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Eastern Sierra Timberline Trail

Updated: May 31

Straddling Highway 395, the Eastern Sierra Timberline Trail showcases the High Sierra's rugged grandeur. The Timberline Trail traverses some of the highest elevation roads and trails in California. Come experience the eastern Sierra, and you'll see why John Muir called this his favorite mountain range.



Photos courtesy of AdventureTaco


Route Overview


Trip Length & Season

Adventure Rating: Epic Trip Length: 4-8 days days, 249 miles Season: June to October. Depending on seasonal snowfall, trails may be open earlier or later than these months.

Digital Maps & GPX Files

Technical Ratings & Terrain

Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans

Fuel, Provisions, and Recommended Gear

Alternative Routes

Camping Recommendations

Discovery Points

Land Managers & Other Resources

Permits & Papers


 

Route Details

The Eastern Sierra Timberline Trail embodies the rugged beautify and grandiosity of the Eastern Sierra. The Owens Valley, but more specifically, the town of Big Pine sits at the center of the loop. The fault-created Owens Valley acts as a divider between the Sierra Nevada province to the west and the Basin Ranges to the east (White Mountains and Inyo Mountains). And while it's true that roughly half of this track traverses through the Basin Ranges, views of the Eastern Sierra Crest are visible for most of the track. The track is separated into four primary zones: Buttermilk Country, Coyote Flat, Mazourka Peak and the Inyo Mountains, and the ancient bristlecone pine forests of the White Mountains. And if you're looking to get away from softroading adventures that a 2WD sedan can manage, well, you're in luck. The Eastern Sierra Timberline Trail is filled with plenty of rocks, shelf roads, and steep switchbacks along various portions of the track to keep things interesting. While the track can be driven in either direction, this guide follows the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, kicking things off in Buttermilk Country. The area that surrounds Buttermilk road is often referred to as Buttermilk Country. Buttermilk Country, with its massive boulder fields, feels like something out of a movie. The giant boulders are popular with rock climbers, and many have names like Grandma and Grandpa Peabody. If one were to venture off the main track, there are numerous side roads to explore, some of which lead to old mining camps and cabins, like those below Mt Tom (requires hiking to these old camps). At just under 14k', Mt Humphreys (elev. 13,986') dominates the landscape of Buttermilk Country. And while Buttermilk Road may not be the most technical trail/road along the track, it's moderate terrain is enough to keep travelers on their toes for various portions of the Buttermilk Road loop. To reach the Coyote Flat section of the track, one must first take the pavement from Buttermilk Road back into the town of Bishop. Things start out pleasant enough on the wide and well travelled Coyote Valley Road, the manicured road soon gives way to a narrow trail that quickly begins to ascend into the high country. Most overlanders and off roaders tend to focus their sights on a few key areas in Coyote Flat. Places like Funnel Lake are well visited, even though camps with much better views (and far fewer people) can be easily found if one is willing to do a bit of exploring. Locations like Shober Mill and the Lindner Prospect (both discovery points) are commonly overlooked by 95% of folks who visit the Coyote Flat Area. And if you're looking for some of the best views of the Sierra Crest (and plenty of options for camping as well), then you'll want to head to the Green Lake Viewpoint (discovery point). The high elevation trails around Coyote Flat, and especially the portion of track that leads up and around Funnel Lake is filled with plenty of rocks. You'll be spending plenty of time in 4-low, and having a full sized spare is an absolute must on this track.


As you descend from Coyote Flat down to the Owens Valley floor, you're crossing into a new geological province: the Basin Ranges, but more specifically the Inyo Mountains. It's true that the Sierra Nevada is home to the tallest mountain in the lower 48 (Mt Whitney at 14,505), but just to the north of the Inyo Mountains, sits White Mountain Peak, a true 14er (elev. 14,252'). The most prominent features through the Inyo Mountains are Mazourka Peak and Canyon, Papoose Flat, and section simply called the Narrows. Things begin with a quick climb up Mazourka Canyon, which leads to Mazourka Peak (discovery point). Mazourka Peak features fantastic views of the eastern Sierra Crest and surrounding basin ranges, but you'll need to work your way through plenty of rocks before reaching the summit. Like Buttermilk Country, Papoose Flat (discovery point) is filled with interesting rock formations and outcroppings, many of which hide well sheltered camps. From Papoose Flat the track traverses the Narrows, which eventually leads travelers to the pavement of Big Pine Road.


Those that have visited the northern end of Death Valley, will recognized Big Pine Road as one of the main thoroughfares from Owens Valley to Eureka Dunes. But we'll be heading high into the ancient bristlecone forests of the White Mountains on this particular track. Follow Big Pine Road until it intersects with Highway 168, turning right. Right after passing the Cedar Flat Group Camps, make a right onto White Mountain Road. The pavement of White Mountain Road eventually turns into a graded dirt road. The road travels higher and higher eventually reaching well known bristlecone pine forests, like the Patriarch Grove (discovery point). Many of these trees are thought to be over 4,000 years old, and some like the Methuselah tree, are believe to be nearly 5,000 years old! We highly encourage visitors of the area to stop by the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center to learn more about these amazing trees and the surrounding area. Well above the tree line and topping out at nearly 11,800', the road ends at a locked gate. If you wish to travel further up the mountain, you may do so either on foot or a bike. For hardy and adventurous souls, out-and-back hike to the White Mountain Research Station (discovery point) can be made in just under 4 miles. Plan a full day if you wish to hike to White Mountain Peak (15 miles), but we think an electric-assist mountain bike would be much more enjoyable, and a lost faster! The final portion of the journey descends down the hair-raising switchbacks and shelf roads of Silver Canyon (discovery point). Folks on motos may wish to do the track in a clockwise fashion, so as to avoid the steep descent down Silver Canyon. It may not be the most technical trail, but one must be comfortable with very steep grades and lots of exposure if you're to take on Silver Canyon. Upon exiting Silver Canyon, the route crosses the Owens River (discovery point) and travels through the volcanic tablelands, which is home to the Happy and Sad Boulders (discovery points), both of which are a favorite amount rock climbers and boulderers. Eventually you'll come to highway 395, signifying the end of the track.



 

Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on Overlandtrailguides.com, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by OverlandTrailGuides.com, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.

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Unknown member
Jul 05

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