It was charted as route through the Sierra in 1834 by Joseph Reddford Walker, a member of the Bonneville Expedition who learned of it from Native Americans. Walker returned through the pass in 1843, leading the first immigrant wagon train into California. In 1845 the military surveying expedition of John C. Fremont used the pass. He suggested it be named after Walker
Between Walker Pass and Tioga Pass, several hours drive to the north, there is only one paved road for automobiles to cross over the Sierra Nevada mountains (Sherman Pass Road). All roads between Walker Pass and Carson Pass (State Route 88), over 200 miles (320 km) in distance, are subject to extended closure by winter snowfall. Walker Pass is sometimes closed due to snowfall, but due to its lower elevation these closures are for brief periods.
Walker Pass can also be closed, especially during winter, due to rock falls. Road conditions are reported by Caltrans or local radio stations. Rock slides and falling rocks are a danger, and care should be taken at all times of the year. Highway 178 is a narrow, twisting two lane road for most its entire length through the Sierras. For this reason, most east-west traffic utilizes the much lower, four lane State Route 58 through Tehachapi Pass, located about one hour's drive to the south.
Tourists visiting Death Valley, and the Kern River Resort areas often enjoy the drive through Walker Pass.