Photo: Gigi de Jong
Bishop is an all-season wonderland. Each season has its own special look and feel that brings joy and offers experiences like nowhere else on earth.
Spring is bright and colorful as wildflowers carpet fields and bloom in the canyons and water tumbles down mountain streams and thunders over falls. Summer is hot and sultry and the abundance of water at every elevation provides a great escape for all sorts of cool adventures. Fall is magical and the rich colors of the changing season provide exquisite displays in spectacular settings that last longer than most other fall color-spotting regions.
And winter … winter is a true, classic wonderland!
Bishop is nestled in a deep, expansive valley between two gargantuan mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada to the west, and the White and Inyo Mountains to the east. Precipitation from winter storms that develop over the Pacific Ocean and move eastward, falls on the Sierra Nevada creating a massive snowpack on the higher elevations (above 6,000 feet) all along its 450-mile crest. The White and Inyo Mountains receive a good blanket of snow in winter too.
So, why is Bishop warm?
Bishop sits at an elevation of around 4,500 feet above sea level and while the snow piles high on the mountains all winter, the town receives just a light snowy blanket a couple of times a season. The valley is bathed in sunshine an average of 335 days a year and the average daily highs in winter, between 50-60 degrees, keep the sidewalks and streets clear of slippery snow and ice. The winter air is crisp and exceptionally clear and the snow-covered mountains that rise dramatically above this charming western town are a magnificent sight to behold.
Our town is warm and welcoming and our big backyard is wild and exciting.
One of California’s premier ski resorts, Mammoth Mountain, is a mere 45-minute drive from Bishop. It’s a hub of high-tech ski slopes, terrain parks, tube runs, and world-class guest services from restaurants and retail shopping to rentals and lessons to lodging and conferencing. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s bursting with energy.
In 20 minutes or less from Bishop is a wild and wonderful snowy playground with no parking problems and no ticket required. That’s just a little more time than it takes to get from the town of Mammoth Lakes to the resort’s groomed slopes.
We think we have the best of both worlds – easy proximity to one of California’s best ski resorts AND easy access to some of the best backcountry snow play in the state. Add to that; world-class winter fishing, bouldering, trail-running, mountain biking, and OHV driving. Yes. You read that right. It’s all available in winter in Bishop.
Now if that’s not enough, Bishop is close to two of California’s longest-running hot springs resorts; Keough’s Hot Springs and Benton Hot Springs, each dating back over 100 years and both have retained their old-world charm and western warmth.
To top that all off, Bishop boasts must-stay downtown lodging options most within walking distance from just about everything else in town. There’s a wide selection of restaurants that serve great food from around the world, a local brewery and distillery, local coffee roasters and bakers, a wine bar, and fun nightlife options – and they seldom have long wait times for seats and tables. Local artisans and artists show and sell their crafts in the independent, locally-owned bookstore and other fine galleries in town. Did we mention that it’s usually warm enough for an easy stroll along Main Street on a winter’s evening? Well, it sure is. And we’re casual. Just come as you are.
Bishop brings a serene and sensuous warmth to winter with the excitement of a wild, big backyard. You’ll need to be geared and ready for backcountry snowshoeing, a cross-country ski tour, or just sledding with the kids on a wide-open snowfield. Locally owned outdoor gear stores can set you up (rent or buy) with everything you need and give great advice on what’s happening where. If you need a little more guidance for an adventure in our backyard ask the pros! We have a number of super outfitters and guide services. The friendly, helpful staff at the Bishop Visitor Center can help you make your warm, winter wonderland experience the best it can possibly be.
Because our big backyard is natural and untamed, conditions can change from day to day so it’s always advisable to speak with a knowledgeable local about what’s best and where to find it.
Wild days and rejuvenating nights. Rejuvenating days and peaceful nights. Bishop! This is where you make your own adventure and create a unique experience.
Click on each of the toggle bars below to read more about these great winter adventures that you and your family can experience when based in Bishop.
Fish. Climb. Soak.
Fish the Lower Owens River
Bishop is well known as a world-class seasonal fly-fishing destination. It is also a magnificent winter fishing region. Fly, bait, and lure fishing are legal all year long in the Lower Owens River. There are miles of canals, protected ponds, and large reservoirs, some offering handicapped-accessible fishing piers, that are easily accessible by car. The rivers and reservoirs are regularly stocked with trout by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The warmer waters of protected ponds and eddies yield catches of bass, bluegill, carp, and even catfish.
Why not add a little fish to your menu of activities while you’re in the Eastern Sierra in winter? Bunk in Bishop. Ski, sled, or snowboard wherever the snow suits your style. And spend an afternoon or day fishing in our warm, watery, winter backyard.
The knowledgeable and experienced folks who live and fish in the Eastern Sierra can help you plan a fishing excursion or take you and your family out on a fishing trip that will be safe, fun and rewarding. Get some gear and information from our local sporting goods stores, or contact one of our local guiding companies, which cater to beginners as well as experienced anglers, to book a guided excursion.
Do some fishing preparation with the kids at home and get them excited and ready for this adventure. Take a look at this previous blog on getting your kids ready for fishing.
Climb the Boulders and Bishop Tuff
Our big backyard is world-renowned for bouldering and rock climbing and, you guessed it, winter is the perfect season for it. There are two excellent bouldering areas, the Buttermilks and the Happys and Sads (as they’re fondly known by climbers.)
Buttermilk Country is considered by many to be the best bouldering area in the country. It is certainly California’s premier bouldering spot. The huge boulders that dot the area were pushed out across this landscape by glaciers some 2.5 million years ago and some of these giants are more than 40 feet tall. These boulders are not just for experienced climbers. There are numerous smaller rocks where beginner and intermediate climbers can experience the thrill and feel of rock climbing.
The Happy boulders and neighboring Sad boulders are found in the volcanic tablelands north of Bishop. The 300-foot-high escarpment above the Owens River was formed 760,000 years ago when the magma chamber below what is now Long Valley erupted. The ash from this eruption buried an area 350 square miles in 500 feet of Bishop Tuff, as this pinkish rock is now known. It has since been sculpted, cracked and pockmarked to provide an endless variety of bouldering opportunities.
It’s absolutely possible to start bouldering with just a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag, but to make progress safely it is best to know and learn the basics of good climbing techniques. Get a certified guide to show you the ropes. If you’re keen to include this sport on your winter wish list have a look at this blog about why Bishop rocks.
Soak in Historic Hot Springs
Keough’s Hot Springs resort was built in 1919 and much of the original wooden structure is still intact. It was a luxury getaway for the early Hollywood stars of the 1920s & 30s when it was a first-class health resort. The large warm water swimming pool and smaller hot soaking pool are the original ones built in 1919. A constant flow of hot, fresh mineral water fills the pools, making this a wonderful place to languish in these restorative waters. Enclosed on all four sides the pools are protected from the winter wind, but open to the sky above.
An early winter’s evening is a relaxing and safe activity for the whole family to wind down and warm up after a day on the slopes. It’s also a great day outing for warm water play and a little sun tanning even on a chilly winter day. Relax. Read. Restore yourself. The snack bar offers tempting treats and the outdoor picnic area provides a great spot for your own packed lunch. Liven up any lethargic legs with a little walk up the hillside along the rock garden trail. Keough’s was conceived as a place to get away and get close to nature. Almost 100 years later it still delivers on that promise.
The Inn at Benton Hot Springs is about as beautifully rustic as it gets. The small town of Benton is one of the oldest existing towns in Mono County. It has a rich history dating back to the early Paiute people whose lives here revolved around the hot springs. In the mid-1800s the white travelers and settlers frequented the area and, when silver was discovered in these hills in 1864, the town was formally settled and thrived for almost 50 years. The current Inn, built with local pumice materials in the 1940s, replaced an old 10-room hotel first built in 1904. In 1998 the structure was renovated, keeping much of its original structural integrity and historical character intact.
Today the seven cozy, individually decorated rooms provide semi-private access to three hot soaking pools, in-room refrigerators, radiant floor heating in winter, free WiFi, and a hearty breakfast is served to guests. Additional accommodation in newly renovated houses and cabins, each with large private hot soaking pools, makes this a perfect place for group get-togethers. The Miner’s Cabin provides a luxury ‘glamping’ experience for heartier souls.
This marvelous, off-the-beaten-track resort remains true to its heritage and is kept in beautiful condition and in perfect harmony with its surroundings for those, “Who appreciate its uniqueness and value in this fast-changing world,” says the local owner-operators.
Run. Ride. Drive.
Run the trails
News of Bishop’s trails hit the big time in 2016 when Bishop was ranked first in Trail Runner Magazine in their feature, “Eight great mountain towns for trail runners.” It’s no surprise to locals and our regular guests that our trails are highly acclaimed. The public and publicly accessible lands that account for much of the 2 million acres of national forest in this region, provide miles upon miles of easily accessible and varied trails. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro the trails around and near Bishop have an infinite variety of length, grade, terrain, and elevation to create the perfect run just for you. Winter is wonderful for trail running. While you stretch your legs, stretch your eyes out across the vast landscape of the valley and snow-covered mountains above. If trail running is a driving force in your life – come the run the best. Take a look at our blog The Good, Better, Best of Trail Running in Bishop.
Ride the trails
We have magnificent mountains and we have incredible trails. Ergo, we have awesome mountain biking. So, when you load up your skis and snowboards on that rooftop carrier, hitch up the mountain bike rack and load up the bikes too. Sometimes a warm winter day calls for zooming down a sweet single track, with more twists and turns, faster than your skis will get you down a groomer. Other times a gnarly, windy, whiteout day in Mammoth needs an escape. Get on down to Bishop where it’s often calm and clear and way warmer. Check out the weather forecast and current Bishop webcam views for a look at what’s happening down in the valley.
We have a ton of great info on mountain biking here and a super list of winter rides in this blog post.
Drive the trails
Now don’t think we’re just a bunch of tree huggers. Well. Yes. We are. But sometimes we hop on our dirt bikes, or ATVs and OHVs and drive on out there to hug those trees. There’s an amazing network of legal trails and roads that provides 2,200 miles of off-highway vehicle (OHV) driving through almost one million acres of the Inyo National Forest. Not all of this is accessible in winter, but many miles of the best lower-elevation OHV roads are right here around Bishop. And winter is the best season for them. In addition to these double-track, native surface roads, there’s an area east of Bishop specifically designated for cross-country motorized adventure. The Laws Poleta Area covers 2,500 acres and boasts 50 miles of track that’s linked to the larger network for near limitless dirt biking and ATV play.
We created a suggested 24-hour winter OHV itinerary to give you a taste of auto touring and OHV adventures in our big backyard. If this is your thing, then hitch up your trailer and bring your motos with you. There’s no reason to be stuck indoors on a winter day in the Eastern Sierra.
Shop. Eat. Sleep.
Bishop’s retailers offer an excellent selection of grocery, gear, hardware, crafts, art, supplies, and services all with ample, free parking and easy access. We’re the commercial ‘hub’ of the Eastern Sierra. If you can’t get it in Bishop, you probably can’t get it on the eastside.
Going fishing? Get your gear or hire a guide here at one of these great outfitters and services. Feel like rock climbing? Get a guide from Sierra Mountain Center or Sierra Mountain Guides. Or first, get a grip on this sport with a little indoor climbing at Sage To Summit. This locally owned and operated store is also the local authority on trail running and stocks all the latest gear for running the world-class trails of the Eastern Sierra. Aerohead Cycles will give your bikes a tune up and gear you up with the latest and greatest to keep you on track. Eastside Sports and Mammoth Mountaineering Gear Exchange are two more gear stores that stock everything you could want or need for a mountain experience. Peruse the local, independent bookstore, Spellbinder Books, or get arty at any of the great galleries: Inyo Council for the Arts, The Project Room, and get hands-on at C5 Studios Community Arts Center.
Whether you’re shopping for groceries, outdoor gear, equipment repair, holiday gifts, a spa treatment, a yoga session, or even just a haircut, Bishop has great retail stores and good ol’ fashioned country service. Find names, addresses and contact info of our fine businesses here.
Think Local Eat Global
You know we’re the “small town with the big backyard.” Do you know we have an awesome kitchen? In fact, we have many kitchens and they belong to the many excellent eateries that serve our local population and guests, like you! As a destination town in one of the most spectacular and most photographed regions of California, we are very proud of what our local chefs, brewers, bakers, and bartenders create for the enjoyment of all.
There’s a wide selection of cuisines available offering Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, the ubiquitous American, and some fine fusion fare in between. Local craft brewers, distillers, coffee roasters, and sommeliers serve perfect liquid accompaniments. Many of the restaurants unique to Bishop are owned and operated by local residents who attempt to source as much organic and locally produced ingredients as possible. Dishes are often made from scratch with house-made sauces and freshly baked breads. Local eggs are a feature in some of the smaller locales.
It’s also a delight to us that our local musicians moonlight in many of these establishments providing entertainment that spans the genres from country to folk, rock to funk, and a whole lot more. Bands, trio, duos and solos perform their unique versions of covers and original music. The combined creative talent in this town is phenomenal.
You’ll find warmth and style at any one of our lovely lodging establishments. The list includes boutique-style lodgings, to well-known brands like Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Best Western and Super 8 conveniently located on Main Street, and the newly renovated Creekside Inn that claims “#1 hotel in Bishop” on TripAdvisor. Group accommodations with self-catering facilities are a super way to extend a holiday budget for community-minded travelers. Our local guesthouse and hostel provide bunks and beds and great conviviality. If simplicity is your thing, Airbnb hosts provide a great selection of cozy rooms and homes at affordable rates.
Stop in Bishop. Stay in Bishop. Play in Bishop and in our big backyard.
Ski Mammoth Mountain. This world-class resort is right in our big backyard and we’re super proud of it. And … fish Bishop, climb Bishop, soak Bishop, run-ride-drive Bishop, shop-eat-sleep Bishop. Repeat. Let each day bring a new adventure to your Eastside experience.
Call or visit us at the Bishop Visitor Center at (760) 873-8405 and 690 N. Main Street in downtown Bishop. Speak with our super-duper center staff who know all about winter in Bishop. They can answer questions, offer great ideas, give you maps and brochures, and refer you to the perfect place to enjoy an Eastern Sierra warm winter wonderland.
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