Cardinal Mountain is located in the Taboose Pass region, high above the upper reaches of the South Fork of the Kings River drainage. The peak is named because of it’s reddish appearance of its top when viewed(snow free) from the valley below, creating it’s likeness to a cardinal. Standing at 13,397ft Cardinal is often overlooked because of its proximity to Split Mtn(California 14er). This coupled with very long approaches causes the peak to only see a few dozen visitors a year. The usual approach to the mountain is a long hike up the Taboose Pass Trail, which gains over 6000ft of elevation. There are many class 2 routes up the mountain if one can stomach the approaches, and views from its summit are stupendous.
There are two trailheads that can be used to approach the mountain. As mentioned above, the Taboose Pass Trailhead is the main point of entry for most people climbing Cardinal Mountain. So may use the Red Lake Trailhead, which requires 4wd and high clearance, not too mention requires a lot more cross country travel.
To reach the Taboose Pass Trailhead take Highway 395 to Taboose Creek Road(between Big Pine and Independence) and turn West. The road starts off as rough pavement, but soon turns to gravel and dirt. Follow the major dirt road, at the first major unsigned intersection stay right, heading away from the creek. This fork curves back toward the creek, and reaches another intersection with the Goodale Creek trailhead, stay right again. Most of the road consists of one lane dirt with loose rocks scattered everywhere. It is passable with a low clearance 2wd, but not with any haste. You may also regret beating up your car on the last few miles of the road. The road finally dead-ends at the signed Taboose Pass Trailhead, near 5500ft. This is where your hike begins. The most common approach is to follow the Taboose Pass Trail up, up, up, until you reach Taboose Pass. From here one can climb any number of the Southern chutes, or one can follow the "County Line" route that literally follows the Inyo/Fresno county line from Taboose Pass to the summit of Cardinal.
The other approach view the Red Lake Trailhead requires careful navigation on very very rough roads. I will not explain those directions here, having not successfully navigated that road. Check the Split Mtn page for driving directions. From the Red Lake Trailhead one can either take a use trail up toward Stacker Flat(SW from the Trailhead) or ascend the Red Lake Trail, following the more Southern canyon when it divides, then heading up to Cardinal Mtn’s East Ridge(winter route).
For all overnights up the mountain a free back country permit is required. These can be obtained at the Inyo NF Ranger Stations in Bishop and Lone Pine. The Taboose Pass region does have a quota, though it is rarely if ever full. Day hikes do not require a permit, and there is no parking permit required.
When To Climb
The mountain is usually climbed between May and October, normal spring/summer climbing seasons. Though the mountain can be climbed year round, requiring; crampons, ice axe, and snowshoes/skiis during winter months.
There is enough room near the Taboose Pass Trailhead to camp out, though no facilities are avaliable. The Taboose Creek campground offers bathrooms, shaded campsites, and picnic tables near 395. Back country camping is wide open, pitch your tent/shelter where ever you desire, just not on the trail or right next to the creek.