The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is among the most unique places in California, and it is one of the most accessible areas to see bristlecone pine trees. This species of trees only grows between 9,800 and 11,000 feet in elevation throughout California, Nevada, and Utah. Among the trees in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest are the oldest and largest bristlecones in the world; the oldest tree is the oldest known non-clonal creature on the planet and is nearly 5,000 years old!
Despite this, the forest's isolation ensures that even at the height of summer, this forest will receive only a few visitors. Additionally, one can head onto the less popular trails and groves to get away from other visitors and enjoy the park almost totally alone. With a nearly 25-mile drive up a mountain from the incredibly-scenic but relatively low-trafficked California Highway 395, many decide this destination is too remote.
A long and windy climb up hairpin turns is required to reach the high elevations of the bristlecone groves once you pass the Pinyon Trail and Picnic Area on White Mountain Road.
Grandview Campground offers the only camping in the forest's vicinity, and even this is a small (23 sites) area, with no reservations accepted and few amenities aside from picnic benches and vault toilets.
Heading further up the mountain is the turnout for Sierra View Overlook, an easily accessible viewpoint with maps of the peaks of the Eastern Sierra visible across the Owens River Valley and an optional short climb to a hilltop offering a more panoramic view.
The park is centered around Schulman Grove, where the main parking area and visitor center building are located, along with the two most popular trails, the Discovery Trail and the Methuselah Trail. Both trails require some climbing and are best for hikers of moderate abilities. The Discovery Trail a mile long and packs the most punch in in terms of views and examples of bristlecones' gnarled and element-sculpted formations. The Methuselah Trail is a 4.5-mile loop trail that passes by the Methuselah Grove, which contains the world's oldest known living tree. The Cabin Trail is another nearby option that passes bristlecone groves along with old structures used by miners who once used the area.
The visitor center offers daily interpretive programs and contains exhibits, a looping film about the bristlecones, informative rangers, and a book and gift store. The new visitor center is only several years old. Benches and vault toilets are available at the visitor center along with bottled water, which is the only water available anywhere on the mountain.
The visitor center is open daily from late-spring or summer (depending on snow) through the fall, and it closes seasonally with the snow, so it is best to call them at 760.873.2400 to confirm that they are open. During snowy seasons, it is possible to park outside of the gate and snowshoe or ski into the Schulman Grove, though all amenities will be unavailable.
At the far northern end of the forest is Patriarch Grove, which requires a slow drive down a dirt road to reach and which contains younger and more wind-sculpted examples of bristlecones along with two short trails and the largest bristlecone in the world.
Plan your trip well after the snowy season to ensure that the road is open, and plan on bringing all of your water in with you.