Driving the scenic Whitney Portal Road in the Sierra Nevada

Whitney Portal Road is a short but spectacular drive that takes you about halfway up Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States, in Inyo County, in the US state of California.

Whitney Portal Road

Is there a road up Mt. Whitney?

Tucked away in the eastern central part of California, the road is 19.31km (12 miles) long, starting at Lone Pine. It’s totally paved. The road connects Lone Pine to Whitney Portal (the Whitney Portal Store is at the Portal, and the store is open in the summer).

Is the road to Whitney Portal open?

Set high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Whitney Portal Road usually opens sometime in early May, with the first major winter storm shutting it down sometime in November, meaning it is not maintained or cleared of snow. However, it is not physically barred, and climbers routinely drive as far as conditions will allow. The road is not gated or otherwise physically blocked; call the Inyo National Forest for information. Weather and road conditions can change in an instant.

Can you see Mount Whitney from the road?

The road ends at 2,557m (8,389ft) above sea level at Whitney Portal, where there is a close view of Mount Whitney.

When was Whitney Portal Road in California built?

The road to the summit was built in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

How long does it take to drive Whitney Portal Road in California?

To drive the road without stopping will take most people between 25 and 35 minutes. The drive features sweeping views. It twists and turns through an otherworldly landscape known as the Alabama Hills, a set of bizarrely constructed rock piles, before setting on a fairly straight shot for the foothills of Mount Whitney. Alabama Hills are the scene of literally hundreds of cowboy films, but the road has a film history, too. The steep, sharp switchbacks along the Whitney Portal Road were prominent in scenes in the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz film "The Long, Long Trailer," in which Lucy surreptitiously fills a travel trailer with her rock collection until it’s too heavy to ascend the grade. The road is also featured in the 1941 classic, "High Sierra," starring Humphrey Bogart. The vistas change dramatically as you draw closer to the mountains, seeming more and more massive until suddenly they overwhelm you, and you're a part of them, looking back down on the road, the hills, and the Owens Valley. In other words, there's plenty of time to think about what you're getting yourself into.

Is Whitney Portal Road in California challenging?

This route is paved but narrow, steep, and winding with dramatic switchbacks. There is a risk of rock slides on the way up. It’s very steep, with some 14% gradients. It is a great and difficult climb out of the high desert up towards Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48. The road has some narrow parts and blind corners. Like most eastern Sierra ascents, this one starts out tame and ends up tough. The grade generally increases as you climb so that a five-mile stretch in the 2nd half averages 9%. The hill lets up just before the finish at Whitney Portal and a parking/hiking area (trailhead to Mt. Whitney). Whitney Portal is also very similar to the famed French climb of Col de la Madeleine.