Hiking the Wide Open Spaces from Death Valley to Yosemite

Few places on Earth offer such diverse hiking and trekking as Inyo County and the Eastern Sierra. Here you can summit the tallest mountain peak in the continental U.S., Mt. Whitney, stroll past ancient petroglyphs in the Owens Valley, and hike below sea level in Death Valley. Spring is the optimum season for seeing Death Valley carpeted in wild desert blooms. Fiery Aspens steal the show in the fall when deep reds and yellow swathe the Eastern Sierra. Nearly 98 percent of Inyo County comprises uninhabited mountains and desert protected by National Forest Service, National Park Service, or Bureau of Land Management agencies. Lace up your boots – there’s much to explore in Inyo County!

John Muir Wilderness

John Muir dedicated his life to protecting the wilderness in the Sierra Nevada. Lucky for us, not much has changed since the days that Mr. Muir himself wandered along the trails through deep canyons and wildflower-filled meadows. The 215-mile John Muir Trail (JMT) is one of the best ways to explore all this wilderness area has to offer, and is a wonderful opportunity to “enjoy every mile, every meal, and every vista” as the locals do. About 100 of these miles wind through the Sierra, with a handful of trailheads within 30 minutes of downtown Bishop. Have your camera ready to capture the views of the 13,000-foot peaks and turquoise-colored alpine lakes as you follow in Muir’s footsteps.

The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is an American classic—211 miles that wind through some of the West’s (and the country’s) most beautiful mountain terrain—sequoia forests and granite mountaintops and deep canyons. The trail’s namesake, John Muir, is well-respected for founding the Sierra Club and for his involvement in shaping Yosemite National Park in the late 1800s. The trail follows along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for 160 miles, connecting its northernmost point at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley to the highest peak in the continental United States at its southernmost point—Mount Whitney—whose summit rises to 14,505 feet. While seasoned hikers often take three or so weeks to hike the trail, some do it in less time, and others, more. Either way, take your time to enjoy the scenery—at your pace. There’s no other trail like the JMT in the world.

Ansel Adams Wilderness

If you go far enough north on the John Muir Trail, you’ll hit the Ansel Adams Wilderness, smack dab in-between Bishop and Yosemite. But don’t worry, you don’t have to hike your way in from Bishop—most people get to the 349 miles of trails here from the Devils Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes. This area has some of the most scenic sections along the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails, and if you have a couple of days, head to the Alger Lakes area. If you are one of the few hikers to take on this challenging trek, you’ll be rewarded with postcard-worthy High Sierra views of alpine lakes, mountains stretching on as far as the eye can see, and wide-open meadows filled with wildflowers.

Note: You’ll need a wilderness permit if you plan to spend the night out there.

Mt. Whitney

No trip to the Eastern Sierra region of California is complete without at least a glimpse of the tallest summit in the contiguous United States. Standing tall at 14,505 feet above sea level with 10,075 feet of prominence from the valley below, the trailhead for this majestic peak is an hour and 20 minutes south of Bishop, near the town of Lone Pine. It’s about a 20-mile round-trip hike to the top, with more than 6,000 feet of elevation gain along the way. This challenging trip is definitely worth it for the bragging rights of topping out the highest peak in the Lower 48 (and the views of the surrounding landscape are just as impressive as you’d imagine).

The best viewpoint for seeing Mount Whitney without having to hike is through the Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills, just west of Lone Pine.

Note: A permit is required to hike Mt. Whitney. To get one, you’ll need to apply through a lottery system, which accepts applications from February 1 through March 15.

Buttermilk Country

Known for its world-class bouldering, the rocks found in Buttermilk Country are home to some of the boldest and most technical routes in California. It’s just a short, seven-mile drive from the town of Bishop to get on some of the most aesthetic lines in the world, all in the shadow of the Sierra Mountains. With epic trail running loops, miles of mountain biking trails, and even a four-wheel drive roads past Buttermilk Road, this area is a playground for outdoor adventurers.