High Sierra Access Passes & Transportation
Minor updates to this snow report and trailhead access information page were made Spring 2023 because of the high snow (water content) year. Basically what I’m pointing out is that hikers should plan to carry extra food as they might have to spend an extra day or two just accessing trail towns from the trail. In other words, be prepared to WALK MOST THE WAY TO TOWN. In snow.
PCT/JMT High Snow Alternate Route
I mapped out a bypass route which I myself would gladly hike (and which I have indeed hiked and explored a lot of) instead of hiking in the High Sierra summer 2023: https://caltopo.com/m/ER3HU.
The Owens Valley is wet and green, something some of us might not see again in our lives, so this is THE time to explore. There are so many cool things to see, but I tried to keep the route in straight line as possible. There will be plenty of water along these routes and they follow existing (remote) 4×4 track nearly the entire time (e.g. very little bushwhacking). Historical sites, funky geology, ancient rock art, hot springs, world class climbing destinations, quirky small towns… fun! Hugging the Eastern Sierra (to the west side of Owens Valley/Long Valley) might be a better choice this summer because the Owens River basin is gonna be very soggy. If you like to swim frequently, though, follow the old defunct railway and veer over to the River ad lib.
Learning Caltopo involves a bit of a learning curve, but so worth it if you get into backpacking into the “unknown.” All tracks can be exported in GPX format and loaded on Gaia (tip: send the track in an email to yourself, open the email on your phone and when saving the file, save it to Gaia).
Questions about this in 2023? I am so concerned about hikers’ safety that I will field questions by email. Please just get in touch! I have thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (every single mile of the PCT, 153 days on trail) and have over 2500 solo hiking miles in the High Sierra, including June 2017 hiking, pack trips, a ridiculous 10,000+’ climb summit of Langley, and many Whitney overnights. I have helped Ziggy & The Bear and the Saufleys over several seasons and personally behind-the-scenes, shuttled, and have easily met and helped thousands of other hikers… because I’m “nice” like that. I live locally in the Owens Valley. Please do not be shy. Ask any questions you might have and I will try to help.
No formal opening ETA dates are in place; however, these estimations are from locals who live/work at elevation beyond the closures and who have close and frequent contact with local CALTRANS employees because they are eager for their businesses to open. Locals are privy to more information than you’ll find on Facebook. These locals rely on your tourism dollars and are just as eager as you are for the JMT/PCT trail access roads to open, but Mother Nature won’t be rushed. As of late March, it’s still possible more snow is coming! Lately, the word is that CALTRANS will be forced to prioritize high-traffic areas, and won’t get to the mountain passes until after those are clear. And due to flooding throughout the Owens Valley, that could take a while. There are currently road closures/projects EVERYWHERE.
As of mid-April 2023, Walker Pass (SR 178) is open for the season.
Sherman Pass Rd (22S05) (to Kennedy Meadows South from 395 near Pearsonville) doesn’t usually close, but had some brief closed time winter 2022/23. You should be able to find more inforamtion about Sherman Pass Road at FaceBook. The Kennedy Meadows Store Facebook account might also update road info; same with Triple Crown Outfitters, both businesses at KM.
Horseshoe Meadows Road (to cottonwood pass, trail pass, army passes) will not open until July 2023. If you can make it down to the Trailhead and parking lot/campground, you will have AT LEAST another 13 miles to walk before the possibility of being picked up for a ride to town.
Whitney Portal Road (to Trail Crest, Mt. Whitney, Guitar Lake) will not open until July 2023. Huge boulders are down in the road and the snow level is to the top of the welcome arch! If you can make it down to the Portal Trailhead (where the trail meets “civilization”) you will have AT LEAST another 4 miles to walk before the possibility of being picked up for a ride to town.
Onion Valley Road (to Kearsarge Pass) will not open until July 2023. There are several large avalanches down on the road. If you can make it down to the Trailhead and parking lot/campground, you will have AT LEAST another 6.25 miles to road walk on a possibly very disrupted road surface before the possibility of being picked up for a ride to town.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TABOOSE PASS OR SHEPHERD PASS IN 2023 UNTIL AT LEAST AUGUST UNLESS YOU ARE A VERY EXPERIENCED MOUNTAINEER AND/OR HAVE SKIS OR FULL MOUNTAINEERING GEAR. These are both long, steep, and dangerous passes even when melted out. The snow hazards spring 2023 will be extreme. Generally it will be safer to turn around and exit the way you came than to continue forward into the unknown.
Highway 168 (to Bishop Pass) will not be open until late June/July 2023. There are several large avalanches down on the road, and snow levels much below the trailhead are extreme. A bus usually runs up and down the road to Bishop, but don’t count on that unless you can walk the 7 miles to where the road is plowed.
Reds Meadow Road will not open until July 2023. Bobby Tanner, second generation Reds Meadow owner/operator wishes JMT/PCT hikers entering in June 2023, “Good luck.” Take that to mean what you will, but I know Bobby and I know exactly what he means. You will not be able to get packages at Reds Meadow until that road is open. It might be easiest to bail out Duck Pass straight to the Mammoth Post Office; the locals will likely have blazed in trail before the earliest hikers arrive.
You’d probably want to coordinate a ride from a shuttle operator so ensure you aren’t having to walk any further than required.
DO NOT RELY ON SEARCH AND RESCUE OR THE LOCAL SHERIFFS TO RUN YOUR RESUPPLY. (Yes, some people have tried calling 9-1-1 to complain that they are out of food.) I have participated in a 16-hour SAR mission on the summit of Whitney and let me tell you, if you aren’t actively DYING, it might take SAR some time to get to you. You will likely be encouraged to turn around and hike out the way you came… hungry. Carry enough food to go double your expected distance in 2023, because it’s going to take you a very long time to hike each mile because of ice, sun cups, postholing, and river crossings. Carry a solar charger because your electronic devices might not last between resupply stops. Learn how to use a map and compass and carry paper maps in case your devices die/drown. BRING BACKUP SUNGLASSES. Here is more winter PCT advice from a 2011 PCT finisher.
Trail access information links
Currently it is unknown when the following roads will be open to cars. All access roads from Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass listed here, south to north from Kennedy Meadows.
Sherman Pass Road – Access from Kennedy Meadows to Highway 395 near Pearsonville, where the local transit can be caught M-W-F by calling ahead and requesting a stop. Usually open by late May, that might be different this year.
Inyo county road report (Scroll to PDF link for report)
Horseshoe Meadows Road – Access to Lone Pine, severely damaged by a rock slide. No known open date. No cars means a 15 mile walk at least until you have fair hitching opportunities, if walking is allowed through the closure. Locals hope this will be open sometime in July.
Whitney Portal Road – Access to Lone Pine. Currently OPEN, as of April 28.
Onion Valley Road (to Kearsarge) – Access to Independence. OPEN as of April 28.
(Other passes such as Shepherd and Taboose will be very difficult to cross and will drop hikers near the middle of nowhere. I have hiked them and I do not recommend them except in non-snowy conditions.)
Highway 168 (to Lake Sabrina/Bishop Pass) – Access to Bishop. Check status by typing in “168”)
Reds Meadow Road. You will not be able to get resupply packages at Reds Meadow until that road is open. True story: I got paid to design and build the Reds Meadow website and one for Rock Creek Lodge, too!
Highway 120 / Tioga Pass – Access from Yosemite/Tuolumne to Lee Vining and Highway 395 via Yarts bus or hitch. Check status here.
Highway 108 (Sonora Pass) – Access to Bridgeport and Highway 395. Check pass status by typing in “108”.
Highway 80 The Donner Pass webcam was hilarious on March 28 2023, (MARCH 28!!) with the roadside buildings having been completely buried in snow and whiteout conditions. More info from the local Truckee CHP here. This would actually be a great year to SKI the High Sierra from Kennedy Meadows to well past Lake Tahoe!
These are all roads that PCT, SHR (Sierra High Route), HST (High Sierra Trail),and JMT (John Muir Trail) hikers use frequently to connect footsteps and resupply in the High Sierra. Some of these roads are under 10-20 feet of snow, some of them have rock slide damage or both. Please keep this in mind when planning your Sierra hike. I am less familiar with passes north of this but do know that the Tahoe area has been hit very hard by snow as well. Prepare for at least 400 miles of snowy walking in 2017 (that’s just talking the Sierra, other sections of the PCT are snowy as well).
The East Sierra is largely a tourism economy and will be hit pretty hard by the snow and water — as well as the current administration’s travel policies — this year. If a local offers to shuttle you, don’t assume it’s a hitch, and don’t bitch if they try to charge you. It’s very expensive and hard on a car to make trips up and down these hills between 3000′ and 9000′. Also, you probably will smell much worse than you realize (that’s the most frequent comment from locals). Take pity, clean up, be realistic, and expect to pay $30-100 depending on your trip and how many people are in the car.
These guys will know road conditions better than most folks, cuz it’s their business to drive!
Eastern Sierra Transit Authority
Mammoth All Weather Shuttle (MAWS) operates all up and down the Eastern Valley and has the vehicles required to get you to most any trailhead. They aren’t cheap, but they are very good at what they do, and are licensed.
East Side Sierra Shuttle (licensed)
Lone Pine Chamber can help arrange shuttles – best to call in advance
Sierra Shuttle Service (out of the Mammoth area)
The PCTA provides more information about High Sierra area transportation.