November is the shoulder season… it’s too cold to enjoy the local lakes and the snow has not yet arrived. However, it’s a great time to get some runs in and day hikes with family. The shoulder season is also a time that many choose to get out of town looking for a bit warmer weather.
Recently we spent an extended weekend with our family in Bishop, Big Pine, and Death Valley. This included my parents and my children (ages 8 and 4). Our main objective was actually to mountain bike and hike White Mountain 14,252’. I am pleased to report we accomplished our goal thanks to grandma watching our kids for the day with special kudos to my 74-year-old dad who has now completed all of the CA Fourteeners! You can check out my Strava if you want more details. We also found “the Eastside” to be a great area to explore with our kids.
We left after work on Friday and drove 4 hours south on Hwy 395 to Big Pine and then headed west into the mountains to set up base camp at Upper Sage Flat Campground. At 7,400’ in mid- October it was a bit chilly at night but we did just fine with 25-30 degree sleeping bags. Unfortunately, Upper Sage Flat campground closes in late October until Spring so by the time you read this you will want to seek out camping at a lower elevation. The Bishop Visitors Center website has some great info on other camping options in Inyo county and also info on cabins, hotels, and lodges.
The Big Pine area is a great place to explore. During the day of our ride, grandma took the kids to play near Big Pine Creek right by our campsite, which was especially beautiful with fall leaves. The north fork trail of Big Pine Creek provides access to the Palisade Glacier surrounded by pristine alpine lakes and high sierra mountains with several above 14,000’. This trail has some great day hiking or trail running destinations. Families with teens could do the 8-mile round trip to First Lake 9,980′ or go further and check out Second thru Seventh Lakes. Their boring names don’t do justice to their beauty. Be sure to dress in layers and prepare for cold if you attempt a late season adventure. Another great family option from Big Pine is to drive about 45 minutes NE on a winding road to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest visitor’s center with trees that are up to 5,000 years old…the oldest living non-colonal organisms on earth!
If you are really wanting some warm weather and are willing to drive further, Death Valley National Park is just 2 more hours from Big Pine. There is plenty of desert hiking and running to do in the lowest place in the continental US with Badwater at -278’. My kids especially loved playing in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the late afternoon. Be sure to plan activity according to the temperature and brings lots of water.
There is also plenty to do in the Bishop area. My family had a great time bouldering and exploring the caves at the Sad Boulders just north of Bishop town. My husband and I are fairly experienced climbers and found this to be a wonderful place to let the kids explore and climb easy while we did more challenging routes. If you are new to bouldering, you can hit up Eastside Sports in Bishop to get a guidebook for the area and check out the largest selection of climbing shoes in the West. Eastside Sports “aka Wilson’s” is a true gem and the staff are helpful and willing to provide beta on the area. The store is also the primary supporter of the Bishop Ultras which include a 6k “really fun run”, a 20 mile “fun run”, a 53k, a 50 miler and a 100k occurring in late May… check out the race website for some great options for trail running routes in Bishop.
Something we did not get to do on this trip but hope to do in the future is to explore the many hot springs in the area. Keough and Benton Hot Springs are developed hot springs but rumor has it there are undeveloped options throughout the Hwy 395 corridor…
Road trips also mean eating out. Some of our family favorites are Whoa Nellie Deli at the Mobile station in Lee Vining; Mountain Rambler Brewery, Eric Schat’s Bakery and the Looney Bean in Bishop; and Copper Top BBQ in Big Pine.
Please feel free to comment below to share your Eastside family favorites. It’s amazing how much there is to explore just half a day’s drive south!