Where do crisp, snowy mountain mornings and sunny, warm high desert afternoons add up to the perfect winter experience? In Bishop, of course!
Follow freshies at Mammoth Mountain with afternoon fishing on the Lower Owens River. Add a vertical component to your morning cross-country ski tour by going rock climbing or bouldering in Bishop. Double up on downhill with a backcountry ski run and a front-country bike ride.
It’s simple mathematics. Add one for more fun.
Drive a snowmobile through a snow-packed alpine forest then drive a 4×4 out across the rugged desert. Go for a sunlit day hike followed by a moonlit snowshoe tour. Build a snowman and build a sand castle. Most of it’s all within a 40-minute drive or less and perhaps the only driving you’ll want to do more of is on the golf course. This winter let Bishop add warmth, hospitality and adventure to your snow vacation. It’s calculated to add up to more than you imagined.
Fish the Lower Owens River
If you’re an angler you know that California fishing season runs from the last Saturday in April to November 15th, but did you know that fishing on the Lower Owens River is legal all year long?
Come down from the cold where the warm sunshine of a Bishop winter afternoon thaws your body and lets you cast your line for a great variety of warm water fish. It’s here that carp, bass, bluegill and catfish (in addition to trout) will test your angling skills and raise your opinion and appreciation of them. Miles of canals, large reservoirs and protected ponds in the Owens Valley, some offering handicapped-accessible fishing piers, are virtually untouched by anglers, and yet hold a promise of exciting winter fishing with fly, lure or bait.
Perhaps you need a little guidance to get you started or show you places that are new to you. Go with a guide service or pop into a local outfitter and get the latest news on what’s biting where and with what. Sign up for a class or book a drift boat trip. Check out these great local guides and stores: Bishop Fly Fishing, Reagan’s Sporting Goods.
Ride a Bike
Winter in Bishop is one the best times of year for bike riding in the Eastern Sierra. The days are frequently warm and sunny, the back roads carry little traffic, the mountain bike trails are firm and the scenery is awe-inspiring.
You’ve decided to go for a bike ride. Ask yourself a couple of questions. How much time do I have? How hard do I want to work? Am I going alone or with a friend? Can I arrange a shuttle ride? The answers always point to the perfect ride for the moment. So bring your road bike, mountain bike, or fat bike and get out there and ride.
Try the Pleasant Valley – Round Valley road loop. It’s just over 16.5 miles of quiet country lanes and a pleasant (car-free) ride along the shores of the reservoir. It has uphills and downhills, sharp corners and sweeping bends. It’s one of those rides that has a little of everything in just the right measure. You’ll work hard enough to stay warm, but not so hard that you can’t lift your head and admire the scenery. It really is a pleasant ride!
The Laws Poleta – Warm Springs road loop is an excellent smooth ride out across the Owens Valley. With minimal elevation change, it can serve as a warm-up or cool-down by keeping up an easy cadence or it could be your own personal time trial by putting your head down and going at it hard. Either way you can’t miss the views as you roll across the river and ride along the base of the White Mountains.
There are mountain bike trails and tracks that challenge skill, fitness and even courage. There are leisurely rides and strenuous rides. Some are long and some are short. There are routes that need a shuttle ride and routes that loop you back to where you started.
Give the Big Buttermilk – Tungsten Loop a go. At 11.4 miles long you’ll get all sorts of road, trail, grade & terrain challenges. It’s not highly technical, but there are a few rocky spots where speed changes everything. The faster you ride the more technical it is, but at a slower pace, the line appears less demanding.
Take a leisurely bike ride along the banks of the Owens River. In summer this life-giving river creates a verdant path in a hot and arid landscape that nourishes the fauna and flora of the high desert. In winter it offers a reprieve from the chilly mountaintops and blustery canyons that flank this expansive valley. Between the 2.5 miles of straight line distance between Poleta Rd (East Line St) and Warm Springs Rd is a sinuous section of the river where a bike ride on a typical winter day in Bishop is simply stunning.
Did you know there’s slickrock riding in Bishop? Yup! Not only that, but it’s an incredibly interesting piece of Owens Valley history. Ride the Wagon Wheel trail from Swall Meadows to Paradise. This historic track was cut into the Bishop Tuff by mule trains hauling mineral-rich ore from the mines almost 100 years ago. It’s a short 2.5-mile stretch of rough and rocky trail with a good measure of sand thrown in for an exhilarating downhill run.
Drive the Desert
We know. It’s all about the snow. But is it? Did you know that the Inyo National Forest is also well known for the fabulous OHV roads and trails? Do you have your 4×4 vehicle? Did you bring your dirt bike? Do you know about the Poleta Open Area?
A legal system of roads and trails for motorized vehicles was designated here in 2009 following many years of inventory and analysis. This included public involvement to balance the needs for recreational opportunities and to protect the unique character of our public lands. The result is an extensive network of 2,200 miles of OHV trails and roads providing access through almost one million acres of the Inyo National Forest.
Most of this larger network comprises double track native surface road, but on the eastern side of the Owens Valley about 50 miles consists of single-track and ATV trails interspersed within the system. All vehicles are required to stay on designated roads … except for the Poleta Open Area, which is designated for cross-country and open motorized vehicle travel.
Excellent maps have been produced by the California Trail Users Coalition and are available free of charge at many of the trailheads and, of course, at the Bishop Visitor Center.
Please obey posted signage and make sure that all OHVs have a California green or red sticker or be street legal. All vehicles must be equipped with a Forest Service approved spark arrester. Tread Lightly! has an informative guide to responsible dirt biking.
More OHV info can be found HERE.
Rock Climbing and Bouldering
Bishop is a world-class climbing destination. There are thousands of boulder problems, hundreds of sport climbing routes, limitless trad routes plus local knowledge and services to help you get started or improve your skills. Find out more about rock climbing near Bishop here.
The Owens River Gorge is unsurpassed for winter sport climbing in California. There are moderate climbs and difficult climbs and with the right gear and assistance it is a great place to start out.
Buttermilk Country is the place to go for bouldering. Massive boulders provide some of the most accessible and diverse bouldering in the country with routes that offer everything from fun scrambling to highly technical ‘problems’ that challenge even the world’s best climbers. Read more about the Happy and Sad Bouldering areas, and Buttermilk Country bouldering here!
Do your research and plan your rock climbing adventure to get the most out it and stay safe. Check out the books on sale and ask the locals who know what’s what at these fine stores and guide services: Eastside Sports, Sierra Mountain Center, Sierra Mountain Guides.
The air is warm and the sun is bright and hiking out across the sagebrush and up onto the rocky outcrops of the Tungsten Hills is especially lovely at this time of year. With easy access from the Horton Creek campground (closed for camping during winter) you can park your car here and take a short walk or long hike up and around this fascinating geological feature. The hills are named for the tungsten that was mined here until the late 1940s and are composed primarily of granite and quartz diorite. It’s a favorite place for rock hounding and crystals of red garnet can still be found here.
Hiking alongside the waterways of the Owens Valley provides little elevation change, but it has an almost limitless number of miles of diverse open terrain and solitude. Between the Pleasant Valley dam and Tinemaha reservoir the Owens River twists and turns for 55-miles. The tracks and trails undulate alongside the river over grassy banks, between tall reeds and over sand dunes. It can be as adventurous and energetic as you make it. Birdlife is abundant and of course the fishing is fantastic. A walk along the shores of Pleasant Valley reservoir is easy and quiet. The road is closed to vehicle traffic and it’s a great place for an early morning or late afternoon stroll.
Nature’s Sand Castle
The Eureka Dunes are the tallest sand dunes in California. Situated in the northwest section of Death Valley National Park these dunes cover an area 3 miles long and 1 mile wide and lie in an enclosed basin at 3,000 feet above-sea-level (ASL). A hike to the top of these dunes, also known as the Singing Sand, is not as easy as it looks. Slopes are steep and the sand will give way as you walk atop this loose surface. The singing sound happens when the sand is completely dry and it avalanches down the steepest slope of the highest dune to create a sound like a bass note of a pipe organ.
Daytime temperatures can be warm with nighttime temps falling well below freezing. A 2-½ hour drive of about 65 miles from Bishop along a winding mountain pass and through some of the most remote and rugged terrain in the west is reason enough to take this trip. The last 10 miles of the drive is on graded dirt, but can be a little slow due to the rough washboard. This adventure is definitely an all-day affair and it’s best that you make sure you have enough fuel, food, water and warm clothing for everyone along. Snowfall may close the pass sometimes in winter so make sure to get the latest information on road and weather conditions.
The Sum Total
If you’re in the Eastern Sierra for a winter snow adventure add to the equation with some high desert activities. Bishop has some of the best hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, and off-highway driving in the country. Plus there’s a great 18-hole golf course, the Bishop Country Club, to keep you up to scratch. It’s open all year-round so Bishop is where you want to be to multiply your fun.
Stop in at the Bishop Visitor center for details, directions, maps and more at 690 N. Main Street.