Distance: 23.6 out and back
Elevation gain: 4610 ft
As with all the rides in Bestrides situated along Hwy 395, I encourage you to read the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page, to put this ride in context.
I also recommend you read this write-up in tandem with our Horseshoe Meadows Road ride. They’re right next to each other geographically—in fact Horseshoe Meadows Rd. takes off from Whitney Portal Rd.,—and they’re almost identical in character, profile, rewards, and difficulty level. And so the write-ups for the two rides are identical as well.
I haven’t ridden either one of them. There are only three rides in Bestrides I haven’t ridden: these two and Bristlecone Pine Forest, a few miles north on Hwy 395. Because they’re too hard for me. But, if you like a grand climbing challenge, all three are bucket-list rides. Remember, the elevation makes all three rides much harder than the numbers would suggest.
Horseshoe Meadows is the longer of the two rides, by 15 miles, and it’s more overall gain, but the average pitch is a bit milder (though still nasty). One fan of Bestrides whose opinion I trust says Whitney Portal is better than Horseshoe Meadows. Tom (in the comments after the Horseshoe Meadows post) argues for Horseshoe Meadows. You’ll have to do both and decide for yourself.
Of all the rides that go west from Hwy 395 and climb into the Sierra (they’re listed in the “Eastern Sierra” section of our By Regions page), everyone agrees, these two are the best. What sets them apart from the others is that, while the others head up draws or canyons—essentially breaks in the cliff wall—these two switchback straight up the wall for a while, thus making the ride steeper, harder, and much more dramatic, with even grander views of the valley below and even faster descents. I would imagine that 45 mph would be easy to maintain, and, with no guardrails and a prodigious drop-off, I wouldn’t consider doing either of these rides without disc brakes (and zero acrophobia).
For a death-defying drive to nowhere, Whitney Portal Rd. has quite a bit of traffic, because it’s the road everyone must take to reach Mt.-Whitney-area hiking and backpacking trailheads.
Shortening the ride: I’m guessing, but I’d say for thrills, ride to the top of the switchback and return; for fewer thrills, drive to the top of the switchback and ride to the end of the road.
Adding miles: You’re kidding, right? For a few more miles, ride our Tuttle Creek Rd. ride, whose starting point you rode right past at the start of this ride. For a lot more miles, ride our Horseshoe Meadows Rd. ride, whose starting point you rode right past near the start of this ride.