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15 Unforgettable Things to Do in Bishop, California

15 Unforgettable Things to Do in Bishop, California

From incredible boulder formations to pristine lakes to hot springs, there is no shortage of incredible outdoor things to do in Bishop. Known as a self-proclaimed “small town with a big backyard,” adventurers come here to boulder, hike, and explore the local lakes and hot springs. The town is situated in the beautiful Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierras where you can start your day at a local bakery, wake up your muscles bouldering then relax them at the hot springs, concluding the day with a local craft beer. For anyone on a road trip along Highway 395, Bishop is an excellent choice for a pit stop, or to stay a little longer!

Best Things to Do in Bishop

There are so many things for outdoor lovers to do in Bishop ranging from bouldering, hiking, and hot springs, but read on to discover what to do in Bishop for all!

But first: Don’t miss the other California guides to the Eastern Sierras!

1. Bristlecone Pine Forest

Head to the Bristlecone Pine Forest to experience an up-close experience with some of the oldest trees in the world: bristlecone and limber pines. Some of these living trees are well over 4,000 years old and are still growing at 10,000 feet above sea level in their dry climate! The unique trees are colorful, twisted, and massive. The most sought-after tree to see is the 4,850-year-old Methuselah. Given the unique backdrop of the desert landscape and intriguing trees, the Bristlecone Pine Forest is a highly sought-after destination for photography as well. 

2. Happy Boulders and Sad Boulders

The Happy and Sad boulders offer a great spot for climbers to challenge themselves and are located just north of Bishop. As the names may suggest: Happy Boulders is a perfect spot for beginners as it is more accessible and open, while Sad Boulders offers more challenging routes. Whether you choose to climb Happy or Sad boulders, you’ll find routes for all levels. The most popular path at Happy Boulders is Heavenly Path and the Sad Boulders’ top-rated route is China Doll. Please be respectful of the land and pick up trash to avoid disrupting vegetation; the area has seen a lot of human-made damage in recent years. Due to the hot summer temperatures, spring and fall tend to be the most popular time of year for bouldering here. 

3. Buttermilk Boulders

Another popular rock-climbing spot is the Buttermilk Boulders, which is considered more challenging than the Happy and Sad Boulders. Set in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it is recommended to bring spotters and crash pads due to their difficulty. The Buttermilk Boulders appear different from other rock formations in the area as they are glacial erratics. This means long ago glaciers carried these boulders and then left them here in Owens Valley when they melted, so they are not considered native rocks.

It is highly recommended to head here in a car with four-wheel drive given the bumpy dirt road. Even if you are not into bouldering, the Buttermilk Boulders are still a great spot to take photographs and take in the scenery and the immense size of the boulders.

4. Keough’s Hot Springs

Hands-down one of the top things to do in Bishop is to visit Keough’s Hot Springs, the largest hot springs in Owens Valley. Open since 1919, you’ll find two hot spring pools to enjoy. Each pool is filled with geothermal spring water that is naturally heated to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but don’t worry – the water you’re soaking in won’t be that hot! The water passes through a spray system that cools it down. The small, shallow pool is typically kept around 100 degrees Fahrenheit while the larger pool is around 90 degrees (give or take a few degrees depending on summer versus winter). There are also plenty of amenities on-site such as lounge chairs, changing rooms, water aerobics classes, and a snack bar.

5. Laws Railroad Museum

Head to the Laws Railroad Museum if you want to learn what life was like for the early settlers in Owens Valley. There is a full recreation of what the village likely looked like in 1883 (complete with a fire station, print shop, a miner’s shack, and more) with each historic building displaying various artifacts and archives.

Within the 11-acre site, one of the main attractions at Laws is the “Slim Princess,” an original steam engine complete with its box cars and caboose. In this section of the village, you can actually pay to take a short ride on a restored train using a historical engine. This is a great spot to check out for travelers with kids especially.

6. Erick Schats Bakkery

For a delicious European-influenced bakery, you must visit Erick Schats. Operating since 1938, the bakery makes fresh-baked bread daily and the store is filled with a large variety of different types of loaves and flavors. The bakery is famous for its Original Sheepherder Bread®, a type of sourdough. Another favorite order is the oliebollen, traditional Dutch beignets. There are several tables and chairs near the entrance if you want to enjoy your food outside, otherwise, the bakery is bustling with hikers and climbers stopping by to pick up a sandwich or some goodies before heading to one of the many trails in Bishop. 

7. Little Lakes Valley Trail

Near the top of Rock Creek Canyon, you’ll find Little Lakes Valley Trail. The 8.5-mile (13.6km) route is popular for fishing and hiking. The trail takes hikers through beautiful, scenic routes where you can expect to pass along creeks, glacial lakes, and even abandoned mining artifacts. Throughout this hike you’ll find out how the trail received its name “little lakes,” as you pass by a plethora of high-elevation lakes including Box Lake, Heart Lake, Gem Lake, and more.

In May through November, plan to arrive early or fill a reservation online up to six months in advance. While there is no permit requirement (unless you are planning an overnight trip), the trail only allows 25 people per day.

8. Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center

Step back in time to learn about the original inhabitants of the Owens Valley, the “Nu-Mu.” Today, the Bishop Paiute Tribe is the 5th largest tribe in California and they do a remarkable job of maintaining the heritage of the Indigenous community in Bishop and all of Owens Valley. The cultural center displays a variety of artifacts, art, and historical archives dedicated to the preservation of indigenous culture. You can purchase a souvenir on-site as many local indigenous artists sell arts and crafts here. The cultural center also hosts frequent community markets where the public can enjoy music, food, and artisans. 

9. Bishop City Park

Bishop City Park is a great recreational spot in the center of Bishop. Amongst these 44 acres, you’ll find baseball fields, a public pool, a garden, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a bocce court. Throughout the year various events are held here ranging from arts and crafts festivals to tennis tournaments. This is a great park to check out and connect with local families, with the fall season tending to be an extremely popular time to visit Bishop Park as the changing colors of the trees provide the perfect backdrop for a photo opportunity. 

10. Crowley Lake Columns

One of the most unique things to do near Bishop is to see the Crowley Lake Columns. This scenic spot offers a glance at a bizarre yet extremely unique natural wonder of these column-like rock formations. It is believed these rock columns formed well over 700,000 years ago when lava flowed on top of ash deposits, which in turn then formed into the stone columns you see today.

They are situated directly on the beach, so try to plan the trip based on the low tide for the best chance to fully see them.

Prepare in advance as you will need to have 4-wheel drive to complete the route to arrive at the columns given the large amounts of potholes, sand, and steep trails. If you don’t have 4WD, it is possible to access by foot on a 2-mile path from the trailhead.

11. Rock Creek Canyon

If you have a car, don’t miss the scenic drive through Rock Creek Canyon, which is easily accessed from Highway 395. Once you find a nice spot, Rock Canyon creates the perfect space for fishing, camping (there are over 300 campsites in the area), mountain biking, and hiking in the warmer months. Some of the popular trails include Little Lakes Valley (aka Mosquito Flat), Tamarack, and Morgan Pass. If you don’t have a car, horseback riding is also a popular way to view the canyon. Head to the Rock Creek Pack Station where there are two-hour tours leading you to the canyon. Once winter comes around, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are common, making Rock Creek Canyon is a great spot to visit any time of year.

12. Lake Sabrina

Situated southwest of Bishop sits the beautiful Lake Sabrina. The lake is 5,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest-elevation lake in the area, and offers plenty of outdoor fun. Due to its higher elevation, it becomes a popular retreat in the summer as up here, temperatures tend to be up to 20 degrees cooler than in the valley.

Boaters, rejoice! At Lake Sabrina, there is a free boat launch and available boat and pontoon rentals. The gorgeous setting also creates the perfect setting for swimming and paddle boarding and the lake also has access to several trails with difficulty ranging from a day hike to multiple day backpacking/camping routes.

The full menu offers high-quality food ranging from flatbreads to burgers, however, they also offer vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, like their grilled salmon. Mountain Rambler Brewery has become well-known for its delicious menu on top of its popular beers so it’s the perfect spot for dinner too.

13. Mountain Rambler Brewery

After a long day exploring Bishop, you deserve a cold adult beverage! Head to the Mountain Rambler Brewery for a dose of food, beer, and fun. The brewery is a hot spot for many local climbers and hikers to socialize. There are over 12 craft beers rotating on tap and often feature guest beers from other local California breweries. If beer isn’t your style, they also offer hard seltzers and some local wines to quench your thirst.

The full menu offers high-quality food ranging from flatbreads to burgers, however, they also offer vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, like their grilled salmon. Mountain Rambler Brewery has become well-known for its delicious menu on top of its popular beers so it’s the perfect spot for dinner too.

14. North Lake

North Lake is a gorgeous serene and secluded spot near Bishop popular for hiking and camping. At the North Lake campground, there are 11 camping spots with amenities including toilets, bear-proof storage, and picnic tables. Plan accordingly as there are no showers and the campground has a 7-day maximum stay policy. Many take the drive up to North Lake for the beautiful scenery and panoramic views, with the most popular time to visit North Lake being fall due to the incredible scenery of the autumn foliage.

There are many trails to explore at North Lake that include treks to Puite Pass, Sabrina Lake, and Lamarck Lakes. For hiking go-getters, opt to complete the North Lake to South Lake loop, also known as Bishop Pass. This backpacking trip is 55-miles total and requires a permit.

15. South Lake

You can also access Bishop Pass Trail from South Lake which is located 22 miles from Bishop and can be reached by a well-maintained, paved road. You’ll immediately spot South Lake on the right-hand side of the trailhead. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing California droughts, the water level has significantly reduced. For those wanting shorter hikes, check out the trails leading to Long Lake and Treasure Lakes. Again, it is very common for the trails to fill up in fall due to hikers wanting to view the changing colors of the leaves so head out early.

Where to Stay in Bishop

Bishop conveniently has a handful of hotels in town with most located off of Bishop’s Main St., providing convenient access to nearby shops and activities. 

  • Creekside Inn: Excellent location with rustic lobby and incredible outdoor features including a pool, fire pits, and creekside access. 
  • Best Western Bishop Lodge: Enjoy both their seasonal outdoor pool and continental breakfast served daily and included with your stay. 
  • Travelodge by Wyndham Bishop: Relax near the outdoor pool while having the comfort of close proximity to the Bishop’s attractions.

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