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10 Mountain Passes to explore in California

The most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area.

Cajon PassCajon Pass, California 92371, USA

Cajon Pass is a mountain pass between the San Bernardino Mountains to the east and the San Gabriel Mountains to the west in Southern California. The Pacific Crest Trail goes directly through Cajon Pass, and during the hiking season up to several thousand transient hikers will pass through this area after walking one of the hottest, driest, and most grueling sections of desert on the trail.

Carson PassCarson Pass, California, USA

Carson Pass is located on the south side of Highway 88 at Carson Pass 60 miles east of Jackson in Alpine County. The historic pass was a point on the Carson Trail during the California Gold Rush and was used for American Civil War shipping to California until the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The Pacific Crest Trail traverses the Carson Pass summit, which has California Historical Landmark #315 at CA 88 postmile 6.09 where Kit Carson carved his name into a tree.

Carson Pass Sno-ParkKirkwood, CA 95646, USA

The Carson Pass Sno-Park is located near Caples Lake on the south side of Highway 88. It is popular with hikers throughout most of the year, and the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, and the Emigrant Summit Trail have access points at Carson Pass. Several high-elevation lakes can be accessed from Carson Pass.

Ebbetts PassEbbetts Pass, California, USA

The Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway is one of only seven nationally designated byways in California and 151 in the nation.Ebbetts is the eastern of two passes in the area traversed by State Route 4. The western pass is the Pacific Grade Summit. The pass is registered as a California Historical Landmark. The Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile long National Scenic Trail crosses State Route 4 at Ebbetts Pass.

Mengel PassMengel Pass, California, USA

Mengel Pass is a long and moderately difficult trail located in the Death Valley area. This Pass, is unpaved. It’s called Coyote Canyon Road. Road conditions are always changing. Experienced 4WD drivers only. Section over both sides of Mengel Pass is challenging, steep and rutted. Its harsh weather and terrain can be challenging, but its reward of solitude and spectacular scenery warrants the trip.

Minaret VistaLookout Point Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546, USA

This is a mountain pass on Highway 203 in the central Sierra Nevada. The pass, lying on the Madera-Mono County border, is within the Mammoth Ranger District of the Inyo National Forest and located near Devils Postpile National Monument, Mammoth Lakes, and Mammoth Mountain. It offers views of the Ritter Range, including The Minarets, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak, to the west and the Long Valley Caldera, the Glass Mountains and the White Mountains to the east.

Monitor PassMonitor Pass, California, USA

Monitor Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.543m above the sea level, located on the boundary between Alpine and Mono counties in the east central portion of the U.S. state of California. It offers some of the best motorcycle riding in the Sierra Nevada range, with breathtaking scenery and light traffic. This Pass itself lies on a side ridge between tributaries of the East Fork Carson River.

Morgan Pass TrailMorgan Pass, California 93514, USA

Morgan Pass is a saddle in Inyo County. Morgan can be accessed by trail from Rock Creek Canyon, above Tom's Place on 395. Its trailhead is at the far end of the lake. The trail is well marked the first 4 miles to Francis Lake, where it ends. From there it is a scramble up rocky slopes for 2 miles to the summit

Piute Pass trail Piute Pass, California 93514, USA

Piute Pass is a 11,417 feet mountain pass along the crest of the Sierra Nevada, between Inyo and Fresno Counties in the John Muir Wilderness area. The trail is generally low angle and easy to travel on. It passes by a number of lakes and meadows making it a desirable destination for anglers, pack horses and hikers. For those going deeper into the wilderness, this trail provides an easy access into the back country.

Taboose PassTaboose Pass, California 93513, USA

A beautiful and risky mountain pass in the southern Sierra Nevada, California on the border of the Inyo National Forest. The pass is reachable from the east via a long, strenuous hike from the desert floor of the Owens Valley. On the west, it connects to the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail in the National Park. It is one of the more difficult east side passes in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains range, partly due to the low starting elevation of the Owens Valley Trailhead.