It’s not just the tallest mountain in California. At 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney (www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit ) boasts the highest altitude of any peak in the 48 contiguous United States. Yes, it beats out all the mighty Rocky Mountains! You can see and photograph the impressive peak from several points along the Generals Highway in Sequoia and Kings Canyon .
However, it’s well away from the main part of the parks, sitting near the town of Lone Pine to the southeast. Plan a long drive to get there from either park entrance.
Amazingly, you can climb all the way to the top of Mount Whitney and back in one day, if you’re in good shape and prepared properly for the journey. To preserve the natural beauty of the fragile mountain ecosystem, during high season (May–Nov.) only 100 day-hikers and 60 backpackers are permitted to hit the main trail each day, and you’ll find some severe restrictions on how you must behave. Whitney Portal (13 miles west of Lone Pine) provides the most direct access along a 10.7-mile trail.
If you want to make the climb (or even day-hike), apply for a permit in advance and check reservations (Wilderness Permit Office, 760/873-2483, www.fs.fed.us/r5/inyo/recreation/wild/whitneyavail.shtml , daily 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.). Also check the website for information about how to prepare for a Mount Whitney hike.
Mount Whitney also marks the southern end of the John Muir Trail. Whether you begin here or end here, you’ll find the mountain a worthwhile marker on this epic foot journey through California.