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Bishop Visitor's Center

Christmas & Holiday Events

A Christmas Story

Center lane of highway with snow mountains

Charcoal, black highway takes travelers to adventure. Photo: @oscarguzman

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In a land, not so far away, there is a deep valley. It is said to be the deepest in the country. It is flanked by two tall mountain ranges, one on each side, that are draped in a heavy, white blanket of snow every winter.

From a place near the sea, where most of the people of the country live, a charcoal-black road weaves up the center of this dusky valley like a thick pencil stroke on a faded, sepia map. It is the road to adventure. The road climbs up from the sea along the valley floor that slowly rises higher and higher, passing through a few small towns along the way. It seems as if time has stood still in this vast expanse of high desert and tall mountains.

Eventually it reaches a long, tall rocky cliff where, in a wide, verdant valley between these majestic mountains, is nestled a small town—with a big backyard. This is where most of the people of the valley live. And the people of this town love the winter here and they especially love Christmas.

This is a Christmas story, a story of the past, present, and future.

The town is called Bishop, and the nearly 10,000 residents are spread out in quiet neighborhoods and outlying hamlets in this high altitude, broad valley. An ancient river meanders its way around the town and creeks tumble down the mountainside and burble through the neighborhoods.

Travelers on the road slow down and discover the heart of this bucolic town, the low-rise buildings, old west facades, and the genteel pace of old-world community life—where all are welcome! Locals and visitors stroll down the sidewalks along Main Street, stopping to greet one another with a friendly word, or chat to a neighbor come to town for supplies.

Winter is coming, and it is welcomed

Fallow field and trees with snow capped mountains in the distance.

Owens Valley and snow capped Sierra Nevada

The townsfolk are dreaming of a white Christmas. It never disappoints in this deep valley with the high mountains. Every storm lays the blanket of snow thicker and thicker on the high peaks in the distance. Sometimes the sky darkens overhead and snowflakes fall, fat and soft, all over town. The town’s kids and kids-at-heart bundle up and build snowmen in fields and front yards.

But this high valley is warm and the snow in town soon melts, and with it the snowmen—their happy smiles last to disappear like the mischievous grin on a Cheshire cat.

Christmas is coming, and it’s time to get ready

Fire engine in holiday parade stylized

Chalfant Fire Engine in the holiday parade

The townsfolk are building their holiday floats, kids are practicing their marches and dances, the Fire Department is polishing and buffing their big red engines, local musicians are jamming their playlists, main street stores are stocking their gifts and restaurants are planning their holiday menus.

The most anticipated community day of the holiday season will happen soon!

On the afternoon and evening of Saturday, December 4th, the annual Main Street Christmas parade, and tree lighting ceremony will bring all the townsfolk to downtown Bishop. Families, friends, and visitors are all invited to share in the celebration of this enchanting, rural, community event.

Join us for a Christmas Holiday Festival on December 4th

Santa Mile fun run and walk – 3:45pm

Main Street Parade – 4:30pm

Christmas Tree Lighting – 5:30pm

A family fun event where all are welcome!

It starts with the Santa Mile (3:45pm)

A tall man in a top hat leads the Santa Mile

US Highway 395, which runs through this western community, is closed for the afternoon and early evening. The grinches that don’t care for fun and festivity are redirected around town, but all who live and come to visit in this small town congregate at the Bishop City Park at precisely 3:45pm. They plan to run a mile. They will run for fun and fundraising.

This is the annual Santa Mile fun run and walk—right down the center Main Street in Bishop. It is presented by the Rotary Clubs of Bishop to raise funds for the organization’s international cause to eradicate Polio. Everyone is invited to get festive, dress up in costume, don a favorite pair of running (or walking) shoes, stick a $10 bill in a pocket, and show up to register to run. The starter’s whistle sounds at 4:15pm sharp and the race is on. Win great prizes and do a good deed for the future of at-risk children around the world.

The last of the runners and walkers will meet up with the front of the parade and, if among them, simply turn around and march back up Main Street! Just smile and wave; just smile and wave. Or turn out and line the route to cheer on the marchers.

Roll out the Parade (4:30pm)

Preschoolers on a brightly lit parade float

Local preschoolers ride a brightly lit parade float

As the sun sets, the holiday lights begin to sparkle in the twilight. The twinkling lights and jingling bells on the floats, cars, mules, horses, bands, and dancers electrify the air with the sights and sounds of Christmas. Although there are not seventy-six trombones to lead this parade, there are a few trombonists in town and the youngsters form part of the local marching bands that will step out at 4:30pm to start the parade.

The rhythmic beat of the drums and melodic strains of the wind instruments can be heard floating up into the night. Cheers rise from the crowds. Folks from up and down this deep desert valley have come to town to be in the parade and support their friends and neighbors.

It is heartfelt and personal. It is grounded in the spirit of the American west. It is lively and authentic, and it is filled with joy.

Tree lighting Ceremony (5:30pm)

Lighted Christmas Tree

Christmas tree lights and stardust in the park

Back where it all started, at Bishop City Park. The darkness is complete now. It envelops us in a soft black cloak punctuated with sparkling lights. It’s as if the night sky has rained sparkling stardust down upon the town. The air grows quiet and there is a feeling of anticipation. Something wonderful is about to happen.

The tree, the symbol of Christmas, is about to light up the darkness.

Oohs and ahhs of delight and sighs of satisfaction ripple through the crowd as the lights flicker on. It’s a modest tree, befitting a small town with a big backyard. It is the herald of the holidays and it illuminates all who gather in its glow.

Dreaming of a White Christmas

The White Mountains covered in a snowy blanket

The protectors of the town, the rugged Sierra Nevada to the west, and the gentle giants of the east, the White Mountains, rise high and silently on either side with their blankets of snow pulled high up over their peaks. The holiday revelers unwind and make their way home. Tucked warmly in bed, many will dream of a white Christmas.

It may not snow in this little town on Christmas day, but the snow is not far away. Gaze up at the snow-covered mountains, whether in a brilliant blue sky or below darkening storm clouds, they are the quintessential winter wonderland. It’s always a white Christmas in this valley.

The Railroad Express

 Saturday, December 11th: 10am – 3pm

The Slim Princess

Long ago, a princess came through in this valley. She was made from steel and she was known as The Slim Princess. This princess was a narrow-gauge railway and she ran from Carson City, Nevada, to Keeler, a bustling mining town on the shores of the now-dry Owens Lake.

The railway line was completely abandoned by 1960 and the tracks removed, but the story of her grand adventure remains forever enshrined at Laws Railroad Museum. The history of this princess and the many other railways of the area, with their magnificent engines and carriages, are preserved and protected on this extensive heritage site.

Laws Railroad Museum is a window to our past; it’s where we might experience time travel, back to the California gold rush of the late 1800s. The best time-travel day of the year happens on Saturday, December 11th this year. It is the Railroad Express and, just like in days gone by, it will happen come rain, snow, or shine!

Drink hot cocoa and ride a horse-drawn wagon down caroling lane. Whisper secrets and wishes in Santa’s ear. Visit with Smokey Bear and learn about protecting the forests. Eat yummy s’mores, decorate cookies, do arts and crafts and receive a free book from Altrusa. Get a golden ticket and light up a child’s face with joy and wonder. It’s a ticket to ride the Railroad Express with Santa’s elves and a merry band of Christmas carolers. It’s a ride to the past and back to the present, and it’s as magical as it sounds. Click here to purchase Railroad Express Tickets.

Laws Railroad Museum is located 6-miles north of Bishop on US Highway 6. Find out more about the museum here.

Cardinal Village Resort Christmas Festival

November 27th – December 19th

High up in the mountains there was once a bustling mining village. The village sprang up when gold was discovered at the north fork of Bishop Creek. It was first called the Tip Top mine and it was a tip-top place to live and work. The people who lived there were safe and happy. The name changed to Cardinal mine and village almost 100 years ago and soon the mining ended. But the village remained and it is now a picturesque resort in a magnificent canyon that is one of the best year-round playgrounds in our big backyard.

Cardinal Village Resort is where Christmas happens and Santa visits the high Sierra.

Make sure you’re on Santa’s Nice List!

The Christmas Festival starts after Thanksgiving and this is the place to get a fresh-cut Noble pine Christmas tree. Take a drive up CA-168 West (west Line St.) into Bishop Creek Canyon and immerse yourself in the winter wonderland of the Sierra Nevada. Free ice‑skating on Cardinal Pond; bring your own skates of borrow from the resort. Get a cup of soup, a cinnamon roll, or other delicious goodies from the Gingerbread Café and find special mountain-style gifts in the General Store.

The store, café, and tree sales are open every Friday to Sunday from 10am-3pm, until December 19th. Santa visits from 11am – 3pm on Saturdays and 2:30-5pm on Sundays.

You might be able to snowshoe, sled, or perhaps even get in a little cross-country skiing in the canyon. Chat to the folks at any of the great outdoor gear stores in town and rent some gear if the snow is good.

Holiday Programs at Wildcare

Wildlife Hawk RescueWildcare Eastern Sierra is offering free outdoor education programs through the Holiday Season and into the New Year. Held in their Center front yard at Keoughs, groups of 10 or less, children and adults, will meet Spirit and Bullitt (Red-tailed Hawks), Razzle the Raven, and others while learning “What is Wildlife Rehabilitation?”

Meet staff and volunteers and explore exhibits of nests, eggs, shells, antlers and more. Free handouts are available. Families, friends, groups, clubs are invited. Call Wildcare at 760-872-1487 to book a date.

The Story of Christmas

In the small town with the big backyard, Christmas is a special time. It’s a time to reflect, to give back to the community, to share in our collective joys and sorrows, and celebrate the natural and cultural history that has shaped this land and its people.

It is a place where all are welcome.

Call, email, or come into the Bishop Visitor Center and find out more about our Christmas celebrations, plus learn about adventures you can do any time of the year here. In a little A‑frame building on the edge of the Bishop City Park there are friendly folks who can help you pick your path to Christmas cheer and holiday happenings.

Smile and wave