Epic 4 Day Backpacking Onion Valley to Whitney Portal (Go Over 3 Iconic Passes + Summit Mount Whitney)

Epic 4 Day Backpacking Onion Valley to Whitney Portal (Go Over 3 Iconic Passes + Summit Mount Whitney)

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.57860°N / 118.293°W
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer

43 Miles Backpacking Onion Valley to Whitney Portal (Go Over 3 Epic Passes + Summit Mount Whitney)

Mount Whitney in the Fog
Mount Whitney in the Fog
This is definitely one of those, “I’m looking for a challenge” backpacking trips in the Sierra, but it is so worth it. 43 Miles, 11k+ total elevation gain, 12k+ total descent, hikes along a bunch of the John Muir Trail, and you have the option to summit Mount Whitney if you want! So if you are looking for your next big backpacking trip challenge, I can’t recommend Onion Valley to Whitney Portal more! It is epically beautiful, it will test your limits, and it will push you to the next level!   Full Detailed trip report at www.shedreamsofalpine.com 
Lake in John Muir Wilderness
Lake in John Muir Wilderness


  • ~43 Miles Round Trip 
  • 11,080 feet total elevation gain for trip, 12,227 feet total descent
  • Trailhead elevation: 9,600 feet if starting at Onion Valley Campground
  • Highest Point on the trail: Trail Crest, 13,645 feet
  • Recommended Days to Complete: 4 days 3 nights
  • Lots of water sources along trail, bring water filters
  • Permit Required!
  • Bear cans required!!
  • Dog friendly? No dogs allowed on trails on the JMT
Mount Whitney Switchbacks With Snow (June 2015)
Mount Whitney Switchbacks With Snow (June 2015)


In summary, we hiked this trail in Four Days. 

You can find more details + Interactive Map + Elevation Profile + GPX File at www.shedreamsofalpine.com

  • Day 1 – ~11 miles from Onion Valley Campground to Camp 1 near along Bubbs Creek
    • 4.5 miles uphill to Kearsarge Pass (11,760 feet)
    • The rest of the day is basically downhill and eventually connects with John Muir Trail
    • Camp 1 Near Bubbs Creek at 10,400’ elevation
  • Day 2 – ~11 miles from Camp 1 to Camp 2
    • Relatively flat until the base of Forrester Pass
    • Uphill over Forrester Pass at (13,200 feet) and then back down into a valley. Flat(ish) the rest of the way.
    • 3,000 feet elevation gain this day
  • Day 3 – ~11 miles from Camp 2 to Guitar Lake at the base of Mount Whitney
    • Relatively flat hike up to Crabtree Wilderness Ranger station. A good place to rest and get some water.
    • Hike from Crabtree to Guitar Lake (3rd camp at the base of Whitney’s backside) is uphill a “staircase” like trail
  • Day 4 – ~11 miles from Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal
    • Uphill to Trail Crest (13,800 feet)
    • Then 5,000’ of long downhill! Go down the switchbacks to more fun downhill. It’s non-stop brutal fun on your knees.
Top of Forester Pass
Top of Forester Pass
Mount Whitney Trail
Mount Whitney Trail

This backpacking trail is one of the most amazing and challenging trails in the Sierra Nevada. Each day is full on and at high altitudes, but it affords you amazing views along the John Muir Trail plus you get to cross over 3 different mountain passes. If you have enough energy you can grab the summit of Mount Whitney, one of the tallest peaks in the US, while you are there! 


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Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Feb 7, 2023 9:37 am - Voted 10/10

Epic is right


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