When you hike a long trail, you get to know your trail-mates pretty well. You swap information about campsites and water carries. You offer up medication or gear when something in your bag (or stomach) has failed you. You commiserate together during the death climb up from Hamilton to Precipice. It is just what you do.
But by far, the most common question swapped on the High Sierra Trail is, “how are you getting back to your car at Crescent Meadow?” As with most long-distance trails, there are logistics you need to plan for both on and off the trail. The High Sierra Trail is no different – since the trail spans the the width of an entire mountain range, the time between trailheads is about five and a half hours by car.
There are a few different ways of getting on and off the High Sierra Trail – some more appealing than others. Below you’ll find my complete list of transportation options, ranked in order from options I like most to least.
1. Get dropped off and picked up
By far, the best option for the backpacker is to get dropped off at Crescent Meadow and get picked up at Whitney Portal. The only strategy planning needed is to convince your family or friends to get on board. I suggest reaching out to your teacher friends who have the summer off and have time to gallivant across the Sierra while you are knee-deep in a sufferfest along the High Sierra Trail.
My group was EXTREMELY lucky to have two of the most wonderful trail angels, my mom and her best friend (nicknamed: “The Moms”) drop us off at Crescent Meadow, take their own vacation up to Lake Tahoe and Mammoth, and then pick us up from Whitney Portal. If you can swing something like this, DO.
2. Bring two cars
I think that the next best option for transportation to and from the High Sierra Trail is to have two cars in your party and park one at each trailhead – Crescent Meadow and Whitney Portal. This will allow you to get to Crescent Meadow on Day 1 as early as you would like, and then to not have to worry about transportation once you’ve just finished Whitney and want to sprint to the nearest shower (or bar) STAT.
The drag with this plan is that it requires a lot of extra traveling between the two trailheads. Not only must you journey to Whitney Portal to drop off your car before heading to Sequoia National Park, but then when you are done, you have to go back to Crescent Meadow to pick it back up. Google Maps estimates this drive to be a little over 5 hours and 30 minutes. If possible, I would suggest leaving your car at a long-term parking option in Visalia and taking a shuttle into Sequoia National Park, if only so that you won’t have as long and winding of a drive back up to Crescent Meadow once you are done with your hike.
3. Private Shuttles
There are a few companies that will provide private shuttle services between the trailheads. This will provide you with a lot more flexibility and save you some time, but it will definitely come at a higher cost.
For example, the East Side Sierra Shuttle will take up to five hikers from Whitney Portal to Crescent Meadow for $800 (with the option to add a sixth hiker for $80). With this option, you can drive to Whitney Portal to leave your car, and then the shuttle will pick you up from the portal to take you to Crescent Meadow. This is the most direct option that I’ve found between trailheads. While I think this is a great option, the one drawback that I can see with this is that you would get to Crescent Meadows relatively late in the day. Depending on the mileage that you want to accomplish in the first day or the time that you have to pick up your permit, this might not be a super feasible option. Fortunately, East Side Sierra Shuttles accepts custom rides – so give them a call and see what works best for the both of you!
Another great option would be to take a shuttle provided by the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce from Lone Pine to the Fresno Airport for $500. From the Fresno airport, take the V-Line to Visalia and spend the night in Visalia. The next morning, take the Sequoia Shuttle from Visalia into Sequoia National Park. While this isn’t as direct as the option above, it gives you the flexibility of including a travel day in your plans so that you can get spend the night in Visalia and then get to Crescent Meadow early in the morning.
I’ve also heard that some hikers have been able to get an Uber or Lyft from Visalia to Crescent Meadow. I have no personal experience with this, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think I would rely on Uber or Lyft – I’d be too afraid that I couldn’t get a ride up and would be stranded in Visalia! If you have any good experiences with this plan, let me know by dropping a comment below!
4. Public Transportation
For a lower cost option, consider taking public transportation to and from the trail.
To get to Crescent Meadow, take the Sequoia Shuttle from Visalia into Sequoia National Park. It picks hikers up at various hotels in Visalia, and then the Gray Line will drop you off at both the Giant Forest Museum (to pick up your permit) and Crescent Meadow. Reservations are required.
From Whitney Portal, hitch down to Lone Pine (crazy easy hitch at the end of the day!), and hop on the Eastern Sierra Transit Bus. From Lone Pine, you can either head north to Reno (and the Reno Airport), or you can head south to Mojave and then travel from Mojave back to Visalia via Grayhound. Please keep in mind, however, that the Eastern Sierra Transit Bus only operates Monday through Friday.
Public transportation is a really great low cost option; however, it comes at the expense of flexibility and fixed schedules that are out of your control. If you rely on public transportation to get to and from the High Sierra Trail, I’d highly recommend that you incorporate some leeway into your schedule and add a day or two just in case you encounter any travel or trail mishaps.
5. Hike back!
By far, the most badass option is to turn the High Sierra Trail into an out-and-back hike instead of a one-way hike. It actually isn’t as outlandish as it may initially seem – when we arrived at Crescent Meadow to start our hike, we actually ran into a hiker that just finished 18 days on the High Sierra Trail by hiking to Whitney and back. His car was waiting for him at Crescent Meadow – one way to avoid pesky transportation logistics!
Final thoughts on transportation:
Timing – The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to include buffer time into your transportation if you are planning on taking public transportation to or from the HST. While we were on the HST, we started leap-frogging with a pair of hikers that ended up changing their schedule and spending an extra night on the HST than originally planned. They took this extra night early on in the trip, so for awhile, they were considering hiking back out of Crescent Meadow and switching their flight home from Reno to Fresno. Eventually, they decided to forge on, which led them to have to finish hiking Whitney on a Sunday afternoon and then grab the Eastern Sierra Transit Bus on Monday morning at 6am to get them to Reno in time for their afternoon flight. They weren’t aware that you could easily hitch from the portal down to Lone Pine, so their original plan included hiking through the night all the way down to Lone Pine after summiting Whitney. Fortunately, once we told them about the ease in catching a ride, they felt comfortable in trying to do so, and saved themselves an entire night of hiking. Moral of the story? Things can go wrong both on and off the trail – if possible, add in a buffer day on the way up and way down to make sure that you aren’t stranded without a ride home!
Have a Back-Up Plan – Like I said, things can go wrong both on and off trail. ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS, have a back-up plan. Take extra money, your driver’s license, and a phone charger just in case your ride home has an emergency, your car battery is dead, or you need to stay in a hotel in Lone Pine for one reason or another.
Extra Clothes – If you have a car waiting for you at the end of your hike, pack a packet of baby wipes for a quick sponge bath, as well as an extra set of clothes and comfortable footwear! You’ve just hiked the width of the entire Sierra – help yourself have a comfortable ride home.
I’ve basically grown up in the Eastern Sierra and along the 395, so if you have any questions about logistics or want to talk through plans, please do not hesitate to reach out! Feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Day 1 of the HST: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow
Day 2 of the HST: Bearpaw Meadow to Precipice Lake
Day 3 of the HST: Precipice Lake to Moraine Lake
Day 4 of the HST: Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow
Day 5 of the HST: Junction Meadow to Crabtree Ranger Station (coming soon!)
Day 6 of the HST: Crabtree Ranger Station to Guitar Lake (coming soon!)
Day 7 of the HST: Guitar Lake – Whitney Portal (coming soon!)
Planning the HST:
My Complete Packing List for the High Sierra Trail (coming soon!)
Tips and Tricks for the High Sierra Trail
Getting To and From the High Sierra Trail