Your Complete Guide to Hiking White Mountain California 14er
Even though White Mountain, California is often referred to as California’s “easiest” peak over 14,000 ft. to hike, it is still a challenging and worthwhile summit to achieve and is a great introduction to hiking 14ers. While hiking White Mountain Peak you will have to battle its over 3,400 feet of elevation gain in 15 miles all while adapting to the high altitude of its high summit. So whether you are ready to dip your toes into hiking 14,000 foot peaks or you are just looking for a great day hike in California, be sure to put White Mountain Peak on your peak bagging list! If you are working your way towards harder 14er mountains, this is a great beginner California 14er!
For me, hiking White Mountain was actually my 4th California 14er to summit. I first climbed the mountaineers route up Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, and then Mount Langley and Mount Shasta. We decided to hike White Mountain one summer because we were looking for a fun, but challenging day hike, and it fit that description perfectly.
The guide below goes into great depth on everything you need to know logistically about hiking White Mountain, plus some fun photos and a trip report of our hike on the White Mountain trail. If you are looking for additional resources on hiking 14ers be sure to check out our post on 7 crucial tips to hiking and summiting a 14er, or if you are just looking for some other awesome mountains to hike in California, check out our guide on some of the best, challenging Southern California day hikes.
Hiking White Mountain California - Quick Info
White Mountain Peak is part of the Inyo California White Mountain Range and is the 3rd tallest mountains in California and the tallest peak outside of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In fact, there are only 2 California 14ers that lie outside of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, and that's White Mountain and Mount Shasta. The White Mountain range rises out of the desert, and from its summits looking West you can see the Sierra Nevada Range in all of its beautiful glory, and to the East the hot desert of Nevada. The California White Mountains are home to the ancient bristlecone trees (the oldest living trees on earth), desert big horn sheep, pronghorn antelope and a lot of hungry marmots! In fact, on your drive up to the White Mountain trailhead, you could event take a side trip to visit the ancient bristlecone forest.
While, not my favorite 14er, it was definitely the easiest of all the ones I have done to date. We were able to hike the peak in a half day since the trailhead starts at around 12,000' and gains only about 3,400 feet of total elevation gain to the summit. The hike is definitely still worth doing and it should still be taken seriously because many people struggle with this summit because of its high starting elevation. In fact, since coming only from sea level the night prior, I pretty much had elevation headaches the entire hike up to Split Mountain summit. So be mindful that your acclimatization process here will be sped up, and thus can cause people to have a hard time up to the summit.
Some people like to have a bit of fun with this peak since the trail to the summit is practically a 4WD road the whole way up. It is not uncommon to find trail runners and even mountain bikers sharing the trail with you on your hike. So if you are up for the challenge and are a skilled mountain biker, consider tackling White Mountain in this unique way. You won't be able to do that on any other California 14er.
In the guide below we will go over:
Hiking Details for the White Mountain Trail
White Mountain, California Trail Map
Getting There - How to Get to the White Mountain Peak Trailhead
When to Go - California White Mountains Weather
White Mountain Camping Information
White Mountain California Permit Information
Day Hiking Gear Essentials
Hiking White Mountain 14er Trip Report (with more details about the trail and pictures)
Plus, be sure to check out the bottom of this post to find more trail guides and some additional resources for hiking and summiting fourteener peaks. Let's get started...
HIKING DETAILS FOR WHITE MOUNTAIN TRAIL:
California's White Mountain Peak Elevation: 14,246 feet
Best Trail to summit: Most people hike the Class 1 South Face route which is essentially a 4WD road that goes practically all the way to the summit.
Type of Trail: Out and Back
Mileage: ~15 miles round trip
Total Elevation Gain: ~3,400 feet total elevation gain
White Mountain Trailhead: Barcroft gate on White Mountain Rd.
Trailhead Elevation: 12,000 feet
Estimated Time to complete: 7-9 hours, day hike
Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult (mostly because of the high altitude)
Permit Required: No!
Water Available? No water along trail, so bring plenty of water for a full day
Dog friendly? I've read that this trail is dog friendly as long as your pooch is leashed, but I didn't see any dogs when we did the hike
White Mountain, California Trail Map
As mentioned above, the easiest trail to the summit is the class 1 South face trail that starts at Barcroft gate on White Mountain Road. It is essentially an easy, wide 4WD road that goes practically all the way to the summit, though the final bit of hiking will be some steep, narrower switchbacks to the final summit. This area was originally developed as a research area and is still used that way to this day, so while you are not allowed to drive up the road, you may see some vehicles and those people are likely researchers on the mountain.
It really isn't necessary to have a GPX file pre-loaded to your GPS on this hike like some trails in the Sierra Nevada (like Split Mountain Peak), but if you're like me and just love data, I've included it below!
Below is a map of the hiking trail. If you click on the image below you will be taken to an interactive map that you can further explore.
DOWNLOAD THE GPX FILE FOR THIS TRAIL!
Knowledge is power my friend, and I'm a girl who loves data. Get access to this trails GPX file PLUS my library of GPX files with tracks and waypoints for all the trails loaded onto the She Dreams of Alpine blog.
Load this puppy into your trusted GPS and rest easy knowing you have tracks to follow on your next hike or backpacking trip.
DON’T HAVE A GPS? YOU SHOULD.
Look, I believe every hiker and backpacker should be self-sufficient, and that includes knowing how to practice smart navigational skills in the outdoors. This is something I teach in my backpacking program, but I want to give you a couple GPS options to get started. Don’t ever risk getting lost, and don’t rely on other people for your safety. Be empowered, take 100% ownership for yourself my friend. Here’s what I recommend:
1) GAIA GPS Phone App: At a bare minimum, consider getting a premium subscription to GAIA GPS App. This App allows you to download maps in advance and take them offline into the backcountry. You can record your tracks, upload tracks from online to follow (like the one I have above), and so much more with this phone app, and GAIA is offering a special discount to those who subscribe online through my link above, 20% off their normal prices. But even if you don’t use my link... please, at a minimum get a GPS phone app to help you navigate outdoors!
2) Handheld GPS: If you hike often or go backpacking, then I highly recommend you investing in a handheld GPS. I own a Garmin 64st and LOVE this device.
3) Handheld GPS with Satellite Communicator: However, if you have a little bit more money to spend, if I were starting over, I’d get the Garmin inReach Explorer+ which provides not only GPS tracking capabilities, but also an SOS satellite search and rescue communicator. I own the Garmin inReach mini now and I pair it with my Garmin 64st, but you can save weight by getting this all-in-one solution.
GETTING THERE - HOW TO GET TO THE WHITE MOUNTAIN PEAK TRAILHEAD:
Getting to White Mountain Trailhead is fairly straight forward. We simply typed in White Mountain Peak California into Google Maps and it got us to the trailhead without a hitch.
Alternatively, take US-395 to Big Pine, turn east onto CA-168 toward the White Mountains and Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. After 13 miles, turn left onto White Mountain Road. The pavement ends just after Schulman Grove and then turns into a 4WD road for the remaining 17 miles until you reach the Trailhead at Barcroft Gate.
OFF-ROAD WARNING: There are 17 miles worth of "4WD road" that you will be driving on to get to the trailhead. Plan for about hour to an hour and a half of driving once you get to the dirt road. When we went, the 4WD road wasn't too high clearance, but the rocks on the road were small and sharp. We made it just fine to the trailhead on our way in, but ended up getting a flat tire only about a mile out on the way back (what luck!). Here are some tips, based on our personal experience, for the off-road portion of this road to the trailhead:
Make sure your car has a spare tire, and you know how to change it
Bring a "fix-a-flat" can as backup and redundancy to your spare tire
Put extra water and supplies in your car in-case something happens and you are unable to get your flat fixed
As and added plus, take a vehicle with good tread and tires
We now always come prepared just in case we do get a flat on these back roads. Learn from us, and always be prepared for the worst! Here's what we now carry in our car on all of our adventures for these worst case scenarios:
Note: This post contains affiliate links.
Here's what we now carry in our car on all of our adventures for these worst case scenarios:
Fix-a-Flat - This stuff saved out butts on White Mountain, from the moment we got a flat tire we tried this stuff and it got us all the way home. We always carry one in our car now.
It's always good to have some standard jumper cables as well. Get a pair with a smaller gauge number like 4 gauge or 6 gauge. These mean that the wire inside the cable is thicker, thus more reliable long term.
My dad also bought me jumper cable battery booster after one trip when I got done with a solo backpacking loop and came back to a car with no battery. I got lucky and was able to still find someone in the parking lot who could give me a jump. However, we now always bring this thing with us too because sometimes on back roads you never know how long it will take you until you run into someone, and this way you can boost your own battery back to life. I carry both this and standard jumper cables.
A jerry can could be nice if you can afford the room.. I'll admit though, we don't carry one of these, but we watch our gas tank very very closely on trips like these.
Lastly, Duct Tape ... seriously though, always good to carry.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of emergency supplies, I'll have to save that for another post, but this would be the bare minimum in my opinion (Besides water, food, and some way to stay warm, but we always have these items already on outdoor trips).
WHEN TO GO- California WHITE MOUNTAIns WEATHER
September is my favorite time of the year to backpack or hike peaks in the Sierra Nevada area and White Mountain is just across the way from the Sierras so it has similar temperature profiles. The weather is perfect and there are less mosquitos (which can be really bad when it is warm). You could also plan to go in July and August, but expect the weather to be a bit warmer (with a chance of relentless mosquitos).
June and October are hit or miss in the Inyo-White Mountain Range. If there was a big snow year in California, there may be too much snow on the trail in June. Alternatively, in October, the mountains can start to get their first snowfalls of the season. Be sure to call the ranger station before heading out on weather and snow updates.
White Mountain camping information:
You may be hoping to camp the night before or after your hike up White Mountain, either to help yourself acclimatize before heading up to 14,000 feet, or to just get an early start on the trail. Either way, there are several good options in the area.
1) Many people opt to camp at the trailhead. We considered doing this, but decided against it because since we were coming up from sea level, we wanted to let our bodies slowly adapt (as best we could) to the change in elevation. If you camp at trailhead and want a campfire, you will just need to fill out a campfire permit. The camping here is free is on a first-come-first serve basis.
2) There are many campground along the way up Highway 395, or you could stop at Alabama Hills in Lone Pine and do some free camping there. We didn't choose this either because it was a bit further from the trailhead and we wanted an early start, but also it is at lower elevation.
3) Camping at Grandview Canyon Campground. This campground is about 20 miles from the trailhead. The Grandview Canyoon Campground is at 8,500 feet of elevation so it was perfect for helping us adapt to the elevation change we were experiencing before going up to 12,000 feet at the trailhead. The campground doesn't take reservations, but we didn't have any issues finding a site to sleep at on Friday night. This seemed like our best option since we were driving up late Friday night and we didn't want to drive the 4WD portion of the trail in the dark.
SIDE NOTE ABOUT MARMOTS AT WHITE MOUNTAIN TRAILHEAD:
Although I have never personally experienced any issues with marmots at the White Mountain Trailhead, there area a lot of reports online that say that they can be a big problem. The marmots are known to chew through car wire and hoses that are exposed underneath the car, leaving people potentially stranded at the trailhead, and needing a really expensive tow. Aparrently they enjoy the anti-freeze, and consume it without dying. According to the National Parks Service, the marmots are the worst from early spring to mid-July. We did our hike late July, so we decided not to tarp up our car, but if you happen to be hiking White Mountain earlier in the year, here are some tips for protecting your car from marmots.
white mountain california Permit Information:
Lucky enough, at the time of this writing, there is no permit needed for a day hike up White Mountain Peak! If you camp at trailhead and want a campfire, you will just need to fill out a campfire permit.
day hiking gear essentials
There's not a whole lot "extra" you need (besides the basics) for this hike, but I would like to reccommend a couple of things.
Good Hiking Boots - Make sure to have some good hiking boots for your tail. My favorite hiking boots so far have been my Ahnu Montora Hiking Boots. I've never had an issue with blisters and they are waterproof and light weight. These are my go-to hiking boots!
Black Diamond Trail Shock Trekking Poles - Invest in a good pair of trekking poles and you will have them for a long long time. I've had theses for over 3 years now and they still seem like new. These are my favorite trekking poles, and they definitely come in handy for the really steep portion of this hike. You might be tempted to buy cheaper "twist" to lock poles, but honestly don't bother... they break super easily. I started out with a pair like that and they barely lasted me a year. Definitely just invest in a good pair that will last you a long time to come.
Camelbaks are awesome for hiking! They are the easiest way to stay hydrated, and I always bring one with me (unless it is really cold out because your camelbak water can freeze inside the hose). I recommend getting one that has at least a 3 liter reservoir, and the ones with a mouth piece cover are awesome too because when you set your backpack on the ground you don't have to worry about your mouth piece getting all dirty. You'll need to bring a lot of water on this hike, don't rely on being able to fill up anywhere.
Don't forget to check out our post on Essential Day Hiking gear, for more of our outdoor gear personal recommendations, and be sure to download our packing list below so that you don't forget anything next time you are packing up for a trip!
hiking white mountain 14er trip report:
As I mentioned above, we drove up most of the way after work on Friday night before our hike and camped at Grandview Canyon Campground which is about 20 miles from the trailhead. The Campground is at 8,500 feet of elevation so we were hoping it would help us to acclimate a bit if we slept there the night before. The campground doesn't take reservations, but we didn't have any issues finding a site to sleep at. Alternatively, you could continue on to the trailhead or look for some BLM land to camp at, but this seemed like our best option and we didn't want to drive the 4WD portion of the trail in the dark.
The next morning we woke up around 5 AM - 6 AM and drove on to the trailhead where there were already many other cars parked. Our drive up to the trailhead was uneventful and we got to the trailhead around 8 AM. On other trip reports I had read about how marmots were causing issues with chewing through cables on cars, but we never had this problem. Just be warned.
The trail is essentially a road most of the way, so it is pretty easy to follow
Even though the trail was straight-forward, the terrain and landscape was still very beautiful! At some point you will pass a research station, but just keep on hiking.
Our trail went on mostly effortlessly except that I definitely could feel the altitude weighing down on me about half way through the climb. So even though the terrain was easy, the altitude made the traveling fairly slow.
The giant Sierra Nevada Mountains looming in the background. We look like ants.
You can see the White Mountain summit in the distance for a long time. Below is Ashima pondering our long ascent.
The last bit of the trail is pretty steep and I was definitely very slow on this part because I was starting to get a pretty bad headache and nausea from the altitude. So I just took it a few steps at a time. Slowly but surely.
When we did finally make it to the top, we ate some lunch and enjoyed the summit views. You can see almost the whole stretch of the Sierra Nevada from up there and the Owens River Valley. It was fun trying to name the peaks we knew from the other side.
Signed the summit register, took some summit pics.
And the power pose to finsih...
Then we began the long trek down. I thought I would be pretty fast coming down, but the altitude really did me in for the rest of the hike and it was slow going coming back.
All in all, the hike was great. It took us about 8 hours to complete and mostly because altitude sickness kept us from going any faster. Definitely be prepared for altitude sickness since the hike starts at 12,000', but the trail was mellow enough that the altitude sickness seemed manageable.
Last but not least, we ended up getting a flat tire on our drive out from White Mountain trailhead about a mile into the 4WD road. We ended up using the fix-a-flat spray can we had in the car and were able to make it back (very very slowly) all the way to Bakersfield, California. Those fix-a-flat cans are only rated to about 100 miles, but it held up the whole way back. Regardless, I am now a believer in fix-a-flat cans and we take one with us everytime we go on weekend trips (along with other car necessities). Don't head out on this trail without some backup.
We are beggining to be pro's at fixing flats. We had a similar experience with our trip to New Zealand, which you can read more about here: New Zealand North Island Adventures
Hope you have a chance to check out White Mountain.
Michael has hopes to come back and mountain bike the trail... maybe we will write a post about that adventure when it comes. :)
If you are looking for more California 14er inspiration, check out our other resources below!
Trail guides on popular California 14er's:
Also be sure to check out these essential hiking resources!
Allison - She Dreams of Alpine