You may not actually find enlightenment on this 4.3 mile trail to Tuttle Creek Ashram just outside of Lone Pine, California (although you can try!), but you will find epic views of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains and a truly unique hiking experience! Typically found in remote areas, an ashram is a spiritual place designed to help its inhabitants find “enlightenment” by returning to nature and a simpler life. Tuttle Creek Ashram Trail is a moderate hike, perfect for those looking to explore the beautiful Eastern Sierras from Lone Pine or the Alabama Hills.
- Tuttle Creek Ashram Background
- Tuttle Creek Trail Hike Details
- Planning your hike
- Other useful resources
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
Tuttle Creek Ashram Trail Overview
Starting just outside the charming town of Lone Pine in southern California, the Tuttle Creek Ashram trail is a moderate 4.3 mile hike with 1,500 feet of elevation gain, making for a great, quick excursion into the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. If you plan to visit the Alabama Hills, Tuttle Creek is an awesome day hike option.
Tuttle Creek Ashram Background
For as long as humans have looked towards the sky in search of supernatural powers, mountains have been a spiritual and religious destination. Bringing us mortals closer to the heavens, generations of devoted followers have flocked to the mountains to get closer to the mysterious powers beyond the clouds.
While most people will picture Buddhist temples perched high in remote sections of the Himalayan Range or Christian monasteries carved into the sides of imposing cliffs, fewer people are aware that not all high-altitude houses of worship are located in such far-flung areas of the world. In fact, the Tuttle Creek Ashram is located in the John Muir Wilderness, just a few miles from the popular town of Lone Pine, California.
What is an ashram?
Let’s start with the basics – what is an ashram? An ashram is a place in traditional Indian culture for practicing yoga, meditation, and other similar activities. They are typically in remote areas, where the luxuries of modern life (whenever that may be – some ashrams are very old!) are unavailable, leaving residents with the time and space to live simply and grow spiritually. Each ashram is typically lead by a spiritual mentor who guides those living at the ashram through their spiritual journey.
History of Tuttle Creek Ashram
The Tuttle Creek Ashram was built by an American mythic and esoteric philosopher, named Franklin Merrell-Wolff. Merrell-Wolff was born 1887 and studied both mathematics and philosophy at Stanford and Harvard. After a brief academic career in mathematics, Merrell-Wolff decided to devote his life to philosophy and attempting to transcend the limits of human consciousness. In the late 1920’s, Merrell-Wolff and his wife, Sarah (aka Sherifa), founded a group called the Assembly of Man, that congregated at the Ashram in Tuttle Creek Canyon, high in the Eastern Sierra.
The group built the ashram by hand over the course of over 20 years, with the effort ending only when Sarah died in 1959. The building is shaped like a cross with four arms of equal distance, each pointing in a cardinal direction. With construction never fully completed, there are no glass windows or doors, leaving the building with an eerily incomplete feel. Franklin re-married and lived the rest of his life at Tuttle Creek before he passed away in 1985. Since then, the building has been abandoned and vandalized and has become a popular hiking destination.
This is the kind of place that is creepy even in the daylight but the views looking out the ashram windows are epic. Exploring the ashram is a somewhat spooky (but cool!) experience.
Tuttle Creek Ashram Trail Details
Hiking distance | 4.3 miles
Elevation gain | 1522 feet
Total time | 2-3 hours
Epic-ness rating | 6
Difficulty | moderate
- Find this hike on AllTrails: Tuttle Creek Ashram Trail
How difficult is the hike to Tuttle Creek Ashram?
Tuttle Creek is a moderately difficult hike. The trail is relatively short, with just 4.3 miles out and back. Nonetheless, over 1,500 hundred feet of elevation gain is no joke.
Parking & getting to the trailhead
Getting to the trailhead can be a bit of an adventure. The road to the trailhead is rough; it’s unpaved, bumpy and, worst of all, sandy. We made it okay in our 2WD Jeep Cherokee but would have felt better with 4WD. More so, in the colder months the road can be covered in snow. Luckily, you are only on this road for under 2 miles, so it isn’t that bad.
There are two different parking lots not too far from each other (lot is perhaps an overstatement, it’s really just a packed down sandy clearing). The first parking lot is a bit farther from the trailhead but avoids the worst parts of the dirt road. You will have to walk about a mile down the dirt road to the official trailhead. The second parking lot right by the trailhead will save you 2 miles roundtrip of walking, but you may need 4WD to make it through the rougher road.
The hike up
The hike begins at the mouth of the Tuttle Creek Canyon with the towering peaks and cliffs of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas high above. Behind you sits Owen’s Valley and the magnificent Alabama Hills.
If you park at the first parking lot, the hike will begin with a short but steep walk up a dirt road. After seeing the second trailhead, the road leads right into the trail as you begin your journey through the trees. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. As you start the hike, you’ll enjoy incredible views of the snowy mountains high above and the desert in the valley behind you – a beautiful contrast.
Be on the lookout for the ashram perched high above the trail – it’ll sneak up on you! The dark stone of the ashram blends in with the surrounding trees and cliffs so you will need to look closely. As you approach the ashram, the forest begins to thicken around you and you’ll cross a wooden footbridge over a bubbling creek.
After about two miles, you will reach a small landing with stairs up to the ashram. The ashram is a one-story, stone building with a large fireplace taking center stage. There is also a small stone platform with a cryptic phrased carved into the top. The saying reads, “Father, into thy eternal wisdom, all creative love, and infinite power, I direct my thoughts, give my devotion, and manifest my energy, that I may know, love, and serve thee.”
Yeah, it is a little creepy. You can tell it was never finished – with cement walls and no ceilings, windows, or doors.
Stepping outside the ashram, you will be treated to epic views of the Eastern Sierra and Owen’s Valley. Spend some time exploring and envision what life might have been like at the ashram. It is crazy to think about how much manual labor went into building the structure!
Planning your Tuttle Creek Trail hike
In this section, we’ll cover all the logistics to help you plan your Tuttle Creek Ashram hike.
When is the best time to hike Tuttle Creek Ashram?
Tuttle Creek trail is best completed between March and October. It is definitely possible in the colder months but be prepared for significant snow both on the road and the trail. Even in the spring and fall, it is best to be prepared for the possibility of snow or ice. Micro spikes and trekking poles should be sufficient even in the winter as long as you are careful.
Where to stay near Tuttle Creek Trail
Luckily, with Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills just around the corner, you’ve got several great options for where to stay close to the Tuttle Creek Ashram trailhead.
There are number of good options for camping in the area, including both dispersed camping and more established campgrounds.
The Alabama Hills
Our favorite place to camp in the area is dispersed camping in the Alabama Hills. There are plenty of great sites and camping among the stunning rock formations at the foot of the Eastern Sierra is absolutely beautiful. If you have the time and energy, we strongly recommend watching the sunrise from the top of Movie Road!
This is a popular place to dispersed camp, and while there are tons of great spots, it does fill up quickly. We recommend getting there as early as possible to get one of the best sites.
If you’re interested in learning more about camping in the Alabama Hills, we’ve written all about it here:
Do you love camping in unique landscapes with epic views for FREE? Then an Alabama Hills camping trip is the perfect adventure for you!
If you prefer staying at an established campsite, there are a number of great options in the area, including:
- Tuttle Creek Campground: 83 sites, first-come, first-served, open year round. Cost is $8 per night. Located just 3 miles and 14 minute drive from the trailhead.
- Whitney Portal Campground: 43 sites, some sites reserved in advance, others first-come, first-served. Open in mid-April. Cost is $28 per night. 28 minute drive to trailhead.
- Lone Pine Campground: 42 sites, sites reserved online, may be sites first come-first served. Open in mid-April, Cost is $26 per site. 22 minutes from trailhead.
Lone Pine is a cute, small town located just 20 minutes from the trailhead. There are a number of lodging options in town, as well as some stores, bars, and restaurants.
Fun fact: Lone Pine and the nearby Alabama Hills are a popular spot for filming. Over 400 movies, 100 TV episodes, and many commercials have been filmed in the area!
What to wear & pack
Below we’ve compiled a list of items you want to make sure to wear or pack for Tuttle Creek trail:
- Hiking boots: This hike is short, but steep and filled with rocks and roots. Hiking boots will provide much needed support and stability. (P.S. I love my Danner Mountain 600’s!)
- Sun protection: Sunglasses and sunscreen are always needed when out on the trail. Even if the weather isn’t sunny, you will always be grateful to have these two essentials available. (We both love our Goodr glasses – cheap and durable!
- Trekking Poles: With over 1500 feet of elevation gain over just 2 miles, this hike will really get those legs burning! Trekking poles will give you some much needed assistance (We use Black Diamond poles, and can’t imagine hiking without them!).
- Microspikes/crampons: If you are hiking in the colder months, in the late spring, winter, and early fall, there will likely be some snow or ice on the trail. With the chance of winter conditions, it’s better to have microspikes just to be safe.
- Bear spray: Don’t let the desert-environment driving up to the trailhead fool you. The trail goes from desert to forest, and while bears are not especially active in this area, it’s best to be prepared.
Tips for hiking the Tuttle Creek Ashram Trail
To summarize, here are a few important things to keep in mind before taking on the hike to Tuttle Creek Ashram:
- You’ll need a high clearance vehicle (4WD is best but not necessary) to get to the trailhead.
- We recommend parking at the alternative parking lot a mile from the trailhead that will allow you to avoid driving on the worst part of the road (this is where the AllTrails directions will lead you).
- Especially if hiking from October through March, check recent weather conditions to make sure you are prepared to handle snow and ice that may cover the trail.
- Be respectful. Although it’s man-made, you should treat the ashram the way you would treat any wilderness area. Pack out what you pack in and leave the ashram the way you found it.
- The ashram is admittedly a bit creepy (but cool!), so you may want to bring a hiking buddy for this one!
The hike to Tuttle Creek Ashram is an awesome alpine experience! At just over 4 miles, this can easily be completed in half a day. With the towering Sierras, the beauty of the Alabama Hills, and a unique destination, this hike has it all!
Other Useful Resources
Looking for another hike near the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine? Be sure to check out Lone Pine Lake, a 6 mile hike to a stunning alpine lake in the nearby Inyo National Forest:
For all things California: California Travel Guide
Questions or comments about the Tuttle Creek trail hike? Comment below!