We have revamped our traditional Whitney via Cottonwood trip, adding a day, more features and making the program more educational to give you a greater appreciation of the Sierra Nevada and the world in which we live. We have a long on the trip a naturalist who will explain the landscape and natural history of the country we travel through and make this not just a trip to the high point of the lower forty-eight states.

At 14,495 feet, Mount Whitney is the high point of the lower forty-eight states and the goal of many. If you didn’t get your permit application for the main trail in by February, or don’t want to attempt a more technical ascent up the Mountaineers Route, this on-trail option may be for you.

The route from Cottonwood crosses over the Sierra Crest at Cottonwood Pass, eventually drops west to the Kern River and then loops east to Guitar Lake below the western slopes of the peak. From here we climb to Trail Crest where we meet those coming up from the Whitney Portal.

We like this route for a number of reasons:

  • It is beautiful with high alpine lakes and expansive views
  • There are far fewer people than on the regular Whitney Trail where there can be hundreds of people.
  • Rather than a rush to the summit this route offers a fine hike in its own right and the summit as a bonus. We have adapted our trip now to include an educational component that gives you a greater understanding of the beauty and natural wonders of the Sierra Nevada. Our knowledgable and skilled guides will discuss a wide range of topics from geology and glacial landforms to the history of the first ascentionists of the peaks.
  • To make it a truly relaxing trip we use the services of Cottonwood Pack Station to carry equipment while we hike with a day pack. This also enables us to take along a few extra luxuries for a complete vacation. Our itinerary allows for acclimatization time and makes the last day as short as we can. Yes, this does take longer and cost more – but it makes the trip a  lot easier and with a far greater chance of getting to the top we think it is worth it.

Yes, it does take a little longer to climb this way, but then we believe that it is the journey that is important rather than the goal and this offers a very fine journey indeed.

Special Notes

For maps look at the Mt. Whitney, Mt. Langley and Cirque Peak 7.5 minute maps.

We spend our first night at the campground at the end of the road. This gives you time to adjust to the 10,000 foot elevation.  We estimate that 80% of our unsuccessful attempts fail due to problems with altitude, (and the balance due to weather) and spending a night here before the start of the hiking dramatically improves your chances of attaining the summit of Mt. Whitney.

Bears are a problem at the Cottonwood Trailhead. Do not leave food, scented items (deodorant, soap etc.) in your vehicle. There is limited food locker storage so do not bring extra items with you to the trailhead. Clean up all trash prior to your trip. Failure to take precautions can cause the vehicle to be ripped apart by a bear and the added insult of a fine from the Forest Service. If possible, please carpool up to the trailhead, leaving unnecessary vehicles at the Forest Service Offices in Lone Pine.


We have GPSed as accurately as we can the route so you know what you are getting into.

Day Out Destination Mileage Elevation Gain Hiking Time
Day 2 Chicken Springs Lake 5.3 miles 1405 3 hours 35 minutes
Day 3 Rock Creek Crossing 10.5 miles 620 6 hours 43 minutes
Day 4 Guitar Lake 10.3 miles 2985 7 hours 10 minutes
Day 5 Mount Whitney then back to Crabtree Meadows 14.4 miles 3405 12 hours 5 minutes
Day 6 Rock Creek Lake 11.3 miles 2020 7 hours 10 minutes
Day 7 back to pack station 11.4 miles 1435 7 hours

Getting to the top of Whitney: 32.2 miles

Total 63.2 miles Total Elevation Gain 11,870