Trail running and mountain running are not new to the world of running, but are becoming more popular as a way to enjoy the natural world around us and, at the same time, achieve fitness goals. Running on trails and in areas removed from urban life, where traffic and air quality can impact the safety and enjoyment of running, is why we do it.
Bishop offers a vast array of trail running and mountain running options all year and winter is no obstacle for the great trail running here. It is, in fact, one of the best times of year to run in Bishop. The trails and running zones that are close to this beautiful mountain town are easily accessible and yet feel remote due to the pristine landscape in which it sits.
Within the broad expanse of the Owens River Valley floor, the rocky hills of the valley, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the escarpment of the Tablelands is an area of almost 400 square miles that has innumerable single- and dual-track trails that add up to why Bishop has been named one of the top trail towns in America!
Known as a destination for world-class bouldering and with its early history of mining and ranching there are numerous roads and trails that thread their way through and around these spectacular rocks. Trail running here provides the opportunity to link these trails together for a variety of results. Runners could aim for distance and minimal technical challenge or higher levels of difficulty depending on training requirements or personal satisfaction. These trails have varying surfaces, inclines, obstacles and a few stream crossings – which may be icy in winter.
At 6,400’, the Buttermilk area covers 325 acres of high desert meadow, unimpeded views of the Sierra Nevada and is surrounded by the Inyo National Forest. The junction of Buttermilk Rd on State Route 168 is just 8 miles from Bishop.
Perched above Buttermilk Country is the community of Starlite. Old roads, tracks and trails radiate from the settlement into the surrounding hillside. These offer some of the area’s best mountain running experiences. Trails peter out or link up to barely discernable footpaths with the opportunity to tackle cross-country running through ravines and over rocky outcrops. Never too far from civilization this running zone delivers the raw beauty of a remote sub-alpine mountain run without the risk of isolation. The area can be covered by snow at times during winter, but even so with right gear it is not out of contention as a winter trail running destination.
Named for the tungsten that was mined here until the late 1940s these hills are composed primarily of granite and quartz diorite. It’s a favorite place for rock hounding and crystals of red garnet can still be found here. However, if you’re on a mission to run, the seemingly endless roads and trails here will keep your attention focused on the task. If you’re a seasoned trail runner the only thing that will leave you breathless here … is the view!
There are a number of good access points with the closest to town being the Tungsten City Rd at just a little over 6 miles from the Bishop Visitor Center. The Millpond Recreation Area is also a great place to start and end your Tungsten trail run as it offers well maintained amenities, such as: ample parking, restrooms, picnic areas, and a playground. If you’re visiting with a group of friends or family that include non-runners this is the venue for you.
If you feel the need to stretch your eyes and your legs the Tablelands will provide sweeping vistas and long, undulating roads for a rhythmic run. Of the routes available some skirt the protected wetlands of Fish Slough, or wander through indigenous alkali meadow that comprises much of this plateau and the valley floor below the escarpment. Others curve in and around the rock formations that are sculpted in the Bishop Tuff from which this plateau is created.
Formed as a result of a massive volcanic eruption a mere 760,000 years ago, very recent in geological time, the Volcanic Tablelands rise dramatically less than 5 miles north of Bishop. This area offers a variety of fairly flat high desert running on graded dirt roads and well-worn trails with few obstacles.
Owens River Floodplain
As the water gives life to the fauna and flora that live along the shores of this river, the Owens River floodplain offers a lifetime of running fun. The river meanders for 40 river miles between Pleasant Valley and Tinemaha Reservoirs and tracks and trails undulate for myriad miles along its banks. In the straight line distance of 2.5 miles between East Line St and Warm Springs Rd there is a network of tracks presenting diverse terrain of grassy meadows, soft sand, hard packed gravel, muddy washes, and sand dunes. There is little in the way of elevation change, but the changeable ground underfoot will keep you on your toes … so to speak. Bird and animal life is abundant here and anglers may be fishing from the banks and wading in the shallows, even in winter.
Running Around Town
Before you head for the hills take a quick run around town and visit the local retailers and pop into the Bishop Visitor Center at 690 N. Main St. The folks you can chat with here are knowledgeable and experienced about our area and all the great activities we do here.
You’ll find the running enthusiasts at Sage to Summit at 312 N. Main Street and the store is stocked with all the gear you might need for trail and mountain running. Eastside Sports has ‘equipment and clothing for all your mountain adventures’ and books galore on these subjects.
Get maps, get gear, get advice and, most of all, get prepared. Dress in layers as weather can change quickly in this mountainous, high-desert region. If you’re running alone always tell someone where you plan to go and when you plan to return.
Run Around Bishop … you’ll be so glad you did.
Click here for information about the Winter 5K Race Series. All proceeds benefit Inyo County Search & Rescue
Free downloadable run route maps here.