Travel Destinations

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fun Things to Do in Bishop's Great Outdoors in Winter

Buttermilk Road Trail Things to Do in Bishop California

When planning a winter vacation along California’s US 395 corridor, most think of Mammoth, California’s winter playground for skiing and snowboarding.  Mammoth’s close neighbor, Bishop, is usually reserved for summer travel.  However, we decided to stray from the norm and travel to Bishop during the winter.  While travelers go to Mammoth to ski, they go to Bishop for hiking, rock climbing, and bouldering.  Bishop’s lower altitude equals great weather in winter for outdoor activities, meaning you can enjoy a hike or a climb while barely breaking a sweat.  Of course, given Bishop’s great year-round weather, almost all of these things to do in Bishop can be done any time of year. 

Bishop Road Things to Do in Bishop California

Bishop’s logo is “small town with a big backyard.”  The town itself is only 1.1 square miles.  But outside of that small town are endless possibilities for outdoor recreation.  Enjoying Bishop’s backyard doesn’t just have to mean getting an adrenaline rush.  Bishop has all sorts of ways to experience the outdoors, whether it be rock climbing, bouldering, hiking, bird watching, scouting for wildlife, or simply pulling over to the side of the road to drink in the beautiful vistas.

Hike or Climb Pine Creek Crags

Pine Creek Crags Things to Do in Bishop California

Close to Round Valley is a hidden gem of Bishop, Pine Creek Crags.  Pine Creek Crags is a slot canyon off of Pine Creek Road that is popular with rock climbers.  But you don’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy the short and scenic hike up and into Pine Creek Canyon. 

Pine Creek Crags Trail Things to Do in Bishop California

The trailhead to Pine Creek Crags is almost eight miles from Highway 395 on the right side of the road.  You’ll see the slot canyon from the road and two orange poles mark the entrance to the dirt parking areas, one upper and one lower. 

Bighorn Sheep Things to Do in Bishop California

Pine Creek Crags is not a well-known hike so you might have the entire canyon to yourself like we did.  Well, we saw one other being, a lone bighorn sheep.  

Pine Creek Crags Rock Climb Things to Do in Bishop California

The half-mile trail zig-zags through rocks along a running stream, which you’ll hear more than you’ll see.  The trail ends where the sheer rock walls create a corner where rock climbers sometimes ascend. 

Jeffrey Pine Things to Do in Bishop California

At the end of Pine Creek Road are breathtaking views of the Sierras, the remains of the Tungsten Mine, and one of nature’s odd finds, Jeffrey Pines which smell like butterscotch when you bury your nose into the craggy crevices of their bark. 

Hike Owens River Gorge

Owens River Gorge Things to Do in Bishop California

Another more popular hiking spot is the Owens River Gorge.  The Owens River Gorge is a steep-sided canyon created by the Owens River.  The more visited trailhead is popular for both hikers and rock climbers.  Just south of that trailhead is a lesser visited part of the gorge, horseshoe bend.  If heading north on Gorge Road, make a right turn where the water pipeline goes into the earth and go straight past the pipe to a dirt parking area.

Boulder along Buttermilk Road

Buttermilk Road Things to Do in Bishop California

One of the big outdoor adventure areas of Bishop is Buttermilk Road.  Buttermilk Road is extremely popular for bouldering.  It has been a passageway for travelers even before bouldering became popular.  At the turn of the 20th century, Buttermilk Road was used to get miners and supplies to the Wilshire Mine.  Also along this road was Wells Dairy Ranch where the miners would stop for a cold glass of buttermilk, which is how Buttermilk Road got its name. 

Buttermilk Road Bouldering Things to Do in Bishop California

Even if you don’t plan on bouldering yourself, a drive down the dirt Buttermilk Road is still worth the trip to watch others boulder or to hike up one of the short trails for a great view.  And yes, even in the winter a hike can make it warm enough to strip down to a tank top!

Look Out for Mule Deer

Mule Deer Things to Do in Bishop California

Winter provides a unique opportunity to see mule deer in the wild during their migration.  In the warmer months the mule deer live high in the mountains, but during the winter, there is a mule deer migration when the mule deer come down from the mountains to the warmer winter weather of Round Valley.  The mule deer like to feed on Bitter Brush, a tall, dark green brush which can be found in Round Valley.  If you’re hoping to spot mule deer during their winter migration, Horton Creek Campground and Pine Creek Road are good spots to look.

Travel Back in Time at Laws Railroad Museum

Laws Railroad Museum Things to Do in Bishop California

One of our favorite non-active outdoorsy things to do in Bishop was visiting the Laws Railroad Museum and Historical Site.  Visiting this outdoor museum is like traveling back in time.  

Laws Railroad Museum Train Things to Do in Bishop California

Laws started as a railroad town in 1880 with the news of a new railroad line from Mound House, Nevada to the Colorado River.  By the time the railroad actually arrived in Laws in 1883, there was already a train depot, agent’s house, section boss’s house, outhouses, water tank, and turntable. 

Laws Railroad Museum Depot Things to Do in Bishop California
Laws Railroad Museum Water and Oil Tanks Things to Do in Bishop California

Many more buildings popped up after the arrival of the railroad, but most of the buildings of Laws were destroyed after local mines closed and the railroad ceased operation in 1959.  The only original features of Laws remaining are the depot, agent’s house, oil and water tanks, and turntable.  

Laws Railroad Museum Outhouse Things to Do in Bishop California

However, there are a number of other old historic buildings to visit now, including a trading post, general store, post office, print shop, fire station, barber shop, schoolhouse, gas station, blacksmith shop, library, Wells Fargo building, and more.  These buildings were saved from destruction by being moved here from other abandoned settlements nearby.

Laws Railroad Museum Agent's House Pump Organ Things to Do in Bishop California
Laws Railroad Museum Agent's House Kitchen Things to Do in Bishop California

Probably our favorite experience in the Laws Railroad Museum, other than walking around and taking lots of photos, was visiting the original 1883 agent’s house.  A docent provided stories of Laws’ historic past and she gave us a special treat by playing the pump organ for us, which she played beautifully while pumping the organ peddles with her Chuck Taylors.

Search for Ghosts of Bishop’s Farming Past

Grain Silos Things to Do in Bishop California

Much of the land surrounding Bishop is government owned.  Before the government took over the land in the 1920s, the land was covered by farmland.  While I’m sure the farmers weren’t too happy about being pushed off their land, the positive result for today’s travelers is hunting out the remnants of these farms.  What is left is abandoned silos scattered across the county which were used for storing grain.

Rock Walls Things to Do in Bishop California

Another ghost of Bishop’s farming past are the remains of the stone walls that used to separate farmland and fields.  We saw some of the best-preserved sections of stone wall on the west side of Highway 395 north of Bishop.

Corncrib Things to Do in Bishop California

One farming family held out and didn’t sell their land to the government.  They’ve been in the area since the 1860s and their property, which is on South Round Valley Road just south of Pine Creek Road and the Round Valley Elementary School, has the oldest corncrib in the county.

Follow an Old West Wagon Road

Bishop Wagon Road Things to Do in Bishop California

When I was a kid I loved reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  I daydreamed about what it must be like traveling across the country in a covered wagon with the trusty dog Jack trotting along underneath.  I was surprised to learn a couple years ago that old wagon trails can still be seen today.  One of these is in Bishop.  In the 1880s there were two wagon roads that passed between Round Valley and Mammoth.  The Sherwin Hill Wagon Road was built by James L. C. Sherwin and he charged travelers along his wagon road one dollar.  A piece of the wagon road is preserved in the strip between southbound and northbound Highway 395 north of the Owens River Gorge.  Heading south, the wagon road is located between the vista point and the 35MPH sign to the north and the R400 marker and Inyo National Forest sign to the south.  It would be easy to drive right past if you aren’t on the lookout.  What gives it away is the smooth rock sides that were worn flat by wagons wheels following the same path.

Take a Dip at Keough’s Hot Springs

Keough's Hot Springs Things to Do in Bishop California

Just a 10-minute drive outside of Bishop is Keough’s Hot Springs.  Keough’s Hot Springs was established in 1919 and is the largest natural hot springs pool in the Eastern Sierra.  The hot springs pool can be enjoyed during the day or at night, perfect after a long day of outdoor activities.  If it gets too warm, there is a waterfall cooling system.

Marvel at Bishop’s Geology

White Mountains Things to Do in Bishop California
Volcanic Tableland Things to Do in Bishop California

Bishop’s big backyard is unique because of its geology.  The area around Bishop consists of three geomorphic zones: the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the west, the Great Basin Desert with its soaring White Mountains to the east, and the Mojave Desert in the middle.  Each area has its own distinct plants and animals.  This geology creates stunning views of mountains, valleys, volcanic tablelands, and remnants of glaciation.

View Bishop’s Outdoor Murals

Outdoor Mural Things to Do in Bishop California

Bishop has a number of outdoor murals hidden around town in plain sight.  It’s easy to miss them if you’re not looking.  This outdoor art exhibition consists of 15 murals scattered around town, mostly on Main Street and Line Street.

Seek Out Bishop Monuments

Monument Things to Do in Bishop California

The roads outside of Bishop are peppered with small white monuments with plaques commemorating a piece of Bishop’s history.  Bishop’s monuments mark spots like Buttermilk Road and the location where the convicts of Convict Lake were hanged.

Play a Round of Golf

Bishop Country Club Things to Do in Bishop California

Bishop may be small, but it still has a golf course for all those golf aficionados, and the course at Bishop Country Club can even be played in the winter as long as it hasn’t snowed. 

Gaze at the Stars

Stars Over Eastern Sierra Mountains Things to Do in Bishop California

Since Bishop is so small and out in the middle of nature, stargazing can be incredible at night.  We spent hours on both nights of our stay photographing Bishop’s night sky.  The Owen’s Valley Radio Observatory provides a unique nighttime photography opportunity, but pretty much anywhere outside of Bishop where you can safely pull off to the side of the road can provide star-studded nighttime views.

Where to Stay and Where to Eat

If you plan on spending a weekend in Bishop enjoying the great outdoors, you’ll have to spend at least a few hours indoors.  There are a number of hotels in Bishop along Main Street.  We stayed at the Comfort Inn, a no frills hotel that was clean, comfortable and centrally located.  For a little more luxury, try the Creekside Inn, which recently underwent a renovation.  For where to eat, check out our article about the best restaurants in Bishop.  There are a lot of delicious places from which to choose that serve barbecue, burgers, and sandwiches made with fresh baked bread.

Bishop California Things to Do in Bishop California

There are a ton of great things to do in Bishop at all times of the year, but Bishop in winter is a special time, with pleasant weather and many sunny days, but snow-covered mountains in the background and little patches of snow that hang around just to remind you it’s still winter.  Winter is also a good time to visit Bishop because it can be less crowded (unless Mammoth is full, as Bishop gets some of the overflow).

Thank you to the Bishop Chamber of Commerce for hosting our trip to Bishop and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are our own.  This article contains affiliate links.  If you purchase through them, it costs you nothing extra and we earn a small commission which goes towards running this website and bringing you more travel stories.

Travel the World: Fun things to do in Bishop, California, in winter or any time of year.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.