*Beep Beep Beep* The sound of a muffled alarm woke me up. My phone read 4:45am. I hesitated a moment as the warm bed called me back to sleep, but as soon as I saw the mountain range in the blue glow of dawn, I was ready for the day. That’s what we loved about RVing. You couldn’t beat views like this.
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Last Updated: August 8, 2019
15 Incredible Things to Do in Bishop CA
Ever since we started climbing, Bishop has been on our list of dream destinations. The gigantic boulders set amongst the backdrop of the Sierra Nevadas look incredible. We’ve seen thousands of photos and videos from the area, and it was an easy choice when GoRVing proposed we go on an RV trip.
There are multiple ways to explore the area, but visiting by RV was the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors while having the comforts of home with you.
Title of Subsection
1. Happy Boulders (The Happys) + Sad Boulders (The Sads)
Since we’re still fairly new to bouldering outdoors, the Happys Boulders was the best place to start in Bishop. There were a lot more beginner friendly climbs. Is that why they call it the Happy Boulders?
The Volcanic Tablelands are most known for the bouldering at the Happy and the Sad Boulders. If you’re not a climber though, there are ancient petroglyphs scattered throughout to explore.
We knew that it wasn’t really climbing season in the middle of July, but we couldn’t resist waking up at the crack of dawn to get a few hours to explore the rocks. We quickly learned it’s the land of high balls (tall boulders that you will absolutely do a double take and wonder if you should be on a rope)! I liked how the guidebook kept mentioning “high ball or free solo?”
2. Buttermilk Boulders (The Milks) + Buttermilk Country Loop
Just looking at these massive boulders gave me the heebie-jeebies. We thought the ones at Happy looked huge but these looked even bigger. The rock also felt completely different.
Whether you explore the Happy and Sad Boulders, Buttermilk Country, or Alabama Hills, there are a ton of options and we can’t wait to go back again. If we’re going to boulder out in Bishop often, we better mentally prep for those high balls.
For those of you looking for rock climbing, you can also check out Owens River Gorge, Pine Creek Crags, Alabama Hills, and Whitney Portal.
Who’s crazy enough to go to Bishop to climb outside in the summer? We are. Luckily when we needed an AC break and we were tired of failing outdoors, we could hide away in Sage to Summit and still get more climbing in.
Sage to Summit has a bit of everything for trail runners, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts. They rent out gear in case you forgot any or couldn’t pack them, and they even have a small gym and training facility.
Local Tip: If you’re looking for new climbing shoes, stop by Eastside Sports on the next block and ask for Matt. Matt is one of the most knowledgdable shoe guys we’ve ever met. He can look at your feet and give you recommendations on which shoe will fit you best.
We first saw Bristlecone pine trees in Great Basin, and they were peculiar and fascinating. Bristlecone pine trees are some of the oldest trees on earth, with some that are over 4,000 years old. Many of the trees have grown twisted and colorful making it a popular photography spot. Explore the self-guided trails in this protected area and find the famous Methuselah tree, which is the oldest tree in the world.
Pro Tip: There is a visitor center at Schulman Grove open during the summer.
Relax in the largest natural hot spring pool in the area. Open to the public since 1919, there are two pools to choose from. The first is a hot pool that is on average 2 feet deep and kept at a warm 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The larger pool is 100 x 40 feet and is 8.5 feet at its deepest. In the summer it’s kept at 86 – 89 degreed while in the winter, it’s kept between 90 and 92 degrees.
Pro Tip: Besides the hot springs, they also offer water aerobics, a snack bar, dressing rooms, rock garden, and camping & RV sites.
Think aisles and aisles of carb heaven. Everyone we asked about Bishop, told us to stop by Erick Schat’s Bakkery. Whether you’re there for the bread, pastries, or sandwiches, there is a lot to enjoy at this European-style bakery. They are known for their Original Sheepherder Bread, which has been baked continuously since 1907. We ate sandwiches the first time around, but the bread was so good, we had to pick up a loaf to take home.
Local Tip: RV Parking is across the street in the city park.
We stopped here during the hottest time of day and really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of the indigenous people of the Owens Valley region. Focused on the Paiute and Shoshone tribes, there are multiple displays, artifacts, and archives. There is also a memorial hall honoring indigenous veterans, a garden walk, and crafts made by local artisans.
Local Tip: Once a week, the center hosts a public community market. Check out the live music, food, artisans, and more.
9. World Class Trout Fishing Year-Round
These beautiful alpine lakes and crystal-clear creeks are home to Rainbow, Brown, Brook, and Golden trout. The Bishop area is known for its world-class trout fishing, with a couple of areas that are open year-round. Here is a list of spots to check out:
- Bishop Creek Canyon
- Cardinal Village Resort
- Intake II
- Lake Sabrina
- North Lake
- Owens River (year-round)
- Pleasant Valley Reservoir (year-round)
- South Lake
10. Crowley Lake Columns
The Crowley Lake Columns look like something from another planet. It takes a 4WD to get out here. Plus, hope that water levels aren’t too high. But if you can make it out there, it’s worth the visit.
Pro Tip: Watch your odometer when driving out there since there are no signs. It also helps to have satellite view on Google Maps since there are so many offshoot roads.
We discovered Bishop City Park by accident. It was one of the few places in downtown Bishop where we could park our RV. Normally, we wouldn’t spend too much time at a park that looks like every other park in the burbs, but it was peaceful and the reflections in the pond looked pretty. We recommend the park as a great place to picnic, relax, and people watch. There are plenty of places to sit, playgrounds for kids to play, walking trails, recreational fields and more.
12. Off Roading
We’ve only been off-roading a few times but had a lot of fun on our last local outing. The Bishop area has a lot of routes that take you to amazing remote spots. We’ll have to revisit to explore some of these trails. Here are a couple to check out:
- Saline Valley Road OHV Trail (Easy, 77.9 miles)
- Buttermilk OHV Road (Moderate, 14.8 miles)
- Inyo National Forest OHV Trail: Bishop to Big Pine (Hard, 39.2 miles)
Local Tip: Stop by the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau to pick up Backroad Tours in the Eastern Sierra and Death Valley. It’s the perfect guide for off-road trails.
13. Mountain Biking & Road Cycling
The Bishop area is full of biking trails. You can take gentle trails and enjoy the views or find something that gets the adrenaline pumping. Those who prefer staying on the roads also have a lot of great options.
- Buttermilk Country
- Bishop Creek Recreational Area
- Lower Owens River
- Owens Valley
- White Mountains
- Main Highways
- Pleasant Valley Dam
- Round Valley
- Warm Springs Loop
- White Mountain
Alabama Hills is actually in Lone Pine, about an hour south of Bishop. It’s such a cool area that we had to add it to the itinerary. Alabama Hills has been used as a film location for a long time – think classic Western movies. The stacks of golden granite boulders set amongst the snowy Sierra Nevada is picture-perfect. The piles of rocks reminded us of Joshua Tree, but with spectacular mountains behind them. The most popular spot is Mobius Arch, the largest arch in the area, and is easily accessible on the loop trail.
There are a few different hot springs in the area, but Wild Will’s is the easiest to get to. A maintained trail makes it easy to find the heart-shaped pool. Once there, it’s about 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep where you can soak and enjoy the views.
Pro Tip: About 50 feet back, there’s another pool that’s deeper and hotter.
More Things to Do
- Bishop Country Club (map) – 18-hole
- Farmers Market
- Bishop Pass Trail (map)
- Convict Lake (map)
- Lake Sabrina (map)
- Little Lakes Valley Trail (map)
- North Lake (map)
- Owens River Gorge – hiking or climbing (map)
- Owens Valley Radio Observatory (map)
- Paiute Palace Casino (map)
- Pine Creek Crags – hiking or climbing (map)
- Summit Mt. Whitney (map) – Find all the permit information here.
Where to Eat - Best Restaurants in Bishop CA
When RVing, we’re able to make food on our own. But since we love checking out new food spots, we stopped by a few places.
- Bishop Burger Barn – delicious burgers made with locally sourced beef
- Erick Schat’s Bakkery – the bread is so good that any sandwich is solid. We went back a second time to buy bread to take home with us.
- Imperial Gourmet Chinese – not the best Chinese, but not the worst, especially for being in a small town. It hit the spot for us.
Here are a few more on a list that we want to check out next time.
- Common wildlife in the area are Mule Deer, Tule Elk, and Wild Mustangs, but if you get lucky, you can also see Big Horn Sheep, Coyotes, Jack Rabbits, Bears, Bobcats, Mountain Lions, and Marmots.
- Always be “bear aware” when hiking and camping.
- There are a few grocery stores in town in case you need to load up on supplies.
- If you’re unsure about any of the outdoor elements, stop by the local visitor center or outdoor shops. They have a ton of knowledge.
- If it’s too hot in Bishop, a lot of climbers start going a little further north to Tuolumne Meadows.
Be responsible while visiting with these tips:
- Pack out all your trash. There are no trash services and even natural things like orange or banana peels take years to decompose.
- Use the existing road and trails. Off-road driving, parking, or hiking can damage vegetation.
- Camp in campgrounds. This helps protect the lands and ensures that everyone has a great view.
- Use the restroom in town or at nearby campgrounds. It really helps to have an RV, so you have a restroom with you. If none of these are an option, bury human waste at least 6 inches deep and 200 feet away from water, trails, or campsites.
What to Pack for Bishop
Best Places to Stay
There are a few different options on where to stay in the Bishop area. Most people want to enjoy the outdoors, so camping and RVing are the best options. Since I stress out about the bathroom situation when we’re camping, having the RV was the way to go.
Campground & RV Parks
- Brown’s Town Campground (RV & Tent Sites)
- Browns Millpond Campground (RV & Tent Sites)
- Creekside RV Park (RV & Tent Sites)
- Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fairgrounds (RV Sites)
- Esmeralda Market & RV (RV Sites & Cabins)
- Highlands RV Park (RV Sites) – This is where we stayed. We had full hookups and it was only a mile from downtown. Plus, since it was on the north side of town, it was close to the bouldering sites.
- The Inn at Benton Hot Springs (RV & Tent Sites)
- Keough’s Hot Springs Resort (RV & Tent Sites)
- Parchers Resort (RV & Tent Sites)
- Paiute Palace Casino RV Lot (RV Sites)
- J Diamond RV Park (RV Sites)
Popular Public Campgrounds (Boondocking)
- Pleasant Valley Campground (RVs & Tents)
- The Pit Campground at Pleasant Valley (RVs & Tents)
- Horton Creek Campground (RVs & Tents)
- Bishop Bouldering Select – has all the best climbs – the highlights.
- Comprehensive Guide to Bishop Bouldering – we used both this and the select on our trip that we borrowed from a friend, but ended up getting our own copy of the comprehensive one.
- A Rockclimber’s Guide to the Alabama Hills
- Sierra Nevada Byways – 51 of the Sierra Nevada’s Best Backcountry Drives
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.