Visiting Inyo National Forest

Any reader of our pages knows that we have just as much fun in National Forests as we do in National Parks. Inyo National Forest in California is no exception.

Inyo National Forest is a vast wilderness area located in eastern California, covering over 2 million acres of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of recreational activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, and nearby skiing.

For most, the main attraction of the Inyo National Forest is its stunning natural beauty. Visitors can explore the forest’s many trails, which lead to breathtaking vistas, crystal-clear lakes, and cascading waterfalls. The forest also boasts several campgrounds, providing visitors with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the wilderness and experience the tranquility of nature.

Getting There

By Air or Car

Getting to Inyo National Forest is relatively easy, as it is located in the eastern Sierra Nevada region of California. The nearest airports are Mammoth Yosemite Airport, which is a little over an hour away, and Bishop Airport, which is around 40 miles away. Both airports offer daily flights from major cities such as Los Angeles, SanInyo River Francisco, and Las Vegas.

For those who prefer to drive, Inyo National Forest is accessible from major highways such as US-395 and CA-14. The forest is around 300 miles from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and around 400 miles from Las Vegas. Visitors can take a scenic drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which offer breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. In short, it is a great area to road trip to and through.

What else is nearby?

Inyo National Forest is located near several popular destinations, making it the perfect place to add to a long Western road trip. It is tucked-in near Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park, and if you are in the area you can also explore nearby attractions such as the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Mono Lake, and a little further away, the iconic Yosemite National Park. The town of Mammoth Lakes is also located nearby, offering a variety of restaurants, shops, and accommodations for visitors.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort is about 2 hours away from the northern edge of the Forest. Some of the roads in and around Mammoth and Yosemite are seasonal, so do some research first if you are hoping to drive all through the area.

Exploring Inyo National Forest

Inyo National Forest is big — about one million acres of wilderness. It is divided into four ranger districts, each with their own feel and things to do.

The Mt. Whitney Ranger District, located in the southernmost part of the forest, is home to the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney.

The Mono Lake Ranger District, situated in the north, includes one of the most spectacular and accessible areas of the Sierra Nevada.

The White Mountain Ranger District, extending from the crest of the Sierra Nevada to the White Mountains, offers diverse terrain and life zones.

The Mammoth Lakes Ranger District, located in the northern half of the forest, is centered around the town of Mammoth Lakes and is known for winter sports, mountain biking, and fishing.

Hiking Inyo

Inyo National Forest is a great area for hiking – and both expert hikers and beginner hikers will have plenty to choose from. The iconic John Muir and Pacific Crest TrailsHiking Inyo pass through these continuous wilderness areas and provide forest visitors with “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”

Hiking trails in the Mt. Whitney Ranger District include the Whitney Portal Trailhead, which leads to the summit of Mt. Whitney, and the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead, which offers stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Mono Lake Ranger District offers the Parker Lake Trailhead, which leads to a beautiful alpine lake, and the Lundy Canyon Trailhead, which offers breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The White Mountain Ranger District offers the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Trailhead, which leads to the oldest living trees on the planet, and the Big Pine Creek Trailhead, which offers stunning views of the Palisade Glacier.

My top 3 hikes in Inyo:

Mount Whitney Trail

Difficulty: Strenuous

An epic adventure as you tackle the Mount Whitney Trail, a rigorous 22-mile round trip ascent with a heart-pumping elevation gain exceeding 6,000 feet. But oh, the rewards! Picture-perfect alpine vistas await atop the tallest peak in the lower 48, making every step of this high-altitude journey worth the effort. Just remember to acclimate and plan meticulously for this majestic challenge. This is not “just a hike.” Be sure you know the weather conditions and have the right gear with you for a serious climb.

Big Pine Lakes Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

A great, easier hike along the Big Pine Lakes Trail, where rugged beauty meets moderate exertion over a 10-mile round trip. Meander through the Eastern Sierra’s enchanting terrain, treated to postcard-worthy alpine lakes and panoramic mountain panoramas. Whether it’s a day hike or a leisurely overnight trek, this trail promises an unforgettable walk.

Kearsarge Pass Trail

Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Prepare for a high-altitude odyssey as you conquer the Kearsarge Pass Trail, a demanding 11-mile round trip journey that ascends over 2,600 feet in elevation gain. But  the vistas that unfold along this route are nothing short of awe-inspiring, with rugged peaks and pristine wilderness stretching as far as the eye can see. Whether you’re tackling it in a day or extending your stay on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Kearsarge Pass Trail is a worthwhile detour.

Camping in and Around Inyo

Inyo National Forest offers plenty of camping whether you are a tent camper, roof top tenter, or RVer. The forest has over 40 campgrounds, including primitive and group camping sites. The Mt. Whitney Ranger District offers campgrounds such as Whitney Portal Campground, Lone Pine Campground, and Tuttle Creek Campground. The Mono Lake Ranger District offers campgrounds such as Ellery Lake Campground, Tioga Lake Campground, and June Lake Campground. The White Mountain Ranger District offers campgrounds such as Grandview Campground, Bristlecone Pine Campground, and Big Pine Creek Campground. The Mammoth Lakes Ranger District offers campgrounds such as Coldwater Campground, New Shady Rest Campground, and Old Shady Rest Campground.


The fishing in Inyo National Forest is pretty good and it tends to not be over-fished.fishing inyo

Top spots to head for include: Try some fly fishing in the Owens River, which is home to brown and rainbow trout. Mono Lake has a pretty good population of cutthroat trout, and the nearby June Lake Loop has a good population of rainbow, brown, and brook trout. The Bishop Creek Drainage is where you can find rainbow, brown, and brook trout. The Mammoth Lakes Basin, which is home to rainbow and brown trout.

Exploring Abandoned Mines

A unique thing to do in this area is to explore abandoned mines. Inyo National Forest has a rich mining history, and visitors can explore abandoned mines throughout the forest. The forest has over 400 abandoned mines, including gold, silver, and copper mines.  Obviously, use caution when exploring abandoned mines and don’t go past marked areas or try to enter a mine alone. Some favorites include Keeler Mine Trail, which leads to an abandoned silver mine, the Bodie State Historic Park, which is a ghost town that was once a bustling mining town, or Cerro Gordo Ghost Town, which was once a prosperous silver mining town.

Wildlife and Habitats

Inyo National Forest is home to lots of wildlife and habitats. The forest is home to black bears (no grizzlies though), mountain lions, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.  There are lots of wildflowers at certain times of the year, and if you are a birder you will have lots of birds to spot. Mount Tyndall trail is a good vantage point for first, although the trail can be a bit challenging so don’t hurt yourself hiking it!

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