The Baxter Pass Trailhead is located at the end of a good Forest Service road out of Independence that is steep but doesn’t require 4WD; any car will do just fine. Turn off U.S. 395 about two miles north of town on the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery Road and keep going up the North Fork of Oak Creek Road. The drive itself offers great views of the Owens Valley floor in some spots, and takes you through stretches of high alpine vegetation, with the towering, granite Sierra Nevada looming on the horizon.
The trailhead is at about 6,000 feet. A nice 10-mile loop takes you to the alpine basin of Summit Meadow. This is steep country, but it’s also in the heart of the Sierra, with classic views and great flora and fauna. It’s located in the Sierra Bighorn Sheep habitat area, so keep an eye out for these shy, rock-climbing beasts (no dogs are allowed on the trail because of the presence of the bighorns).
The summit of the pass is about 8 miles farther up the trail. The hike is steep both going up to the summit, and then down to hit the John Muir Trail (located in the John Muir Wilderness). Once on the 23-mile long John Muir Trail, hikers can go north or south along the spine of the Sierra Nevada.
Check the Inyo National Forest website for information on permits and regulations. Please note that the trail is not regularly maintained, and is always impacted by recent winter weather conditions that can affect the conditions of this classic wilderness trail.