A challenging route that carries you from the mixed forest of Lehman Creek, through alpine meadows, to the top of the tallest mountain in the range. Enjoy wildflowers and wildlife at the lower elevations before testing yourself on the ever steepening grades of Wheeler Peak. If you're successful, you'll be rewarded with 360-degrees of breathtaking views.
Features: River/Creek — Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
This route is starting from the last parking area on Wheeler Peak Scenic Dr., which is actually the trailhead for the Alpine Lakes Loop and Bristlecone Trails. The Wheeler Peak Trailhead is about a half mile up the road and adds about that distance to the overall distance. Start this ascent early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms!
From the Alpine Lakes/Bristlecone Trailhead, follow the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail
westward along Lehman Creek, through the forest of pines. After 3/4 mile, after the trail has opened onto alpine meadow, you'll meet up with the trail that starts at the Wheeler Peak Trailhead. Continue, and shortly you'll come to a split. If you like, you can visit Stella Lake which lies just to the south, beneath the summit of Wheeler Peak, but the trail to the top is due north, heading toward Bald Mountain.
After another 1/2 mile of enjoying the meadow (be on the lookout for the mule deer that frequent this area), you'll turn west and then south, beginning an ascent of the north-south ridge that will carry you toward the summit. Enjoy the spruce and fir, along with the shade and wind protection they provide, because as you approach 11,000' they will disappear.
At the timberline, the trail will begin a series of switchbacks through a rock field. This is the point where altitude really starts to have an effect. Not coincidently, this is also where the grade starts to bite. Until you get to the top of the ridge, you can't see the summit, but once you do you'll see so much more. Take in the vistas to the southwest and look down on the bowl you started your day in to the northeast. The winds generally pick up significantly along this ridge, so use the wind breaks along this stretch to take a break, if needed.
As you approach the summit, which is in sight from here on out, the trail will get deeper and steeper until you traverse a few switchbacks that will carry you to the top. Enjoy the incredible views (you can see the curvature of the earth!) and sign the summit record that you'll find in a mailbox in the wind break at the top.