I‘m not going to lie, I was stoked to return to Bishop, California. As in, I threw my arms around and did a little victory dance at my desk. Some places–like Bishop–just grab a hold of you, and though you’re traveling, they make you feel at home. I was thrilled to explore deeper in this underrated part of California! Visiting Bishop once again during their fall/winter season meant fewer crowds, cooler temperatures, the same friendly folks, all the same restaurants, and still much of the same great outdoor recreation.
I got outside, again.
Winter typically conjures feelings of snow and snow sports when you’re vacationing in the mountains. You can certainly get a hold of that up the way at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, but there is plenty of other outdoor recreation within a close proximity to Bishop. To name a couple of those activities…
The Gem Lakes trail is popular for darn good reason. It’s a short drive from town, and there are stunning mountain views the entire way to the lake. Hike this trail in the off-season (before the road closes and you have to strap on snowshoes!) and you’ll definitely find the place to yourself. If you don’t fancy walking in snow, there are plenty of other hikes at lower elevations for you, too!
It’s no secret that the climbing in Bishop is world-class. The mild winter climate allows for cool, pleasant days outside, and the boulders in Buttermilk Country present some of the best and most interesting problems in the state. The jutting peaks of the Sierra as the backdrop don’t hurt either!
I explored downtown, differently.
Bishop has an easily walkable downtown with numerous independent shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, a brewery, a distillery, a climbing gym, and so much more (whew, have to catch my breath!). Truly though, the list could go on. This time, my friend and I explored on 2 wheels, courtesy of the Zagster bike share in downtown. There are 2 locations to rent from, making it even easier for travelers. We put ourselves on a bit of a mural tour around Bishop, and biked from building to building marveling at the local works.
I went somewhere totally unique.
Okay, I actually went to 2 unique places: a salt lake full of natural structures call “tufa”, and a historic town with private hot springs. Both places are within an hour drive of Bishop–easy to access, and totally worth the trip!
Benton Hot Springs
Whether you’re staying the night or just a couple of hours, a trip to Benton Hot Springs is bound to be rejuvenating and inspiring. This is also one of first hot springs I have visited where I could actually adjust the temperature of the water! The town of Benton is historic, and the highly photogenic cemetery on the hill above the hot springs is worthy of a short scramble.
This massive, 70 square mile lake is saltier than the sea. It hosts millions of migratory birds every year who rely heavily on the special habitat in the Mono Lake basin. One of the reasons this lake is so unique are the “tufa” limestone formations on the lake’s edge, formations seemingly like stalagmites in a cave.
Why not? The winter weather in Bishop is totally pleasant, allowing for many outdoor activities that might otherwise be unavailable in other parts of the country. Another major perk of the off-season? Enjoy lower rates at hotels and rental car agencies, making for an all-around inexpensive vacation. It’s about time we rethought this whole “summer vacation” spiel… how about a “winter vacation”? Additionally, traveling to Bishop in the winter (and the rest of the year) is possible from all major nearby cities: Reno, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Though the travel time from each city is about 4 hours, all routes offer gorgeous views the whole way. For those travelers looking to book it straight to Bishop (don’t blame you!), the nearby Mammoth Airport offers daily flights.
This article was written in partnership with Visit USA Parks.