To get to the Bristle Cone Forest take the 395 south to the 168 which is Westgard Pass. At the junction of 395 and 168 you will find a small park and information center. Here you can read a little bit about the Bristle cone Pines and the surrounding area.
There is also a giant sequoia present which supposedly was planted to commemorate the opening of Westgard Pass. This tree is named after Teddy Roosevelt.
Turn left onto 168 and drive for about 15 or so miles until you reach the turn off for the Bristle cone Forest. This turnoff is just past the summit elevation of Westgard Pass which is around 7200 feet. NOTE: be extremely careful when you drive back down the Westgard Pass.
This is one of the steepest roads I have been on, outside of San Francisco and the brakes can easily overheat if you use them too much. I highly recommend taking your time driving down and gearing down to very low gears. Several times I have seen smoking brakes and smelled the terrible smell of burnt out brakes at the bottom of the pass.
There are several campgrounds located in and near the park. Four campgrounds are located at the junction of Highway 168 (Westgard Pass) and White Mountain Road (the road that leads through the actual Bristle cone Forest).
These particular campgrounds are named Fossil, Pinyon, Poleta, and Juniper. They sit at an elevation of approximately 7200 feet. A bit further north on White Mountain Road you will find another campground called Grandview Campground which lies at an elevation of approximately 8600 feet. For campground reservations you can call 877.444.6777 or visit a list of all Inyo National Forest Campgrounds here.
The Bristle cone Pines are the oldest trees in the world. In fact the oldest living tree in the world is called Methuselah and he is almost 4800 years old! Note: a tree named Prometheus, was cut down in 1964 near Wheeler Peak in Nevada and was supposedly older than Methuselah.
There are over 20 trees in this grove that are over 4,000 years old. Dr. Edmund Schulman of the University of Arizona first discovered these trees in 1953 after hearing rumors of the ancient trees. Scientists have discovered wood from the Bristle cone trees in this area that is almost 10,000 years old. Using a particular cross dating method based on radiocarbon dating they have been able to accurately date ancient artifacts found in Europe.
The main visitor center located at Schulman Grove has several excellent pictorial displays that show other activities that were happening elsewhere in the world as the Bristle cone trees were beginning their life. One chart shows particular pines already several hundred years old as the Egyptians were beginning to construct their great pyramids. Besides the excellent educational displays the visitor centers sells bottled water and other miscellaneous snacks, photographs, and other art forms depicting the Bristle cone pine. You will want to purchase your park pass here as well. It costs $3 per person, with a maximum fee of $5 per car.
NOTE: There is no gas, phone or water available in the Bristle cone Park. There is one spot along the road that is labeled as having good cell service. This is about 2-3 miles before you reach the main visitor’s center.
From the visitor center it is about a 4.5 mile easy hike roundtrip along the Methuselah trail. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it this tree is cloaked in a veil of secrecy and it is not identified. From the visitor center you can also choose shorter hikes – the Discovery trail is 1 mile and the Bristlecone Cabin trail is 2 miles round trip.
Another shorter hike but located at a higher elevation is the Patriarch Grove hike. This is located 12 miles on the main dirt road from the Schulman Grove. Just before you climb up to the grove you will drive on a mile or so section of pavement. At this site you will find several hundred feet from the small dirt/rock parking lot the largest Bristle cone pine in the world.
It is labeled along with several other pines in the vicinity. A 1/4 mile trail winds through these high elevation pines. Elevation here ranges from 11,400 to about 11,500 feet. The Bristlecone Pine road is very windy and steep in places from the Westgard turnout – but it is paved to the Schulman grove. From this grove you can drive another 12 miles higher into the mountains on a dirt road. Sometimes during the winter the Bristlecone Pine road is closed at a gate just in a little from the Westgard Pass turnoff. The visitor center at Schulman grove is staffed 7 days a week during the summer months – from mid June until the end of September.
For more information you can visit the Inyo National Forest web site at www.r5.fs.fed.us/inyo or you can call 760.873.2500 – choose option 2. You may also write them at:
Bristle cone Pine Forest Manager 798 North Main Bishop, CA 93514