The Lone Pine Lake hike in the Inyo National Forest in Southern California makes for a perfect excursion from the Alabama Hills, offering the opportunity to explore the snowy mountains high above the rocky rubble. Tucked away in the snow-capped peaks of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, Lone Pine Lake is an alpine wonderland nestled below the towering peak of Mt. Whitney and perched above the orange desert of the Alabama Hills.
- Lone Pine Lake Hike Overview
- Lone Pine Lake Hike Details
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, and we’ve been road tripping across the United States, 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!
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Lone Pine Lake Hike Overview
The Lone Pine Lake hike is spectacular not only for the epic views and stunning alpine scenery, but the unique contrast between the snowy mountains of the Eastern Sierra and the sandy desert of the Alabama Hills below. It is rare to find two landscapes so starkly contrasting in such close proximity.
From the Alabama Hills, you can sit with your feet in the warm sand while admiring the imposing Eastern Sierra peaks in the distance. From the trail to Lone Pine Lake, you can stand in snow while gazing out over the desert valley below. It truly is a unique experience!
Location of Lone Pine Lake
Lone Pine Lake is located in the Inyo National Forest in Southern California and makes for a perfect day hike to explore the Eastern Sierra’s. The moderate hike leads to the shores of a peaceful and serene alpine lake that sits on the edge of the mountains overlooking the desert below.
The hike to Lone Pine Lake starts from the trailhead for Mount Whitney. In fact, Lone Pine Lake is just a short detour off the trail to Mount Whitney, meaning hikers heading to the tallest point in the contiguous United States also have the opportunity to take a rest on it’s shores. (Side note: if you wish to summit Mount Whitney, you must have a permit. Lone Pine Lake is the furthest you can hike without a permit).
Lone Pine Lake Hike Details
Hiking distance | 6.5 miles (10.5 if Whitney Portal Road is closed)
Elevation gain | 1876 feet (2600 feet if Whitney Portal Road is closed)
Total time | 3 – 4 hours (+ 1-2 if Whitney Portal Road is closed)
Epic-ness rating | 7
Difficulty | moderate
Find this hike on AllTrails: Mount Whitney Portal to Lone Pine Lake
Typically, the Lone Pine Lake hike is 6.5 miles with about 1900 feet of elevation gain, making for a fairly moderate trek. During the colder months, Whitney Portal Road is closed before the trailhead, adding an additional 4 miles and 700 feet of elevation gain, increasing the difficulty level.
The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow.
Parking & getting to the trailhead
The Lone Pine Lake hike begins from the Mount Whitney trailhead, located across from the Whitney Portal Campground down Whitney Portal Road. There is a parking lot available just before entering the campground. Parking is limited so arrive early to avoid trouble finding a spot.
The trailhead for Lone Pine Lake is conveniently located just 30 minutes from the town of Lone Pine and 20 minutes from the Alabama Hills.
Winter & Early Spring Road Closure
During winter through early spring (typically late March), Whitney Portal Road is closed due to snow, meaning you can’t drive directly to the trailhead. This adds 3.2 to 4 miles (depending on where you are able to find a parking spot) and 700 feet of elevation gain roundtrip to the hike.
During the late spring, Whitney Portal Road is “soft” closed about 4 miles from the trailhead, just at the base of the mountain where the road starts to get steep. “Soft” closed means there is a “road closed” sign, but the gate is open, so you can simple drive passed the sign and continue up the road. At 1.6 miles from the trailhead, the road is “hard” closed, meaning a locked gate prevents you from driving any further.
There is scattered roadside parking for about half a mile before the gate. You’ll need to walk between 1.6 and 2 miles from your car to the trailhead. During the winter, the road will likely be “hard” closed at 4 miles from the trailhead, adding an extra 8 miles roundtrip and substantial elevation gain to the hike.
In our experience, the road between the “soft” closure and the “hard” closure was completely clear of snow and entirely safe to drive when we hiked in late March. Plenty of other cars were parked just before the “hard” closure, so although you may feel weird about bypassing a “road closed” sign, you will not be alone!
Lone Pine Lake Trailhead Map
The following map displays the location of the trailhead for Lone Pine Lake relative to the Alabama Hills and town of Lone Pine. The enlarged view displays the location of the trailhead and the “soft” and “hard” road closures during the winter.
The hike up
From the Whitney Portal Campground, look for the trailhead across the street. To start the hike, you will walk through a metal structure with posted hiking and backpacking information. From here you’ll begin the steady and consistent 3.25 mile ascent to the lake.
At just under a mile into the hike, you’ll cross a small stream. During the late spring, this is generally the point where the snow starts to pick up. Shortly after, you’ll start a series of switchbacks.
As you make your way towards Lone Pine Lake, take in the awesome views down the valley to the desert below.
Lone Pine Lake
After about 3.2 miles, you will see a sign directing you to depart the trail to the left and head to Lone Pine Lake. When we hiked in late March, this section of the trail was covered in deep snow, so we aren’t sure if there is a clear path from the trail to the lake. Regardless, it will be hard to miss the spur over to the lake.
Once there, take your time to have a snack or lunch and explore the area. Make sure you head to the far side of the lake to see the best views of the Eastern Sierra rising above the lake and the Alabama Hills below. Because of snow, we weren’t able to make our way all the way around the lake, but you may be able to in warmer months. We loved finding a big rock in the sun and enjoying our sandwiches!
The return hike
Once you finish exploring the lake, retrace your steps back to the trail and continue back down the same way you came. Be sure to enjoy the views you may have missed on the hike up!
Planning your Lone Pine Lake Hike
Lone Pine Lake is located in the southern section of the Inyo National Forest. The trailhead is located about 30 minutes from the town of Lone Pine, California, 1 hour 20 minutes from Bishop, California, 1 hour 30 minutes from Death Valley and 2 hours south of Mammoth Lakes.
When to hike
In order to avoid snow and road closures, the best time to hike to Lone Pine Lake is late spring, summer and early fall, from May through October. That being said, it is possible to hike from November through April, as long as you are prepared for a few extra miles and snow-covered trails. We recommend micro-spikes and trekking poles if you are hiking during the colder months.
Where to stay
There are several campgrounds or dispersed camping options within 30 minutes of the Lone Pine Lake trailhead.
The Alabama Hills
For a perfect weekend getaway, we highly recommend dispersed camping in the Alabama Hills. While you won’t get the amenities of an established campground, there is probably no cooler place to camp than nestled among the rock piles that sit at the base of the Sierra Nevadas. Even better, camping is free and no reservations are needed.
The best spots fill up fairly quickly so try to get there as early in the day as possible. Campfires are allowed, but you must obtain a California State burn permit. We have dispersed camp all over southern California and Utah and the Alabama Hills are hands down our favorite place!
If dispersed camping isn’t your style, you have a few options for campgrounds in the area:
- Whitney Portal Campground: the most convenient option, as it’s located just across the street from the trailhead. Of course, that also means it’s the most popular and difficult to get a reservation. Standard sites cost $28/night and may be reserved in advance on recreation.gov.
- Lone Pine Campground: located off Whitney Portal Road, about 15 minutes from the trailhead. Sites cost$26/night and may be reserved in advance during the summer on recreation.gov.
- Tuttle Creek Campground: First-come-first-serve campground located about 25 minutes from the Lone Pine Lake Trailhead. Sites cost $8/night
The closest town to the Lone Pine Lake trailhead is Lone Pine, located just about 30 minutes away. Lone Pine is a cute, small town with an old western vibe with several hotel and motel options.
What to wear & pack
- Layers: With differing landscapes, you can expect different temperatures as well. Dress in layers that you can remove as the sun starts to heat up, but be ready for colder temperatures and stiff breeze at the lake.
- Hiking boots: This hike is short, but steep and filled with rocks and roots. Mountain boots will provide 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.
The hike to Lone Pine Lake is a perfect day excursion for those hoping to experience a picture-perfect alpine landscape and epic views of the Alabama Hills. Add in the fact that you are in the shadows of the Mt. Whitney, highest peak in the lower 48, and you have an adventure that can’t be missed!
Planning a trip to Southern California? We thing you may also find these resources helpful:
- Hike to Telescope Peak, the Tallest Point in Death Valley
- 9 Things to Do in Death Valley (& How to Escape the Crowds)
- A Complete Guide to Death Valley: Hiking, Camping & Road Trip Logistics
- Backpacking to the Panamint Sand Dunes in Death Valley
- Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch, Badlands & Zabriskie Point Hike
For all things California: California Travel Guide
Have you been to Lone Pine Lake or Mount Whitney? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!