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Hike to the Smithsonian Institution Shelter on the Summit of Mount Whitney

Hiking Trail or Trailhead
Newly completed Smithsonian Institution Shelter, first scientific studies, August 1909. – Special Collections, UC-Santa Cruz

ADA Accessibility Notes

Vehicle access from Lone Pine, California to Whitney Portal is made via Whitney Portal Road (13 miles one-way on a paved, winding, mountain road). The trail to the summit is largely within designated wilderness and not accessible to wheeled vehicles, including wheelchairs.

Mount Whitney, at an elevation of 14,497 feet, is the highest peak in the United States outside of Alaska. While hikers can reach Whitney's summit from the west by way of the John Muir Trail, most hikers make the trip from the east via the Mount Whitney Trail (a non-technical, 22-mile-roundtrip from Whitney Portal in the Inyo National Forest).

At the summit is a small, stone building known officially as the "Smithsonian Institution Shelter". The shelter was 100 years old on August 27, 2009. Known by many nicknames, including the Mount Whitney Hut, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built originally for storage and shelter in support of scientific studies Mars, the Sun, and other astronomical events. Today, the shelter is the icon of the summit. It has been explored and photographed by countless thousands of visitors. From the shelter can be seen a dramatic expanse of snow-capped high Sierra peaks, the desert floor of the Owens Valley, and the dry, rain-shadowed heights of the White and Inyo Mountains. It is a spectacular spot.

Eco-Friendly Notes

Year-round, everybody in the Mt. Whitney Zone must possess a valid wilderness permit. Permits are issued only at the InterAgency Visitor Center, 1 mile south of Lone Pine, CA (760-876-6222). The quotas limit the number of people who may begin overnight trips on each day at specific trails or trailheads. These limited entry quotas generally apply only to overnight visitors. However, in the Mt. Whitney Zone quotas limit both day use and overnight use. Also, in the Mt. Whitney Zone an exit quota limits the number of people who end trips on the Mt. Whitney Trail. This exit quota is called "Trail Crest Exit". Mt. Whitney visitors must pack-out their solid human waste. Pack-out kits are distributed with wilderness permits. From May 25 to October 31, all food, trash, toiletries and scented items must be stored in containers designed to prevent access by bears. Hanging food is unacceptable and ineffective.

Pet Friendly Notes

Pets are not allowed in the designated wilderness.

Trail Distance

Twenty-two mile roundtrip from Whitney Portal

Vertical Gain or Loss

Approximately 6,100 feet

Nearby Places