In 1871, an Owens Valley settler lavished praise on the Sierra but lamented: "There are times when one does not see a single miserable hut in the course of several days' journey." These days, visitors who tap into this same sublime wilderness-the three national parks, two state high points, and a national low point-have Bishop to hunker down in before and after. Check out Backpacker's choices in this California trail town.
Eat in Bishop
Hammer out expedition logistics over plates of ethereal waffles at Jack's Waffle Shop. (760) 872-7971
The Great Basin Bakery is where mountain cognoscenti get their morning jolt. (760) 873-9828
Score a loaf of the Original Sheepherder bread from Erick Schat's Bakkery.
Sleep in Bishop
Head into pine country to camp with dirtbags at Sabrina, a forest-service area set on Bishop Creek at a cool 9,000 feet. No reservations, $14.
Best post-hike $7 investment: Soak for a day in Keough's Hot Springs, a developed pool 7 miles south of town. www.keoughshotsprings.com
Best dayhike: Bag 14,246-foot White Mountain Peak for vistas of Nevada and the Sierra Nevada. It's about an hour's drive north to the trailhead and 7 miles to the top.
Best eye candy: In addition to visiting the galleries celebrating Bishop's cadre of world-class photographers (Vern Clevenger and the late Galen Rowell are among past and present luminaries), you should take in the 60-foot-high hexagonal basalt columns of Devils Postpile National Monument, 40 miles northwest of town.www.nps.gov/depo
Best place to chalk up: Owens Gorge is a world-class climbing crag. Also, head for the Volcanic Tableland just across the Owens River for bouldering in the cooler months, and make for the higher Buttermilk Country when the heat is on.
Gear up Wilson's Eastside Sports specializes in rock- climbing gear and rents everything you need. www.eastsidesports.com
Guide S. P. Parker uses the Bishop Pass Trail to access what he calls the Sierra's most scenic expanse. He starts early (the area can be busy) from the 9,000-foot South Lake trailhead south of town. Hike 5.5 miles past trout-filled lakes to the 11,972-foot pass that marks the Kings Canyon border. Drop into Dusy Basin, a cluster of small lakes near tree line, and set up basecamp. From here, scramble 13,893-foot Mt. Agassiz for views of Kings Canyon's interior. For a longer trip, continue to the PCT and turn north into the glacier-carved meadows of Le Conte Canyon.