There’s something magical about this place. Bristlecone Pine Forest, located near Bishop, is home to trees that are almost 5,000 years old. The rugged, beautiful terrain is an experience in itself, but hiking the trails here is truly a spiritual journey. In this place, surrounded by these magnificent ancient trees, visitors are reminded of the power of the universe and of their own insignificance in the world. There’s a reason that a visit to the Bristlecone Pine Forest is on many a bucket list. This is more than just a weekend getaway – it’s the kind of trip that creates memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is 400 miles from San Francisco. There’s not much to see on the first leg of your trip, but the last half of your journey will take you through Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park. Take I-80 E toward Bay Bridge/Oakland and continue onto I-580 W/I-80 E for about 80 miles. Keep left at the fork to continue on I-80BL E/US-50 E/Capital City Fwy and follow signs for Interstate 80 Business/Sacramento/South Lake Tahoe. Five miles later continue on US-50 E/El Dorado Fwy through the beautiful El Dorado National Forest – the scenery here makes it a great place to stop if you need a quick break.
Near the eastern edge of the forest, you’ll turn right onto CA-89 S and 11 miles later, left onto CA-88 E/CA-89 S. There are a few turns in quick succession coming up. You’ll enter Nevada and continue on NV-88 N for a few miles before making a right onto NV-756 E/Centerville Ln. Continue straight on Dresslerville Rd for just under 1.5 miles and then continue onto Riverview Dr before making a right onto US-395 S/US-395 N. Follow US-395 S back into CA for about 149 miles with breathtaking views that hint at the adventure to come. Turn right onto Brockman Lane, followed by a quick left on CA-168 E/W Line St. Turn right on Sunland Dr, then a left a mile later on Schober Lane. Hang a right at the first cross street onto US-395 S/S Main St. In 13.6 miles, you’ll make a left onto CA-168 E and follow the signs to your destination.
This Bishop hotel is a gorgeous choice for discriminating visitors to the area. The large, comfortable rooms are furnished with dark wood and plush linens; all feature refrigerators, microwaves, and free wi-fi. There’s a garden patio nestled alongside the bubbling creek that bisects the property. Guests can enjoy stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the outdoor hot tub and swimming pool. Generous hot breakfast served daily.
The Red Roof Inn is always a safe choice for travelers and this moderately-priced hotel in the heart of Bishop is no exception. It’s in a quiet location just off the main drag but an easy walk to local restaurants. The rooms are utilitarian and clean with satellite TV, coffee machines, and complimentary wi-fi. The Red Roof Inn has an outdoor pool and complimentary breakfast. This is a no-brainer if you’ll be hiking the trails with your dog – pets are welcome and stay for free.
The El Rancho Motel has a dated exterior and neon signs, but the rooms are surprisingly low-key. No two rooms are alike, but most feature clean white linens and simple, charming décor. The comfy rooms have microwaves, refrigerators, cable TV (with HBO), and free wi-fi. The motel offers free shuttle service to the Paiute Palace Casino, which is just three miles away. The innkeepers here are incredibly friendly and dedicated to making your stay pleasurable.
Pupfish is a charming café that serves up creative, healthy comfort food in paper-lined baskets. The café is nestled in the rear of the Spellbinder Bookstore and opens early for the breakfast crowd. Their coffee is phenomenal, and the sandwiches are tasty and filling. Locals rave about the waffles, which are an indulgent treat on their own but can be jazzed up with a variety of toppings. Open weekdays 7:30 am – 2:30 pm and 8 am – 2 pm on weekends. Dogs welcome.
The Looney Bean is a top pick for visitors to Bristlecone Pine Forest who want to get an early start. This casual coffee shop opens its doors for breakfast at 5:30 am daily and goes strong through 6 pm. They roast their own beans on the premises, which guarantees the kind of sweet, smooth flavor that keeps locals coming back on the regular. It’s a fun, friendly environment with incredible baked goods and plenty of vegan options.
Holy Smoke is an unexpected surprise – you’d never guess such amazing BBQ would be found in a tiny central California town. Texas-style means that brisket is king and Holy Smoke does it right, with a nice selection of sauce on offer to jazz it up. Try the ghost pepper sauce if you’re feeling adventurous, then wash it down with an ice-cold beer from a local microbrewery. Open 11 am – 9 pm every day but Tuesday, children and groups are encouraged to stop by.
The actual location of the oldest tree in Bristlecone Pine Forest remains a mystery to the general public for fear of vandalism. However, it’s somewhere on Methuselah Pass. This hike is approximately four miles from the visitor center and should take about two hours. At about 2.3 miles (not far after the switchback), you’ll reach an area called the Sculpture Garden. The extreme conditions here have sculpted these ancient trees into seemingly-impossible contorted shapes. Just past this is Methuselah Grove, home to Methuselah, the oldest tree in the forest. Stop here for a moment and consider the enormity of the world around you.
Little Lakes Valley Trail, located in the Inyo National Forest, is an excellent choice for less experienced hikers. It’s most challenging at the trailhead, but the rest of the six-mile hike is fairly smooth sailing with beautiful scenery awash in color. You’ll hike past bubbling brooks and tranquil lakes with majestic peaks rising in the background. The altitude can prove difficult for some, so stick to the left at Morgan Pass if you’re not yet acclimated. Mono Pass, ot the right, reaches a full elevation of over 12,600 feet.
The Buttermilk Country Loop Trail is designed for day hikers, mountain bikers, and 4WD vehicles. Back in the days when this was mining territory, the area was home to a dairy that supplied fresh buttermilk to the mining camps. Here, you’ll find the famous Peabody Boulders, massive stones that rise 55’ into the air and attract climbers from all over the world. The terrain is rugged but accessible. Facilities are lacking, so be sure to pack in plenty of water. Watch out for rattlesnakes, especially in the warmer months!
Rock Creek Pack Station is a wilderness outfitter that has been offering wilderness treks in the Eastern Sierras for over 70 years. They offer packages as long as 30 days, but casual visitors can still get in on the adventure with a day trip. In season, there are two-hour rides leaving on schedule twice daily, and half-day and all-day rides offered any day of the week. Choose from a trek above the waterfalls of Rock Creek Lake, a trip to Hilton Lake for excellent fly fishing, or a ride to Overlook of Little Lakes Valley to enjoy the mesmerizing views. Prices start as low as $95.
Bristlecone pines are the oldest living trees on Earth; some here have survived an estimated 4,743 years. Just getting here from Bishop is a journey in itself – it’s a treacherous hour-long drive along winding roads that end at an elevation over 10,000 feet. Start your journey at the Schulman Grove visitor center to learn more about what you’re about to experience. The oldest tree in the forest is located on Methuselah Pass, but the largest is the patriarch tree located in Patriarch Grove. The stark, twisted branches of the trees here seem to stretch toward the heavens against the rugged terrain of the Great Basin. A must-see.