Discover the Highest Point in California

Written by Alan Lemus
Updated: July 25, 2023
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California is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, thanks to its many natural, cultural, and historical destinations. There is much to explore, from mountains to beaches and natural wonders in this intriguing land.

For nature lovers, discovering the highest point in California could be on your bucket list. Thankfully, this great state has more than 50 peaks from the 58 California counties you can explore.

Mt. Whitney is the highest point in California, with an elevation of 14,505 feet. It is the most popular hiking destination in the state, so you can’t miss visiting it if you are an avid hiker. 

This guide takes you through everything you should know about Mt. Whitney, including how to get there, how to get climbing permits, and much more. Read on to learn more interesting facts about this mountain in California.

Mt. Whitney experiences an alpine tundra climate where the summer temperatures vary greatly.

History of Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney, commonly known as the peak of the Sierra, has a long history. This mountain was discovered in 1864 by geologists who were surveying the area. The team leader was Josiah Whitney, which is why the mountain was named in his honor.

In 1871, another team of surveyors went by Mt. Whitney and attempted to climb it, unsuccessfully. Multiple teams tried to climb the mountains after that, until in 1873, when John Muir successfully ascended the mountain. Muir climbed through the east trail, today known as the mountaineers’ trail.

The first trail on the mountain was constructed in 1904. Since then, multiple other trails have been constructed, and people can now easily access the mountain, hike, and leave safely. In addition, the first portal road in the mountain was constructed in 1935, making it easier for people with automobiles to ascend.

Since 1935, many people have been interested in visiting the mountain; hence significant improvements in accommodation campgrounds and picnic zones have been established. Anyone can visit this highest point in California and have fun, provided they have licenses and safety equipment.

Mt. Whitney was named after Josiah Whitney who discovered the mountain

Mt. Whitney was named after Josiah Whitney who discovered the mountain when surveying the area with a team of geologists.


About Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney is a charming destination where you can create beautiful memories. Check out these interesting facts about the mountain you probably did not know.

Mt. Whitney’s Geography

Mt. Whitney is located in the Sierra Nevada and is considered the highest peak in the contiguous United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). The best part of the mountain is filled with granite, believed to have been formed more than 90 million years ago. 

The summit contains very few plants, among them the sky pilot. The western slope is gentle, while the eastern one is sheer.

Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States.

Mt. Whitney, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, is considered the highest peak in the contiguous United States.


Mt. Whitney’s Wildlife

Mt. Whitney has rocky terrain and hosts plenty of animal species. Examples of animals in the mountain include blue jays, quails, robins, squirrels, mice, marmots, and bears. You can only feed animals if you are authorized. Also, you must be on the lookout for marmots, as they can easily chew your tents when they smell good food inside. Most of the animals are small and herbivorous.

Yellow-bellied marmot, California

The yellow-bellied marmot is one of the small animals living on Mt. Whitney in California.


The Plants Around Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney has plenty of impressive trees and shrubs on all sides. These trees add to the mountain’s beauty, providing a habitat for the animals. The main types of plants in the mountain include alpine gold, Sierra primrose, and shooting star, among others.

Mt. Whitney’s Climate

Mt. Whitney experiences an alpine tundra climate where the summer temperatures vary greatly. Generally, the temperatures and precipitation are low, and the winds range from mild to intense. Unfortunately, there is no weather forecast at the summit, so you should check the weather forecast before leaving to make well-informed decisions.

Mt. Whitney’s Exploration History

The first team of explorers and surveyors visited Mt. Whitney in 1864 and named the mountain after Josiah Whitney, the team leader. Clarence King attempted to climb the mountain in 1871 from the western side but later came down after realizing he used the wrong route and was headed to Mt. Langley summit. 

The first successful ascent was in 1873, using the eastern trail. In 1891, the United States Geographical Survey Board recognized the name Mt. Whitney after multiple requests to change the name to Mt. Churchill, among others.

How to Get To Mt. Whitney

You can easily access Mt. Whitney, California, because of the area’s proximity to airports. The closest airport to Mt. Whitney is Bishop (BIH), 55 miles from the mountain. A car takes one hour and 30 minutes to get to the mountain.

The second nearest airport to the mountain is Fresno (FAT), 80 away. Other airports that may be used to access Mt. Whitney include Santa Barbara and Burbank. 

You can use your personal vehicle, a taxi, shuttles, or public means for road transport.     

Climbing Trails: How to Explore Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney has many attributes, making it an excellent spot for ski mountaineers and adventure lovers. Thankfully, the mountain has 14 routes that mountain enthusiasts can use to explore.

The Mt. Whitney trail (11 miles long) is the most popular hiking trail to get to the summit. Other popular trails that you can consider using in Mt. Whitney are:

  • The mountaineers’ route
  • The east buttress
  • The north slope
  • The east face               

If you choose the most popular Mt. Whitney trail, you will start your mountain climbing journey 13 miles west of Lone Pine. This route is relatively smooth; hence it is the best for beginner and intermediate mountain climbers.

The mountaineers’ route is much quieter and smoother than the Mt. Whitney trail, and you can use it any time of the year.

The east buttress and east face trails are the most technical and are great for experienced mountain climbers looking forward to great technical mountain climbing experiences. If you decide to use any of these two routes, be prepared for rope climbing at some point, but there are no dangers that could lead to fatal injuries.

Mountain climber on Mount Whitney

Mt. Whitney has 14 routes that mountain enthusiasts can use to explore.


What to Do In Mt. Whitney

One good thing about Mt. Whitney is that it offers plenty of exciting opportunities for everyone. Whether traveling as a family or with a peer, you will definitely find something worth doing. Here is a list of activities you can participate in at Mt. Whitney to make your trip more exciting and enjoyable.

Mountain Climbing

Mountain climbing is the main reason people visit the highest peak in California. So if you are an explorer and are not afraid of heights, get ready to follow one of the mountain trails and enjoy beautiful moments. But note that you will need a permit first, which you can quickly get from the visitor center upon arrival. You can also book one online in advance.


There are two official campsites in Mt. Whitney: the trail camp and the outpost camp. Most people prefer the trail camp because of its proximity to the Mt. Whitney trail, but all are excellent options. 

You can stay overnight in the camps and wake up hiking or enjoy the camp experience. But you will need a license, including an overnight license, to spend a night in the camps.

Camping at the highest point in California

Camping is a popular activity at Mt. Whitney in California.

© Schipflinger

Bird Watching

As mentioned earlier, Mt. Whitney is home to plenty of bird species. When not hiking or camping, you can study the available bird species, take pictures and learn more about them. 

You can also spend quality time interacting with the herbivores that call Mt. Whitney home, but remember that you are not allowed to feed them.

Upon arrival, you will get in-depth information at the Mt. Whitney portal to make informed decisions on what to do there. Besides, mountain guards are there to help and ensure you get a smooth experience. 

Visit National Park

Did you know that Mt. Whitney lies on the western border of Sequoia National Park? If you love wildlife, visiting the park can be a great idea as you pass the time and learn what species the park offers.

Mt. Whitney Gear List: What to Carry When Visiting Mt. Whitney

What items would you carry for a 22-mile day hike in Mt. Whitney? You will be on the mountain for more than 20 hours, so you must stay as comfortable as possible. A few things to carry when visiting the highest park in California include a tent, hiking boots, quality socks, a sleeping bag, a cellphone, a garbage bag, and a printed copy of your Mt. Whitney permit.

Pack your essentials like sunscreens and water to make your stay more comfortable. If you are prone to high altitude sicknesses, carry heavy clothes and gumboots to keep warm.

Getting a Mt. Whitney Permit

A permit is a must-have requirement for visiting Mt. Whitney. Even if you do not intend to ascend to the summit, you will still need the permit for overnighting or simply hiking on the mountain. The trails, such as the Mt. Whitney trails, limit the number of people in a group to 15. The maximum number of people traveling off-trail is eight per group.

There are two main types of permits in Mt. Whitney: daytime and overnight permits. A daytime permit is for those who visit and leave before night, while overnight permits are for those who spend the night there.

You can apply for the permit in these three periods:

  • During the annual lottery period (February 1 to March 1).
  • During the hiking period ( from May 1 to November 1).
  • Walk-in permits, which you can obtain from the visitor center.

You can easily apply for the lottery on the Mt. Whitney recreation page. Be sure to provide the correct information, including whether you will be traveling as a group, to reduce inconveniences on the actual day of hiking.

Mount Whitney hiking trail sign

The trails, such as the Mt. Whitney trails, limit the number of people in a group to 15.


The Best Time to Visit Mt. Whitney

The best time to visit Mt. Whitney is in the summer. September is the best month for hiking in the mountain because the temperatures are most comfortable with fewer bugs. Nevertheless, you can visit the mountain anytime between July and October when the trails are clear of snow. 

You can get your permit during the lottery period to secure a good hiking chance on Mt. Whitney during the summer. You can still hike the mountain during the winter, but you should only do so if you are experienced and guided by an expert.

Where is Mt. Whitney Located on a Map?

Mount Whitney stands as the pinnacle of the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, reaching an awe-inspiring elevation of 14,505 feet. Its towering height and majestic presence make it a renowned destination for climbers and nature enthusiasts alike, offering breathtaking vistas and a challenging ascent.

Here is Mt. Whitney on a map:

Final Thoughts

Mt. Whitney is an incredible destination in California worth visiting. It is the highest peak in the state and the highest in the contiguous United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). There are plenty of hotels on Mt. Whitney trails, so accommodation and meals are available. Further, there are guards to direct and help beginners and people who are unfamiliar with the area.

Carry the proper climbing and sleeping gear for a fantastic hiking experience in Mt. Whitney. Book in time and ask for guidance when need be. Mt. Whitney is a great place to visit, learn and have fun, and you can have a fantastic experience if you plan well.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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