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Cottonwood Pass Trail to Whitney Portal


Alternate route to hike Mt. Whitney.

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Point to Point

14,358' 4,376 m


8,375' 2,553 m


7,417' 2,261 m


8,973' 2,735 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (28°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Commonly Backpacked · Lake · River/Creek · Views

Need permits, but not the Whitney lottery permit.


Just about 40 miles starting in Horseshoe Meadow and ending at Whitney Portal. It is not a loop so you'll need to figure out how to get back to your car or have a car waiting at the end.

Need to Know

Need bear canisters which can be rented from Lone Pine Visitor Center. Will need WAG bags to pack out human waste.


Day 1:
Horseshoe Meadow to Lower Soldier Lake - about 10 miles.

Leave Horseshoe Meadow and hike 3.5 miles up the 1,200-foot climb to Cottonwood Pass. Turn right at the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail in the direction of Rock Creek. Pass Chicken Spring Lake, and continue northwest along the trail through a rugged alpine forest of ancient foxtail pines. These trees can grow north of two thousand years old, and the golden red trunks are an everlasting source of beauty along the trail. At 3.6 miles from the pass (and 7.1 from the trailhead), turn right at the junction with the Siberian Pass Trail and continue 1.6 miles to the creek that flows from Lower Soldier Lake. Along the way, you'll pass through a mostly level forest of Lodgepole and Foxtail Pines, and cross a creek that parallels New Army Pass Trail. Go through this junction. When you come to a T-junction at a second creek, make a right and travel a tenth of a mile along the meadow’s edge to reach Lower Soldier Lake.

Day 2
Lower Soldier Lake to Guitar Lake - 14.2 miles

From Lower Soldier Lake along Rock Creek until you meet up with the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail starts out flat along Rock Creek and a small lake and then heads downhill for a bit. This sounds great, but it actually sucks because you know you’re just going to have to make up for it with a lot more uphill.

You’ll come to a wooden fence that looks like you’re not supposed to pass, but we do. Then you’ll pass a Ranger Station which is a great spot for a snack. Eventually, you make it to the uphill part which consists of a series of switchbacks over a pass near Mount Guyot. The uphill is relentless for a while and feels like it will never end. There is a stream at the top of the pass (might be dry in late season) where you can fill your water. Check with Rangers before your trip.

On the other side of the pass, you head downhill briefly into a meadow that you follow along for a bit. This section is relatively flat which is a nice break, but don’t let it fool you – you still have another pass to go before hitting Crabtree Meadows.

Day 3
Guitar Lake to Summit to Trail Camp- 8 miles

Hiking from Guitar Lake to the Mt. Whitney summit is a little over 4.5 miles with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. About 1.9 miles from the summit, with about 1,000 feet to go, you reach the Junction. The Junction is where the trail from Guitar Lake meets up with the Portal Route. Most backpackers will take some water and snacks and leave their packs for the final push to the Mt Whitney summit. Watch for marmots make sure there are no accessible crumbs in your bag. They will chew through pockets.

Day 4
Trail Camp out Whitney Portal- about 8 miles
Follow the Mount Whitney Trail east from the junction with the High Sierra Trail. The descent can be quite steep at times, so watch your footing. When you reach the Mount Whitney Portal hope you have a car or ride waiting!


Shared By:

Mag Miller with improvements by Jon Good

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  5.0 from 2 votes
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843 Views Last Month
8,394 Since Jun 25, 2018



View west from Mount Whitney Trail
Sep 14, 2015 near Lone Pine, CA
Tired and happy to be on the summit of Mt. Whitney, a pair of hikers enjoys their accomplishment.
Feb 28, 2017 near Lone Pine, CA
09/11/2018 Trail Crest looking west towards Hitchcock Lakes and Sequoia.  Cloudless day and only a breeze.
Sep 28, 2018 near Lone Pine, CA
Daybreak looking down on Trail Camp from the middle of the 99 switchbacks. Can you find the tents?
May 2, 2017 near Lone Pine, CA
It's a long, rough trail to the summit of Mount Whitney.
Jun 27, 2017 near Lone Pine, CA
Enjoying the Moment: Hikers at Mt Whitney Trail, Highest Peak in Continental USA with permission from Elena Omelchenko
Apr 19, 2016 near Lone Pine, CA


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Start backpack hiking on Monday, July 23, 2018 40mi
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