In this far-eastern California county, you don’t have to choose between golden desert washes and sky-scraping alpine peaks. Inyo County hits all the topographical high notes with its jagged Sierra Nevada summits, including 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. Only 85 miles distant—and still in Inyo County—is the lowest point in North America, the surreal salt flats of Death Valley’s Badwater Basin.
This land of extremes is sparsely populated but surprisingly easy to reach by driving U.S. 395 or flying into Bishop Airport. You won’t find bright lights or big cities, but Inyo County towns such as Lone Pine and Bishop offer unique stops and wonders, from quirky museums to the world’s oldest trees. Start by checking out the Inyo County visitor website, or stop in to Lone Pine’s Eastern Sierra Visitor Center, then go explore California’s “other” side.
Explore the Desert in Inyo County
California’s largest national park—and its hottest and driest—is Death Valley. Despite the park’s imposing name, this sublime desert landscape is graced with towering sand dunes, colorful badlands, and marble-lined canyons. Stroll through Mosaic Canyon, where eons of time and countless flash floods have decorated the walls with shiny marble mosaics. Hike along the colorful corridor of Golden Canyon, where an ancient lake bed has morphed into sandstone badlands. Take a walk on Badwater Basin’s salt crystals at 282 feet below sea level. Explore the 90-foot-high Mesquite Flat sand dunes, shimmering sand mountains highlighted by dramatic shadows at sunrise and sunset.
Towns are scarce around Death Valley, but tiny Tecopa is a welcoming spot for hungry travelers. At China Ranch Date Farm, dense rows of palm trees produce delicious, nutritious dates. Eat them whole, taste them in date cookies and date bread, or sip them in a silky-sweet shake. Afterward, wade into the artesian mineral waters at Tecopa Hot Springs Resort and Campground, or taste the desert’s craft beer at Death Valley Brewingor Tecopa Brewing Company.
Explore the Mountains of Inyo County
The town of Lone Pine is the jumping-off point for hardy hikers tackling Mount Whitney, the tallest summit in the lower 48 states. You can enjoy outstanding mountain vistas without making the grueling 11-mile trek to the top—stunning mountain scenery fills your windshield on the easy drive up Whitney Portal Road to the trailhead. Stop in to the Whitney Portal Store to pick up souvenirs, or hike a stretch of the Whitney Portal National Recreation Trail alongside the cascading waters of Lone Pine Creek.
Discover more mountain majesty by cruising west from Bishop on West Line Street. Rent a boat and motor across the waters of aspen-lined Lake Sabrina, or hike the Bishop Pass Trail from South Lake into the John Muir Wilderness. Another option: Start in Big Pine and follow Glacier Lodge Road west to access beautiful Big Pine Creek and the trailhead for Palisade Glacier, the southernmost glacier in the United States.
Driving the opposite direction—heading east from Big Pine on Highway 168—takes you into the White-Inyo Mountains, home of time-worn ancient bristlecone pines. These photogenic icons with twisted trunks, contorted limbs, and bushy needles grow on steep, arid slopes, with some specimens thriving for as long as 4,000 years. Stop in to the Schulman Grove Visitor Center to learn more about these remarkable trees, then walk among the ancients on the one-mile Discovery Trail or the four-mile Methusaleh Trail.
Culture and History in Inyo County
In Bishop, visit the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center to learn about the Paiute and Shoshone tribes’ cultural heritage. Exhibits display intricately woven baskets and artifacts from archeological digs, and a gift shop sells beadwork and art made by local tribe members.
Drive 40 miles south to Independence to see more Shoshone and Paiute baskets, plus beadwork and arrowheads, at the Eastern California Museum. The museum also holds a fascinating array of Eastern Sierra ephemera, including human dentures made from coyote teeth, an Ice Age mammoth femur, a collection of bird eggs, and the climbing gear that belonged to early-1900s mountaineer Norman Clyde.
In Lone Pine, the Museum of Western Film History is a must-see for movie buffs. It’s filled with costumes, saddles, guns, and other props from Hollywood movies. Docents will provide you with a map showing the filming locations of classic Westerns shot in the neighboring Alabama Hills, including How the West Was Won and Bad Day at Black Rock.
Where to Eat in Inyo County
Inyo County’s coolest spot is Eastern Sierra Ice Cream Company in Independence, where you’ll be lured by the siren call of a strawberry or honey lavender scoop. At Big Pine’s celebrated Copper Top Barbecue, tri-tip and pulled pork headline the menu, but some fans bypass the meat and go straight for the mac and cheese. Lone Pine caters to the hungry at Alabama Hills Café with huge omelets and crispy hashbrowns at breakfast, burgers and sandwiches at lunch, and seasonal pies any time.
Bishop has the county’s biggest concentration of eateries. Carbo-load your morning at two top-notch bakeries: Erick Schat’s Bakkery (pastries, breads, and sandwiches) and Great Basin Bakery (fruit pies and cookies). Grab a meaty sandwich for lunch at Mahogany Smoked Meats or jackfruit tacos at Mercado Mexico. Dinner might be brisket sandwiches at 1903 Taphouse or St. Louis–style ribs at Aaron Schat’s Roadhouse. At day’s end, sip locally made artisan spirits at Owens Valley Distilling Co. or taste award-winning ales at Mountain Rambler Brewery.