Mount Whitney is a popular destination for hikers and climbers, and it is also a popular spot for some truly epic mountain photography. The views from the top of Mount Whitney are some of the most beautiful in all of California! Mount Whitney is truly a must-see for anyone who loves the outdoors, and one of the best ways to see it? By summiting it!
If you’re planning a hike up Mount Whitney, you’ll need to pack the right gear and you’ll need to know a thing or two about what to expect.
In this blog post, I will provide you with a comprehensive Mount Whitney packing list, followed by some essential hiking tips to know before you go. This post will include everything you need to make your hike as safe and enjoyable as possible. Make sure to read through it carefully before your trip!
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Fun Facts About The Mt. Whitney Hike
- Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in California and in the continental United States, standing high at 14,505 feet.
- Hikers can choose to climb Mount Whitney in a single day or as a multi-day backpacking trip.
- The hike is 22 miles long in total!
- Did you know you can hike the entire John Muir Trail from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney?
Where Is Mt. Whitney Located?
Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in California and the contiguous United States. This beast of a mountain is part of the Sierra Nevada range near the boundary between Inyo and Tulare counties and has an elevation of 14,505 feet (4421 m).
The mountain is also located at the boundary of Sequoia National Park and can be accessed from the Whitney Portal, which is a trailhead that leads to the summit.
So where does it get its name? Well, it was actually named after Josiah Whitney, who was the state’s geologist in the 19th century.
Mt. Whitney Hike Overview
The Mt. Whitney day hike is one of the most popular hikes in California. It’s a challenging and drop-dead gorgeous trail that leads hikers brave enough to try it past rocky switchbacks, sheer cliffs, and flowing waterfalls to the summit of Mt. Whitney.
You’ll even pass several lakes along the way, including Lone Pine Lake, Mirror Lake, and Consultation Lake. Seeing these lakes are a real treat, and as you can see, the views are everchanging along this hike.
The trailhead is located just outside the town of Lone Pine, and the hike itself is about 22 miles round trip. This is typically considered a strenuous hike that requires some training before attempting.
That’s right, I wouldn’t recommend waking up one day and deciding to take on Mt. Whitney just for the fun of it, especially if you’re not an avid hiker to begin with! Although it is a long hike, the views along the way and from the top are well worth the effort.
Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks, as there are no facilities along the trail. Also, be sure to start early, as the temperature can get quite hot later in the day.
How To Hike Mt. Whitney: Permits
Because of its popularity among the hiking community, the trail requires a wilderness permit from Inyo National Forest. What that means is, you’ll need to enter a permit lottery to hike Mt. Whitney. The Forest Service limits the number of permits available between May-October, so be sure to apply early if hiking during the busy season.
When you apply for the lottery, you have one important decision: apply for a single-day hike to the mountain or a two-day hike. It is important to note that you cannot apply for both, so you’ll have to know what type of adventure you’re more interested in before applying.
- Single-day hike: Depending on your fitness level, completing the Mt. Whitney hike can take anywhere from 12-16 hours. Because your day will be so long (typically starting by 4am and ending around 6pm), this is the way more ambitious and tiring option. However, if you’re just day hiking, you won’t have to carry as much with you compared to the two-day hike.
- Two-day hike: A two-day hike grants you more time, which means you will be able to ascend at your own pace and spend more time taking in the scenery. Beating the sunset is not going to be a problem on a tw0-day hike! With this option, you can literally stop mid-hike and camp either in Outpost Camp (10,365 ft, 3.8 miles in from the trailhead) or at Trail Camp (12,000 ft or 6.3 miles in from the trailhead). This means you can wake up the next morning and summit Mt Whitney without having to take your pack with you (as you’ll just leave your pack in camp).
The lottery opens February 1st and closes March 15th. Lottery results are sent out on March 24th. If you win the permit lottery, you have a month to accept it and pay the associated fees, during the month of April (April 1-30).
The fee to apply for the permit lottery costs $6 per application. If you are lucky enough to win a Mt. Whitney permit, you will then need to accept the permit online, verify the group size, and pay an additional $15 per hiker by April 30th.
Permits will have to be picked up in advance at the visitor center in Lone Pine, and for the duration of your hike, the permits will have to be visible on your pack. More on permit pickups can be found here. A few important things to note here:
- The visitor center is open from 8am to 5pm daily.
- You can pick up your permit up to 2 days before your entry date.
- If arriving after-hours, you can make arrangements for the ranger to leave your Whitney permit in a night box.
Didn’t win the permit lottery? There is still hope for you! Open dates become available for online reservations on the recreation.gov site starting on April 1st on a first-come, first-serve basis. Plus, if any other group cancels their reservation, their spaces could also become available. There is no waitlist, so you’re going to have to keep an eye out for new openings periodically.
Mt. Whitney: Day Hike Or Overnight Hike?
They both have their advantages and drawbacks. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each option. The choice is ultimately up to you!
Day Hike Option
- Most people tackle Mt Whitney as a 22-mile round-trip day hike. It sounds long, but as long as you’ve trained properly, it’s very doable.
- Your chances of getting a day hike permit are also generally better than the 2-day overnight option.
- Because you won’t need to set up camp anywhere, you won’t need to carry all the extra weight of tents, sleeping bags, backpacking stoves, etc.
- A day hike requires a super early start – hikers often choose to start anywhere from midnight to 4am, which means you won’t be getting very much sleep the night before.
- Much of the trail will be in shadows at this time – day hikers will miss a lot of beautiful scenery until the sun actually rises.
- Because of the pressure of fleeting daylight, the day hike requires you to hike at a quicker pace. That also means you’re going to be ascending to high altitudes quicker, which increases the possibility of altitude sickness. Often, hikers who begin to experience altitude sickness need to turn back due to safety reasons.
2-Day / Overnight Hike Option
- A 2-day overnight hike is less stressful. You can actually take your time soaking in the scenery in broad daylight. The views along the way are so worth soaking in!
- Because you’re hiking slower and you get the opportunity to acclimate at camp before summitting, the risk of getting altitude sickness is lower.
- The obvious downside to a 2-day adventure is that it requires you to carry a lot more gear in order to camp overnight.
- These permits are harder to come by compared to the day hike permits
- There are also no toilets along the Mount Whitney Trail, so it also involves doing your business in the wilderness and packing all of that waste back out.
Where To Stay For The Mt. Whitney Hike
The easiest trail up Mt. Whitney is the Mt. Whitney Trail which begins at Whitney Portal, near Lone Pine, CA.
If you enjoy camping and can manage to snag a campsite, I recommend a campsite in Whitney Portal, which is the closest campsite to the trailhead.
Alternatively, you can find accommodations in the town of Lone Pine which rests in the valley below the mountain range.
The closest town by the trailhead to Mt. Whitney is Lone Pine, CA. This is most likely where you’ll stay if you search for hotels early enough. If you stay in Lone Pine, it’s a 13-mile drive to the trailhead at Whitney Portal.
There are a few types of lodging options in Lone Pine, including hotels, motels, vacation rentals, campgrounds, and the Whitney Portal campground. Here are some of the best options in my opinion:
- Quality Inn Lone Pine near Mount Whitney – an updated hotel that doesn’t ooze old motel vibes! Free breakfast (including hot waffles, fresh fruit, cereals, juices and coffee) is served daily.
- Best Western Plus Frontier Motel – rooms are big and clean, and it has free breakfast. This hotel tends to fill up far in advance!
Pro Tip: The drive from Lone Pine to Whitney Portal has about 4000 feet of elevation gain, so make sure your car is road trip ready and good to take on hilly drives!
If you’re looking for lodging last minute and nothing is showing up for Lone Pine, you can also check out Independence, CA, located about 15 minutes up Highway 395.
- Mt Williamson Motel and Basecamp – an adorable ‘motel’ with the homiest feeling in the area! Everything from the decor, the owners, and the made-to-order breakfast is amazing.
Two-Day / Overnight Hike
If you are doing an overnight hike, you will need to choose where on the trail you’d like to camp overnight.
The most popular place to camp for this option is Trail Camp (12,000 feet, 6 miles up the trail). There won’t be much to see here as it’s pretty rocky, barren, and exposed to the elements.
You can also camp at Consultation Lake (near Trail Camp) or Outpost Camp (3.8 miles on the trail, 10400 feet).
If camping, be sure to keep all your food and scented items in a bear canister. While there aren’t bears at the higher camps, there are rodents, marmots, and birds that will tear through your tents/backpacks if you try to hide food there instead of properly stowing it away. Really, heed my word! These critters know no shame!
You can rent bear canisters at the ranger station and in shops at Lone Pine, but I’d call ahead to double-check they have availablity.
Mt. Whitney Packing List
If you’re going to be doing Mt. Whitney as a day hike, a 28 to 35L backpack is enough to carry all the essentials you need. One of the best of the best-selling backpacks is the Osprey Skimmer 28 Hydration Pack (for women).
For the guys, the Osprey Manta 34 Hydration Pack is a great daypack loved by many hikers.
For those of you doing the multi-day backpacking trip where you’ll be carrying all of your gear, you’re going to want to go with something ranging from 50 to 80 liters.
I am a huge fan of Osprey bags due to their genius design and high quality (they are my personal favorites)! One great thing about the Osprey Aura (women) and the Osprey Atmos (men) is that you can remove the top lid for shorter hikes, thereby turning them into smaller, less bulky packs.
First and foremost, you will need a good pair of hiking boots. Mount Whitney is a strenuous hike with lots of rock and elevation change, and you’ll need footwear that can handle the terrain.
Sandals or Water Shoes
Along the Mt. Whitney hike, you will encounter multiple stream crossings. Depending on what season you do your hike, the water can be up to your knees and the current can be quite strong in places.
If you’re not confident in your balancing skills, bringing water sandals can be a good idea. Having to change in and out of them does take extra effort, but it’s the better option compared to hiking in soaked hiking boots!
A must-have item if you want to save your legs and knees from the ascent and descent!
You will also encounter multiple stream crossings throughout your hike, and these stream crossings can be difficult for some without the added stability provided by walking sticks.
Merino wool tops are your best option for long hikes such as Mt. Whitney. They’re able to keep you warm on those cooler mornings and keep you cool throughout those warmer afternoons. Plus, you can wear them on the drive home or even on the next day and they won’t be stinky!
In terms of hiking pants for men, I hear great things about the Prana Stretch Zion.
Alternatively, if you know the weather is going to be very hot in the afternoon, zip-off pants work well if you want to enjoy shorts later in the day!
If you plan on starting your Mt. Whitney hike early in the day, you’ll likely be hiking in the dark and cold for a few hours. By midday, the sun really warms you up!
Along with the pair on your feet, I’d bring an extra pair of medium weight wool socks along with you on your hike–just in case your first pair get wet. There’s nothing worse than having to hike hours on hours with cold, wet socks. I cringe just thinking about it…
Hiking socks by Smartwool provide the perfect amount of cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot for hiking and backpacking.
You can also go with lightweight wool socks as well, but note they are thinner with some light cushioning in key places like the heel and ball of the foot.
If you tend to get blisters on longer hikes, don’t forget these for your Mt. Whitney hike! The purpose of sock liners is to protect your feet from all the unnecessary rubbing and abrasion that hiking socks can cause.
I wore sock liners and got zero blisters, while my friend did NOT wear sock liners and ended up with 6 bubbly blisters on one foot… better to be safe than sorry.
You will definitely want to bring some type of sun hat for your Mt. Whitney hike, as you’ll be hiking under the sun for hours on end. Protect your face and neck!
Very, very important to have as you’ll be applying sunscreen multiple times a day. Don’t forget your ears (this was the only place where I almost burned)!
A pair of gloves and a light beanie are good to have for those cooler weather moments in the mountains.
Even in the summertime, mornings can be cool and wet in the mountains! When you’re hiking at 4am, a beanie and gloves can really come in handy.
Compeed Blister Cushions
You never know when a blister might form on your feet! While I did not personally get any during my hike, my friends did–they were so thankful that I had these with me!
In case of blisters, it’s great to have these assorted Compeed blister bandaids on hand.
Definitely needed if you plan on starting your hike before the sun rises. Be sure to bring a headlamp with red light capabilities because you will need to walk and function in the dark.
Do not use bright white flashlights, headlamps, or cell phone lights. It typically takes 20-30 minutes for the human eye to fully adjust to very low light conditions. Having bright white lights in your face will prevent your eyes from adjusting to the darkness.
Depending on the year you visit and the previous winter’s conditions, mosquitos could potentially be a problem. The presence of mosquitos really depends on if there was heavy snowfall and a wet rain season. If so, mosquitos will be a problem.
Bring a bottle of bug repellent with you regardless. Sawyer Jungle Juice is my go-to!
You’ll be burning so many calories and sweating out so much. Take some electrolyte tablets with your water to replenish your body throughout the day. If you’re bringing a hydration reservoir system, you might want to bring a separate water bottle for this.
You will easily go through 5-6 liters of water on a day hike to the top of Mt. Whitney.
Bring a reservoir with a bite valve and stick it in your backpack for easy access to water while hiking. A 3-liter reservoir will do just fine as there are places to refill water along the trail.
Water filtration system
You will definitely drink up all of the water you brought along with you. From there, you’re going to need to refill your bottle/water bladder. To do this, you need a way to treat the water when you reach a water source.
There is no shortage of water on the trail due to all the waterfalls and stream crossings you’ll pass by. Having said that, do note that there is no water after the last spring at around 12,400 feet, so make sure you have plenty of water with you after that to make it to the summit!
You will need to bring enough food to keep your energy up but not so much that you feel completely weighed down by it. I’d recommend having a dedicated food item for breakfast as well as one for lunch.
You could prepare a breakfast sandwich, oatmeal, and a banana for your first meal of the day and pack a large sandwich for lunch. In addition to this, you’re going to want to bring along some energy bars/snack bars so you can quickly refuel throughout the hike.
My absolute favorite way to get quick energy (bikers and hikers also love these!). Stinger waffles taste SO GOOD, and they come in different flavors like vanilla, cinnamon, and more!
Stinger Energy Chews
Stinger Energy Chews are also great. They’re like little candy gummies, and they really do give you fast energy when you start to feel drained or sluggish while hiking.
There are no porta-potties or toilets along the trail. You will need to pack out all your waste (even the poop) in a WAG bag.
In terms of pee, you are allowed to pee 100 feet away from water on the rocks. When you pick up your permit, one WAG bag (this stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling) is included with your permit fee.
If you need more, you can pick up additional bags at REI for cheap.
First Aid Kit
A portable and travel-friendly first aid kit is also essential, as Mount Whitney is a remote location. Always better to be safe than sorry.
For the overnight hikers: 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 your trusty bear canister when you sleep and when you leave for the summit.
While there aren’t bears at the higher camps, there are other hungry animals that will tear through your belongings if they smell something and it isn’t properly stowed away.
Depending on the time of year and previous winter conditions, parts of the trail may be covered in snow still.
Unless you’re 100% certain that there will be no snow on the entirety of the trail during the dates of your hike, I’d suggest you pack along a pair of crampons–just in case–as the weather could be unpredictable.
For example–if there happens to be rainfall in the area just a day or two before your hike, that could mean that a bunch of snow has just been dumped on the trail. This could lead to icy or slick conditions the higher up in elevation you are.
Mt. Whitney Essential Hiking Tips
- It is important that you do some sort of training for the hike. With over 6,000 feet of elevation gain, you’ll want to make sure your legs are prepared not only for the elevation, but also to walk for so long. I recommend you do a lot of squats, leg workouts, and hiking in the months leading up to the trip. If you have a StairMaster at your local gym, even better!
- Pick up your permit at the visitor center the day before you summit, at the latest. Be aware of the visitor center business hours so you can get there before they close for the day.
- I’d recommend bringing an extra pair of medium-weight wool socks along with you on your hike–just in case your first pair get wet.
- There are no toilets along the Mount Whitney Trail. You are required to carry out your human waste from the mountain, so don’t forget to pick up WAG bags ahead of time at the store or at the visitor center. More information about human waste rules can be found here.
- The Mt. Whitney Trail has no potable drinking water. That is why it’s so important to bring a water purification system with you. There are lots of streams and water crossings along the trail that can be easily treated with a portable water filter, SteriPen or water purification tablets. It’s a good idea for someone in your group to have a backup option in case the first option breaks or fails.
- Before your ascent, try to acclimate to the elevation. If you’re going with the overnight option, you’ll have a chance to camp at a pretty high elevation before ascending to the top. If you’re opting for the day hike, try to spend some nights in high elevation areas/towns like Whitney Portal (8,400 feet), Cottonwood Lakes (10,000 feet), or Mammoth Lakes (8,000 feet).
- Know the signs of altitude sickness. Symptoms are generally similar to what a hangover feels like–it can include headache, nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue and difficulty sleeping. If you start to feel altitude sickness, the only cure is to descend. This is one of the reasons why Mt. Whitney is notorious for its low completion success rate. Common estimates land at a one-third success rate!
- Set a turnaround time even before you start your hike. The last thing you want is to get caught up in the mountains after dark. Descending in the dark is even more miserable than ascending in the dark. Don’t be those people!
- No matter the season, mountain weather can be unpredictable. Mt. Whitney is no different! I recommend wearing multiple layers that can easily be put on or shed off.
- From the months of late summer to early fall, the Mt. Whitney trail does not require any technical mountaineering experience. However, between late October to approx. early July, you can expect portions of the trail to be covered in snow and ice. Bring those crampons!
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