The Owens River Gorge is a deep, steep-sided canyon about 10 miles long located northwest of Bishop. It is a world-class destination for rock climbing and a favorite fishing area. The gorge offers fun and adventure all year long for climbers, anglers and hikers.
About 760,000 years ago the Long Valley Caldera near Crowley Lake formed when a massive volcanic eruption emptied the magma chamber below and released very hot ash that subsequently cooled and hardened into the rock we now call Bishop Tuff. Later the Owens River slowly cut the gorge where the river now runs clear and deep.
What Makes It Great
The exposed layers of tuff have perfectly incut handholds and the bolted sport climbing routes feature edges, pockets and cracks. Most of the climbing is near vertical and there are some steep lines like the Eldorado Roof. There are over 500 climbs ranging in difficulty from moderate, 5.8-5.9, to challenging, 5.12-5.13, with arguably the best routes, and there are many of them, in the 5.10-5.11 range.
The gorge is a magnificent riparian habitat. Bird species flourish and a native fish, the Owens Tui Chub, once threatened and endangered, is now protected in this predator-free habitat. The gorge is restricted to fly and lure fishing and it’s agreed that dry-fly fishing is generally more successful than nymphing. Wading can be tricky even though the water isn’t considered to be big. Wet wading can be done comfortably in summer, but waders are recommended for fall to avoid the stinging nettles.
Who Is Going to Love It
Climb the gorge! Learn to climb with a guide or experienced climbers, improve your climbing, or just check it off on your must-do list. Once you’ve done it, this gorge will be the place you’ll want to return to over and over again.
Fishing here is equivalent to a high country expedition all in one day and without the extra gear for getting there and back. It feels remote, it’s quiet, it’s rugged and you’ll be back in town by sunset for a beer and boasting session.
Solitary anglers, groups of climbers, and families (with their furry friends) looking for a change of pace and scenery will all find that special something on a trip down the Owens River Gorge.
Climbing in the gorge is near perfect from late fall through winter and into spring. If you’re lizard-like and love the heat, summer is doable too. There’s always a sunny side and shady side to choose from.
Fish here year round. From spring to fall you’ll find the air warm and the water cool and definitely bracing after a big winter.
Directions. Parking. Regulations.
There are two good routes to access the most popular stretches of river and climbing walls. Both involve a short hike – one by road, which is closed to vehicle traffic, and the other a steep scramble down a rocky gully with roughly built steps that is maintained by the local climbing community.
From Bishop drive north for about 12.5 miles along Highway 395 to the Gorge Rd intersection (at the bottom of the Sherwin Grade) and turn right onto Gorge Rd. Head east for .7 miles then turn left at the T-junction. Follow Gorge Rd up the grade for 3.3 miles, turn right and park in the clearing to the right of the road. A chained gate restricts vehicle access and this is where the hike in on the road begins.
Another 1.5 miles further along the Gorge Road will take you to the parking areas where you can then access the steep scramble down the gully. Be careful not to knock rocks off as a climbing wall is situated directly below the upper part of the trail.
There is a vault toilet located at the base of the approach trail. Please use this when needed! Please pack out everything you’ve brought with you and if you have a four-legged friend along please bag the doggy-do and pack it out.
Stop in to Bishop Visitor Center at 690 N. Main for area maps, souvenirs and advice on lodging and dining locations.
Pop into Eastside Sports for great gear & advice. Consider climbing with a certified guide, call Sierra Mountain Center or Sierra Mountain Guides. Stop by Reagan’s Sporting Goods for fishing licenses, tackle & fishing reports.
As always in the Eastern Sierra dress in layers and be prepared for swift and sudden changes in the weather.