One of the most scenic drives in the Eastern Sierra is the 2-mile stretch of Whitney Portal Road that connects the town of Whitney Portal with the community of Whitney Portal. While the road is well-maintained and safe, it is not well-known amongst day-trippers. If you leave the road to visit a favorite hiking trail, you could easily miss the fact that you are driving through a stunningly beautiful part of the Eastern Sierra.
Whitney Portal Road is a stunning, winding road in the Eastern Sierra that is only open to motorcycles and cars. It is a road only open from early spring through early fall, and it demands complete respect from all who travel it. The road is so dangerous that there have been numerous cases of people dying while driving here.
The drive to Whitney Portal is an absolute must for anyone wanting to experience the majesty of the Eastern Sierra, and one of the most scenic drives on the West Coast.
Whitney Portal Road links Lone Pine in the Eastern Sierra with Whitney Portal, the Mount Whitney entrance. Whitney Portal Road is still deserving of a high position on your bucket list in an area brimming with beautiful drives. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
Whitney Portal, at an elevation of little under 8,400 feet, is the starting point for the legendary Mount Whitney route. The gateway, on the other hand, is a destination in and of itself, and you may enjoy it even if you don’t intend to climb the lower 48’s highest mountain.
On a lovely summer day, driving Whitney Portal Road!
Whitney Portal Road, which was featured in the Lucille Ball comedy The Long, Long Trailer and the Humphrey Bogart picture High Sierra, among other films, is one of California’s most beautiful drives and will take your breath away with its magnificence.
Driving Whitney Portal Road is one of the most popular things to do in Lone Pine, and it’s also a must-do on a Highway 395 route trip if you go while the road is open.
Are you planning a trip along Whitney Portal Road? Read on to find out what to anticipate on this breathtakingly beautiful journey, as well as our driving advice!
On the Whitney Portal Drive, What Can You Expect?
Awe-inspiring views that will captivate you.
You’ll witness a variety of stunning vistas throughout this journey, from the alien landscapes of the Alabama Hills at the start to the lush forested canyon at Whitney Portal and the panoramas of the Owens Valley.
Whitney Portal is stunning!
You may stop along the route to investigate and, of course, take a lot of pictures. At Whitney Portal, there is also a lot to see and do at the top.
Admire the Alabama Hills’ Rock Formations
The rounded rock formations of the Alabama Hills come into view as you drive onto Whitney Portal Road, with the jagged peaks of the enormous Sierra Nevada providing a background for the colorful rocks and hills.
The Alabama Hills are breathtaking!
Hundreds of natural arches, many of which are named, may be found in the Alabama Hills. The rock formations are large and spectacular, and the region has been classified as a National Scenic Area.
We have a comprehensive post on the numerous things to do in the Alabama Hills if you intend to combine the Whitney Portal trip with a visit to this rock-filled paradise.
Take a Photo of the Alabama Hills’ Face
Make a short stop on Whitney Portal Road to take a picture of the Face of Alabama Hills, even if you don’t intend to stop and explore the Alabama Hills.
That expression certainly makes a statement!
While we aren’t generally supporters of efforts to alter natural landscapes, the Face of Alabama Hills seems to fit in somehow. It’s also the only painted rock you’ll find here.
Take the Road’s Iconic Photographs
Whitney Portal Road runs for the most part straight and long before ascending, heading straight towards a wall of severe mountains. It’s perfect for photo postcards!
The road to Whitney Portal is a direct shot to the mountains!
We drove Whitney Portal Route from Lone Pine early in the morning, when there was very little traffic, and we were able to get some great pictures of the deserted road.
Take in the scenic drive to the top.
When Whitney Portal Road begins to weave its way up the mountain, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the valley below and, in turn, the towering mountain sides. There are many switchbacks to navigate, so go with caution.
Carefully negotiate switchbacks!
While you will want to snap a lot of pictures, we recommend putting your camera or smartphone aside and just enjoying the magnificent landscape while you travel. On a clear day, the views will really take your breath away.
Pull over to a pullout for panoramic views of the valley.
Pull off the road at a pullout and park to snap excellent pictures of the panoramas spread out below you. This allows you to frame your pictures and snap them without moving, as well as allowing the driver to enjoy the scenery.
The Alabama Hills with the Owens Valley in the distance.
At the upper altitudes of the trip, we came across at least four or five pullouts, so if you miss the first one, simply keep going and look for the next one.
Wander the streets of Whitney Portal.
Get ready to stretch your legs and explore once you reach the top! Take a big breath of mountain air and explore the tiny area. There’s much to appreciate here, with evergreens, beautiful rocks, and towering granite cliffs all around you!
Look for wildflowers in the spring. We went in mid-July and discovered some lovely blooms near the stream and waterfall. The pine woods are beautiful all year.
Whitney Portal’s wildflowers
Keep a look out for wild animals and birds. Squirrels and marmots abound, but black bears also call this home. Keep a safe distance from wildlife and never feed it.
Mount Whitney Portal has been home to a variety of species, so bring your binoculars if you’re a birdwatcher. During our visit, we spotted a hairy woodpecker, a Northern flicker, and numerous Steller’s jays.
Take a look at the Lone Pine Creek Waterfall.
At Whitney Portal, you may see Lone Pine Creek Falls straight from the road: no trekking needed! The waterfall is located on the paved loop’s southwest corner.
Lone Pine Creek Falls are very stunning!
The falls are audible long before they are seen. The main cascade, which is very tall, cascades down to the bottom in a succession of falls, producing a lovely picture. The Lone Pine Creek waterfall was still running strongly when we arrived in mid-July.
If you want to go closer to the cascade’s edge, you may climb a few steps up the rocks on the side. They may, however, be seen quite well from the bottom, with no climbing or scrambling required.
Enjoy a Picnic
After you’ve finished going around, take some time to relax and appreciate the magnificent Whitney Portal. A big picnic area with numerous picnic tables is available.
Picnic tables are available at the picnic area.
If you’ve brought a packed lunch, here is the ideal spot to relax for a while, eat, and take in the scenery. Remember to wipe up the crumbs on your table.
Alternatively, you may eat at the Whitney Portal Store.
When we went, the Whitney Portal Store (and Cafe) was packed. Lots of people were eating into the hearty breakfast choices on the menu. We were disappointed that we hadn’t had breakfast before going out since the pancakes looked fantastic!
Food and supplies are available in the Whitney Portal Store.
They provide highly-reviewed burgers and fries throughout the day, as well as a wide range of drinks.
Outside the shop, there is seating on the patio, so you can dine while taking in the beautiful scenery. After that, peruse the store’s unique goods for a memory of your journey to Whitney Portal.
Take a Look at Mount Whitney’s Iconic Trail Sign
Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, has several routes to the top. The round-trip distance from Whitney Portal is little under 22 miles, with an elevation gain of 6,134 feet.
The Mount Whitney Trail sign is a must-see!
While some hikers complete this enormous route in a day, many others backpack it over night. Hiking in the “Whitney Zone” requires a permit in any case.
Even if you aren’t intending on hiking, going at Whitney Portal to see the famous route is a wonderful thing to do. Take a picture of the trail sign before entering the wooden gateway.
Take a Few Steps Up the Well-Known Path!
The Mount Whitney Zone, which needs a permission, does not begin at the start of the route, so if you’re feeling brave, you may take a few steps along the bucket-list trail.
The Mount Whitney trail’s first few steps!
Remember that you’re at an altitude, so take it easy and don’t go too far unless you’ve adequately prepared and acclimated for your trek to Whitney Portal. You may walk up to Lone Pine Lake and back without a permit if you are prepared, which is approximately 6.5 miles round way.
With huge beautiful rocks, mature pines, and vistas of the surrounding granite cliffs, the trailhead area provides excellent photo opportunities. We shot a bunch of pictures here and watched a young hiking couple begin their journey up the mountain.
The views from here are amazing!
The Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail is a great place to go hiking.
Lone Pine Campground and Whitney Portal are connected via the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail. This route provides a nice high elevation challenge and is feasible as a day walk at 8 miles round trip with an elevation change of nearly 3,000 feet.
The Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail is a great place to go hiking.
You’ll have great views of Mount Whitney, as well as the Alabama Hills and the valley below, from the route. Summers may be scorching, although the spring and autumn months are pleasant. Wear sunscreen and stay hydrated.
As you stroll, take in the spring blossoms and the sound of Lone Pine Creek flowing beside you. In the surrounding greenery, look for birds and animals.
The Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail does not need any permits.
Take the scenic route back to Lone Pine!
If you thought the views on the way up Whitney Portal Road were spectacular, the vistas on the way down are just as spectacular, if not more so.
Because it’s simpler to get to the pullouts on the way down, we made a point of stopping at each one we came across. They’re ideal for taking in the views in both ways at your leisure: back to the mountains you just left and down into the valley below.
Returning my gaze to the mountains!
Of course, the panoramas photograph better on a clear day, but they are still amazing to see even if the weather isn’t ideal.
The Mt. Whitney Portal Drive’s Most Important Facts
Whitney Portal Road is approximately 13 miles long and completely paved from beginning to finish. It travels through a variety of habitats in this short time, from the arid terrain of the Alabama Hills to the alpine forests of Mount Whitney.
Whitney Portal Road, with just one lane on each side, isn’t very tight, but it may still cause anxiety if you’re scared of heights. The route winds its way up the hillside, with many switchbacks and a steep ascent at points. Be wary of blind edges.
Whitney Portal Road seemed to be in excellent condition when we traveled it in the summer of 2023, and we had a pleasant trip to the top and back. On the right, there are usually pullouts for taking in the scenery.
At Whitney Portal, there’s a lovely tree.
Whitney Portal Road is not maintained (removed of snow) beyond a particular point in the winter. It may be driven in general from May to November, with precise dates depending on the amount of snowfall in each particular year.
If you want to drive it during the off-season, check sure it is open to prevent disappointment. For road status information, contact the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce or the USDA Forest Service (Inyo National Forest).
The scenery at Whitney Portal is peaceful.
Whitney Portal Road on a Map
In Lone Pine, California, here are some driving tips for Whitney Portal Road.
Go on a sunny, clear day.
Although weather in the mountains may change quickly, try to plan your trip on a day when the weather forecast calls for bright, dry skies. Bad weather may not only detract from the scenery, but it can also make driving more difficult and dangerous.
While you’re up at Whitney Portal, keep an eye on the weather. A rainstorm flooded the area a few days before we made the trip in mid-July, forcing many climbers to abandon their ascent to the top and creating terrible driving conditions.
Make your journey on a bright, clear day!
During daylight hours, drive the route.
Unless you’re just going up to top Mount Whitney, you’ll want to drive up and down during daylight hours to soak in the spectacular vistas.
Driving the climb and descent in daylight is also considerably simpler!
During the day, drive Whitney Portal Road.
Snow on the peaks may be seen in late spring or late fall.
If you want to view the Sierra Nevada peaks powdered with snow, come in late spring after the snow has melted off the road, or late autumn after a snowstorm or two (or even covered with snow).
There was not a trace of snow everywhere when we arrived in the middle of July. Snow on the peaks makes for classic pictures, even though the landscape is stunning otherwise.
Snow on the peaks adds to the beauty of the scenery!
Other Visitors Are Expected
Many tourists to the Golden State want to go to the top of Mount Whitney, and the path from Whitney Portal is the most popular way.
During the summer and early autumn, expect to see a lot of other people visiting Whitney Portal. We began early in the day, but discovered that many others had arrived at the gateway before us.
Mount Whitney Portal has some lovely views!
Expect to Wait a Long Time for a Parking Spot
During the summer, parking at Whitney Portal may be difficult to come by (and early fall). There is an overflow parking lot in addition to the main parking lot near the store and picnic area.
To locate a parking space, you may need to circle a few times and be patient. We went during the summer on a weekday morning and had to wait approximately 10 minutes for a space to open up.
Arrive early (or later in the afternoon) on a weekday rather than on a weekend, and be prepared to wait for a space to become available.
The Lone Pine Creek waterfall is seen in this photo.
Give yourself plenty of time!
One way, it takes approximately 30 minutes to travel Whitney Portal Road. But you’ll want to stop along the route to soak in the scenery and snap some pictures, and once you’re there, you’ll want to spend some time at the stunning Whitney Portal.
Allow at least a couple of hours, and more if you want to eat at the summit. You’ll need much more time if you want to walk one of the routes (to Lone Pine Lake, the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail, or a short section of the Mount Whitney Trail).
From Whitney Portal Road, a view of the mountains.
Dress with many layers.
Even if you’re driving the Whitney Portal Road in the middle of July, you’ll want to dress in layers. Whitney Portal will be colder than Lone Pine, and you never know when the weather in the Rockies may change.
Wear durable, closed-toed hiking shoes or boots with excellent grip if you intend to hike, and trekking poles if you need additional support.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains seem to be magnificent!
Remember to bring your camera and binoculars.
The landscape is breathtaking, and you’ll want to snap many photographs. We utilized our cameras as well as our smartphones to take pictures.
Consider a digital camera with a strong zoom if you like shooting birds or animals but don’t want to carry a hefty lens while trekking. We use a tiny camera that fits in our jacket pockets, the Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70, which has a 30X zoom and a Leica lens and takes excellent photos.
Bring your binoculars if you like seeing birds or animals. The Celestron Trailseeker small binoculars are what we use.
Do you want to see more of California? Take a look at some of our other scenic driving posts!
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In the eastern Sierras, the road to Whitney Portal is a little-known and little-visited connector between Highway 395 and Highway 128. But for those who love great views, quiet forests, and wildflower blooms, this is a must-do drive that you just can’t miss.. Read more about is whitney portal road currently open and let us know what you think.
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