beverages (including beer), energy bars, and snacks. (Note: Fountain beverages are no longer available). On our last trip, we did not bring along a lot of food and ate all of our evening meals at the Whitney Portal Store grill. It was a lot more convenient considering the bear activity in the area. The store also sells "last minute supplies for hiking, camping, fishing, and related items for the portal visitors" and rents out bear canisters.

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New Interagency Visitors Center/Wilderness Permit Pickup

The Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center is located about two miles south of downtown Lone Pine at the junction of Route 395 & Route 136. The building opened in May 2006 and is about five times as large as the old building. (The old building did not look much bigger than a roadside kiosk from the main highway, and the new building reminded me of a barn in a field at first glance when driving up from the south). People now pick up their wilderness permits at the Visitor Center. (The Mount Whitney Ranger Station in downtown Lone Pine is only used for administrative purposes).

In addition to wilderness permit pickup, you can go to the Visitor Center for general information on a number of attractions in the area such as Death Valley or White Mountain. They also have a bookstore. Their hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, 7 days a week, with extended hours in the summer.

Note: You cannot pick up your wilderness permit at the Visitor Center more than two days before your entry date. Reservations are also subject to cancellation (and the permit space can be reissued) if permits are not picked up by the required time, so plan your trip accordingly. In 2007, the pickup deadline is noon on the day before the hike for day hike reservations and 10 am on the day of the hike for overnight reservations. If you cannot pick up your wilderness permit before the visitors center closes, contact the Visitor Center (760-876-6200 or -6222) and go to the information booth on Route 136 (about 100 feet east of the gate) when you arrive (see Mark's experience).

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Entire topic
Subject Posted by Posted
Orientation Notes for Whitney first timers VersatileFred 09/26/09 08:17 PM
Re: Orientation Notes for Whitney first timers VersatileFred 09/26/09 08:22 PM
Re: Orientation Notes for Whitney first timers VersatileFred 09/26/09 08:27 PM
Re: Orientation Notes for Whitney first timers VersatileFred 09/26/09 08:30 PM