Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Day Trip From Bishop. Located in the White Mountains within the borders of the Inyo National Forest. Bristlecone Pine Forest is about an hour’s drive uphill from Bishop, California.
At an elevation that ranges between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, the forest boasts incredible views of the Sierra Nevada’s and the surrounding area. But perhaps even more breathtaking are the Bristlecone pines – the oldest trees in the world.
Bristlecones grow twisted and gnarled because they are constantly battered by wind filled with particles of ice and sand so that no two trees are alike. Instead of rotting away over time, the hardwood of the trees is slowly eroded by the extreme high-altitude weather. The result is a forest of trees that closely resemble ancient grandmothers slowly stretching out the knots in their back.
The strangely appealing beauty of these trees makes the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest a favorite spot for photographers and painters, but it is equally enjoyed by hikers and campers looking to explore a unique, off-the-beaten-track destination.
The trees in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest have been around for thousands of years. The oldest living thing in the world – the Methuselah Tree – is nearly 5,000 years old. The first humans to come into contact with the trees were Native Americans from the Paiute tribe who came to the area to gather nuts and hunt deer.
The next people to happen upon the Bristlecones were military men and gold prospectors who wandered up to the desolate locale in search of adventure and wealth. Today the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a protected area within Inyo County. The park designated as a place for scientific research and public outdoor enjoyment.
Visitors primarily come to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest to walk among trees that are so dazzling and so bizarre-looking that pictures of them are often thought to be doctored. The ancient, twisting forms rising to the sky, however, are naturally colored in shades of gold and orange. No computer could make them more spectacular.
Visitors can explore the forest independently, experience the awe-inspiring – some say spiritual – setting at their own pace. There is a self-guided nature trail in the Patriarch Grove that is perfect for this. The Patriarch Grove is home to the Patriarch Tree, which is the largest Bristlecone pine in the world.
Bristlecone Pine Forest Schulman Grove
The Schulman Grove also has several trails from which to choose. The one-mile Discovery Walk takes visitors to the over 4,000-year-old Pine Alpha – the first tree in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest dated by Dr. Edmund Schulman.
The Schulman Grove is also home to the famous Methuselah Pine, which is 1,000 years older than any other living tree in the world. Although the Methuselah Loop Trail leads past the ancient pine, visitors will have to keep their eyes peeled to spot it because it is not marked as a conservation effort.
Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center
For those visitors who would like to learn more about the forest, the Schulman Grove Visitor Center provides natural history lectures and interpretive talks each day from mid-June until Labor Day.
Campers will be pleased to note that there are quite a few camping options in and around the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. There are four group camps at the entrance to White Mountain Road. These are open all year round but are available by reservation only.
The Grand view campground located just below the Schulman Grove has 36 campsites, is free of charge and available on a first-come-first-serve basis between May and October. Visitors should note that there is no water here, so they should come prepared for the dry, high-altitude climate that easily leads to dehydration.
Getting To The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Directions: The trip from the town of Bishop to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is about one hour. Travel on Highway 395 south for 14 miles until you hit Big Pine. From Big Pine, drive 13 miles on highway 168 east until you make a left turn onto White Mountain Road. Drive-up White Mountain Road for seven miles until you reach Schulman Grove.
To reach Patriarch Grove, continue up the road for another 13 miles. Be sure to stop along the way to admire the vistas – especially the Sierra View Overlook between highway 168 and Schulman Grove, which is particularly breathtaking.
The dirt and gravel road up to Patriarch Grove is winding and high in elevation though most cars can make it up. Be sure, however, that you have plenty of gas, the coolant in the radiator and a well-tuned engine. Also, check weather conditions before making the journey and plan on visiting between mid-June and November.