At 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the continental United States, and one of the most popular spots to hike and climb. In addition to these things, it also has a number of high alpine lakes located nearby (such as the Meysan Lakes), and a number of lakes located along the trail to the summit - such as Mirror, Consultation - and Lone Pine Lake. While Lone Pine Lake is technically not on the trail to the summit, as it is off a short spur trail, it is a great short hike for beginner backpackers and hikers, and for those parties looking to take more than one day to summit Mount Whitney.
Directions: From Lone Pine, California, the Whitney Portal Road ascends some eleven and a half miles and some 4,600 feet to the Whitney Portal, which is the location of the Mount Whitney trail, and where most hikers, backpackers, and mountaineers begin their ascent of the mountain. The Whitney Portal is also the end of theJohn Muir Trail (“JMT”), and during the summer months, one can see many tired through-hikers at the end of their journey. The Whitney Portal Road is a very scenic drive that passes through the Alabama Hills, but does have winter closures, so if one is planning on visiting from late November through April, it is best to check road conditions in Lone Pine before attempting the drive. It is also worth noting that whether one is visiting the area for a day, or multiple days, the area has regular bear activity, which means that food must be stored in one of the metal lockers during one’s time at the Whitney Portal.
From the Whitney Portal the Mount Whitney Trail is very obvious, with its distinctive wooden trellis and signs; and while there are other trails in the portal region, this is the trail one wants to follow to the lake. While permits are required to climb Mount Whitney, even for one-day climbs, there is no permit requirement for a day hike to Lone Pine Lake. While the trail to the lake is always well-maintained and easy to follow, the hike is not an easy hike. From the Whitney Portal, elevation 8,350 feet, the trail ascends steadily along the 2.7 miles to the turnoff for Lone Pine Lake. Over the course of this distance, there are switchbacks, switchbacks, and more switchbacks; some covered by trees; some uncovered and in direct sun. While neither the distance, nor the total elevation gain is say, as hard as climbing the mountain as a whole, most visitors will find the elevation gain and ascent challenging, especially as they are likely not acclimated to higher elevations. However, the views in the area - of the Eastern Sierra as a whole, the Owens Valley, and at times, Mount Whitney make up for the difficulty present.
At the 2.7 mile mark, just past a well-maintained series of log bridges, the spur trail to Lone Pine Lake is signed, and is readily visible. From this junction, it is a .1 mile mostly flat, if not slightly downhill stroll to the lake, which appears to stretch out into space. At the lake, one can sit back, and relax under tree cover, or explore around to the eastern side, and marvel at the higher peaks (including Whitney) in the distance. When one is ready to return to the portal, the way back is along the same trail for a roundtrip distance of 5.6 miles.
Tips: While most mountaineers and one-day hikers will not stop at the lake due to time constraints, and not wanting to log extra distance (I know I never did), the lake is definitely worth a visit. And while it won’t ever have the notoriety of say, Second Lake, it is a decidedly unique spot that is a great spot for first time visitors to experience the beauty of the Sierra Nevada.