Home » 2017 4WD Eastern Sierra and Death Valley Adventure

Bishop - Coyote Flat, CA

Sunday, September 17, 2017 - 3:45pm by Lolo
85 miles and 4.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Coyote FlatCoyote FlatAfter seeing how well the 4Runner handled the backroads to and from Bodie, Herb was antsy to try a little more challenging drive. We had two great offroading books with detailed descriptions of routes of various difficulty levels: “Sierra Nevada Byways” and “Guide to California Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails”.

Since we love the Bishop area, we chose an Intermediate trail called Coyote Flat, the start of which was just a few miles outside of town. In addition to the drive sounding extremely scenic, there was what looked to be a great hike to Baker Lake from atop the Flat, as well as a primitive campground there.

Right from the start, the trail began a steep climb out of the Owens Valley, at about 4,400 feet, and led us through a series of switchbacks that just didn’t seem to quit. In contrast to our drive to Bodie, where we were cruising along at around 20 mph, this one was much steeper and rockier keeping us at a pace closer to 5 mph. We were going to have to adjust our expectations for the day.

Road down from Coyote FlatRoad down from Coyote FlatAfter 15 miles in just a little over 2 hours, we made it to Coyote Flat, a gorgeous plateau at 10,000 feet, with grazing deer and awesome views of the Palisade Glacier. It was absolutely lovely.

Since it was too late to fit in a long hike, and the temperature atop the Flat was quite chilly, we decided to skip the camping and head back to Bishop. We didn’t linger long because we wanted to make sure we got back before sunset, as we certainly didn’t want to be driving this road in the dark.

Herb handled the drive just fine and we made it back to Bishop with daylight to spare. Herb (and me too) was really pleased with the 4Runner’s capabilities and quite excited about how this opened up so many new opportunities to explore beautiful, remote areas.

Rather than find camping, we decided to stay in the Bishop Village Motel that night, as after this we would be primitive camping for a few nights in Death Valley.


Passenger's eye viewPassenger's eye viewBishop is my favorite town in the Eastern Sierra. It is located along US 395 between the towns of Mammoth Lakes and Big Pine. It lies at the northern end of the Owens Valley with the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east and the White Mountains to the west.

One of the town’s claims to fame is that it is the "Mule Capital of the World," holding a week-long festival each May called Bishop Mule Days. Part mule show, part test of skills, and part Wild West Show, this annual event has been attracting crowds for over its 47 year history, growing from a crowd of 200 in its early days to becoming an international world class event with more than 30,000 fans. Over the course of a week, more than 700 mules compete in 181 events including calf roping, steer roping, barrel racing, flat racing, carriage driving, team chariot racing, and even dressage.

The reason we go to Bishop is for the excellent rock climbing. The three major climbing areas in Bishop include:

The Owens River Gorge is a steep 10 mile long canyon just north of Bishop that is a very popular destination for rock climbing. With 416 sport-climbing and 52 trad routes it is California’s most concentrated sport climbing area. The climbing is on volcanic tuff and features edges, pockets and cracks. Although there is a full range of difficulty level, the best climbs are in the 5.10 to 5.11 range. The most popular walls are located in the Central Gorge – Warm Up Wall, the Pub, the Social Platform, and the Great Wall of China, which feature tons of 5.8 to 5.11 sport routes. Summers get a bit too hot to climb in the gorge.

Buttermilk Country, one of California’s premier bouldering destinations, is located southwest of Bishop along the western edge of the Owens Valley. These massive glacial erratic boulders sit in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada under an impressive backdrop of high peaks just a mere four miles to the west. There are 243 bouldering routes, many of which top out at over 20 feet.

The Volcanic Tablelands, another popular bouldering destination, lie just north of Bishop in an area where the floor of the Owens Valley rises abruptly, forming a 300 foot-high volcanic plateau. Along the southern tip of the plateau there are numerous canyons and washes containing thousands of boulders. The Happy Boulder area with 418 routes and the Sad Boulder area with 187 routes are the most popular. Because of its 4,500 foot elevation, the Volcanic Tablelands are climbable year round.

Bishop - Coyote Flat location map in "high definition"

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