“I didn’t know dogs were allowed on this trail,” the woman said, watching as my two dogs leaped from the car. I had just pulled into the parking area at Whitney Portal, 13 miles west of Lone Pine, Calif., and we were getting ready to hike the Mt. Whitney Trail. Known to the Owens Valley Paiute as Too-man-go-yah, or “very old man,” Mt. Whitney—at 14,496 feet, the highest peak in the contiguous United States—is one of the most frequently climbed in the Sierra Nevada.
“Yes, dogs are allowed all the way to Trail Crest,” I replied. It’s true that dogs are not allowed on Mt. Whitney Summit or on the final 2.8 miles of trail. However, this leaves 8.2 miles of trail, three pristine alpine lakes, two trailhead campgrounds, and endless views of craggy Mt. Whitney and its surrounding peaks for you and your dogs to enjoy.
Begin your adventure at the wooden Mt. Whitney trail sign, located a short distance from the parking area. The trail, which is mostly dry gravel and rock surfaced, with several easy stream crossings, is well-graded and maintained. It rises up in long, gentle switchbacks before reaching Lone Pine Lake, 2.5 miles up the trail.
Beware of elevation gains, as the trail starts at 8,360 feet and reaches 13,600 feet at Trail Crest (the end of the line for dogs). When my dogs and I reached Lone Pine Lake, we had climbed over 1,500 feet, and I was already panting. However, watching them swim in the ice-blue water refreshed me, and with a bit of encouragement from them, we pressed on.
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From Lone Pine Lake, the trail continues in a series of switchbacks over a small saddle, and then drops down into Outpost Camp, where there is a large meadow and several streams. To the south, a small waterfall cascades down a sheer granite wall. Straight ahead are stunning Whitney views.
From Outpost Camp, it is a 0.3-mile climb up short, steep switchbacks to Mirror Lake. We rested here and ate our lunch. The dogs enjoyed an extended swim, and my younger dog made an effort at trout fishing, snapping at the water as the minnows swirled around her feet.
The trail continues 4.2 more miles to Trail Crest, but we were satisfied with what would be our 8-mile round-trip trek to Mirror Lake, and headed back down-slope. We arrived at our car dog-tired, but replete.