Ride the White Mountains on your motorcycle!
The Eastern Sierra is well known for its mountains and wonderful outdoor adventure activities. Many of these are human powered activities such as: hiking, climbing, cycling, kayaking, fishing, paragliding, skiing and … the list goes on.
There are also many exciting motor powered activities like auto touring, boating, motorcycling, and OHV driving. Then there are a few combination and animal powered activities which include horseback riding, mule pack trains, sail plane flying, water skiing and, … well, let’s just focus on one for now. Shall we?
Winter is a great time for a motorcycle ride in and around the Owens Valley. Situated on the eastern side of the valley is a range that rises over 10,000 feet above the valley floor – the magnificent White Mountains. It is a triangular fault-block straddling the eastern edge of California and western edge of Nevada extending about 60 miles. Its widest point at the southern end is about 20 miles wide and the northern end tapers to a point near Boundary Peak, Nevada’s state high point.
Of course the peaks and crests of this range are generally snow covered in winter and certain motorized travel at the higher elevations of the range is not possible at this time. But it does have an excellent and well-maintained paved road that transports travelers from California to Nevada all year long. Plus in the foothills and canyons lower down there are trails galore.
There’s no end of fun to be had on a motorcycle in and around the White Mountains.
Motorcycle Road Ride
California State Route 168
On a warm, sunny winter day in the Owens Valley, like we often have, one of the sweetest road rides is State Route 168 over the White Mountains.
SR168 was originally conceived as a Trans-Sierra highway to connect Fresno to Bishop, but construction over the rugged Sierra crest was deemed too difficult. Now two congressionally designated wilderness areas prevent motor vehicle passage and the road is separated by the Sierra Nevada into a western section and an eastern section.
The western portion of the road, 70 miles long, has its western terminus at Lake Sabrina (at 9,128’ in elevation high up in the Sierra Nevada) and eastern terminus in Oasis, California (just a few miles from the Nevada state line in Fish Lake Valley). A short section between Lake Sabrina and Aspendell is closed for the winter season, but lower down between Aspendell and Bishop the road is open all year. Icy conditions are prevalent at the higher elevations so save this ride for the warmer months and during fall when the colors will excite you as much as the ride does!
In Bishop SR168 turns south and joins US Highway 395 to run concurrently for 14 miles to just north of Big Pine where it leaves Highway 395 to head east. It snakes over the White Mountains to Oasis, California and this where the real motorcycle fun is to be had.
From the junction at Highway 395 just north of Big Pine, SR168 sets out across the valley crossing the Owens River for a 14-mile twisting, turning climb up into the White Mountains to Westgard Pass. Beyond the pass the road bends and curves for 5 miles as it descends toward Deep Springs and then stretches out across the Deep Springs valley for 10 miles. Another climb through the White Mountains for a further 8 miles will deliver you into Oasis, CA.
This is a truly magnificent ride on a nimble sportbike, tourer, dual sport or cruiser. The road surface is excellent and the curves will keep your mind focused and your adrenalin flowing.
If the day is chilly or your time is limited go for a quick out-and-back. Choose a turn around spot at random then head back down and cruise into Bishop for a beer at the Mountain Rambler Brewery.
With good temperatures and plenty of daylight it is an excellent half- to full-day ride. Loop around the White Mountains, into Nevada on SR264 through Dyer, NV, and return to Bishop on US Highway 6. This loop is 152 miles long and at average cruising speeds takes about 3 hours. However, there may be some slow going and you may (make that definitely) want to stop to admire scenery and take photos. Extend this ride to a full day with a picnic or stop for coffee and snacks at the roadside café in Dyer.
My magic weekend getaway with this ride as the centerpiece of an Eastern Sierra motorcycle adventure begins and/or ends at Benton Hot Springs Inn and Campground. This beautiful little resort has a lovely campground and each campsite has its very own personal hot tub.
The weekend begins in the company of good friends on a Friday evening with a BBQ and hot soak. Saturday morning starts with a hearty breakfast and another hot soak … warming up those riding muscles. Gear goes on, bike gets started and then its ride time! Many hours later we’ll cruise back into our campsite and … you guessed it … hop in the tub for another hot soak. Dinner with a good bottle of wine shared under a most magnificent canopy of stars ends a perfect day. Heading home on Sunday after a lazy breakfast and one last dip in the hot, soothing waters I am relaxed and rejuvenated.
Be aware that after a winter snowstorm there can be icy patches on the road in shaded areas higher up and the cinders used for traction can be rather disconcerting on a motorcycle. It’s always prudent to check road conditions with CalTrans and at our own Bishop Visitor Center.
Ready to ride? Come ride State Route 168 it’s an adventure every time.
Dirt Bike Motorcycle Ride
Poleta Open Area
At the base of the White Mountains, 5 miles from the center of Bishop, is an exceptional off-road motorcycling area. Covering 2,500 acres, the Poleta Open Area is part of an extensive network of over 2,200 miles of OHV trails and roads leading though almost one million acres of the Inyo National Forest.
Most of this larger network comprises double track native surface road, but here on the eastern side of the Owens Valley about 50 miles consists of single-track and ATV trails interspersed within the system. All vehicles are required to stay on designated roads … except for the Poleta Open Area, which is designated for cross-country and open motorized vehicle travel.
Managed jointly by the Bishop area Forest Service and BLM authorities this open area with its excellent network of trails is linked to the bigger network making the opportunities for dirt bike riding seem almost endless.
The area provides for a wide variety of ATV riding including motorcycles, dune buggies, jeeps and SUVs. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced technical single-track trails as well as 4-wheeled driving routes.
Excellent maps have been produced by the California Trail Users Coalition and are available free of charge at many of the trailheads and, of course, the Bishop Visitor Center.
Please obey posted signage and make sure that all OHVs have a California green or red sticker or be street legal. All vehicles must be equipped with a Forest Service approved spark arrester. Tread Lightly! has an informative guide to responsible dirt biking.
Bring Your Motorcycle to Bishop
Whatever you ride and whenever you have the time to get out into our big backyard you will find so much here to thrill you. There are mountain roads and desert tracks with a variety of surfaces. Whether you’re looking to clear your head and blow out the stress or challenge your body and sharpen your skills take a motorcycle ride in the Eastern Sierra.