Content Produced in Partnership with Bishop Visitor
We're going to let you in on a little secret: The best stargazing opportunities in the United States don't necessarily occur during the summer months. The best moments take place out West — in the high deserts of Eastern California — during crisp winter nights. Far away from the glare of city lights, the longer nights and shorter days combined with lower moisture levels provide optimal viewing conditions few destinations can provide, including a chance to see the Milky Way in its entirety.
Strategically located along scenic Highway 395 near the Nevada border in the Eastern Sierra region of the state, Bishop, California has ample room for you to explore a night under the stars. Bishop has deserts, mountains, streams, and ancient forests — a dynamic landscape sure to provide an interesting contrast to your night photographs. To top things off, Bishop is less crowded during the winter months, ensuring you'll have exclusive access to the best stargazing opportunities the Eastern Sierra Mountains have to offer. From campgrounds to bed and breakfast inns, here are a few of our favorite places in and around Bishop for a seriously epic night underneath the stars:
Take a trip across state lines into Rhyolite Ghost Town in Beatty. Abandoned for more than 100 years, Rhyolite is now one of the most photographed ghost towns in the Wild West. That's largely because the deserted structures make for truly remarkable backdrops against the desert night sky. Photographers and wayward explorers can still walk through parts of the structure — some of the three-story bank remains standing and a few motion picture companies have restored other structures for filming over the years.
Quaint and charming Joseph House Inn Bed & Breakfast is located on three acres of manicured gardens, giving you plenty of space to stretch on a blanket with a warm cup of cocoa to bask in the night sky. It’s open year-round and is within easy access of Owens River and the nearby lakes where you can find several kinds of trout in the waterways throughout the year. You'll want to make a road trip to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains for a surreal view of the night skies alongside the oldest living things on Earth. Older than the Giant Sequoias by at least 1,000 years, the Pine Forest is open through October and is best enjoyed as an early hurrah for the winter stargazing season. If you miss the window to see Bristlecone, you'll find the skies are just as magnificent at Alabama Hills near Mobius Arch or out in Buttermilk Country.
For the campers looking for a more rustic way to take in the Eastern Sierra, the Inyo National Forest has what you’re looking for. The Bitterbrush Campground is a popular winter option because it is frequently at or below the snow line. Camping is free in the winter months when water and trash services are not offered. This secluded campground is the perfect way to get away from light pollution, see a sky full of stars and snuggle up near a campfire on a chilly night.
You don't have to head out to a campground to enjoy the night skies. Folks staying in one of the many lodging options in downtown Bishop can easily make a trip out to the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. Open the first Monday of every month, guests can receive a free tour to learn about the "Big Ears" near Bishop that monitor the night skies. In addition to learning about the radio telescopes, you can also meet a few of the researchers who make it all possible. Don't worry about getting lost. The giant radio telescopes are easy to spot once you cross the river after Highway 168.
Know Before You Go
Though the town of Bishop is only a square mile in size, its Eastern Sierra backyard is immense. The best way to navigate the terrain is to use the daytime light for a chance to stake out the best settings for your nighttime viewing pleasure. The folks at the Bishop Visitors Center will be more than helpful to you during your visit. Pop in for a chat — they can help you locate the most popular areas and even offer insider tips to scoring the best views. In addition to maps and information sheets, depending on the time of your visit, they may even be able to help sign up for a photography workshop with a local photographer so you can capture the best moments of your winter getaway.