Inyo National Forest

Inyo National Forest (Inyo means “dwelling place of the Great Spirit”) is 2 million acres of scenic, multipurpose land where deserts and mountains collide, located on the Nevada-California border. Half of the forest is reserved as designated wilderness (no logging or development allowed). The half of the forest that isn’t wilderness is used for recreation, range, timber, minerals, and watershed.

A lake in Inyo National Forest
A picturesque lake in Inyo National Forest – Photo by Walther Nunez on Unsplash

If you’re seeking a vertical challenge, Inyo National Forest may have the terrain to satisfy your needs. Stretching from 4,000 feet above sea level in Owens Valley to 14,494 feet at Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States! The majority of the forest lies on the eastern slope of Nevada, and the rest in California, giving the terrain a sweeping variety of valleys, hills, streams, and flats.

About Inyo National Forest

Naturalists come from all across the United States to visit Inyo National Forest because of its rare endemic species. Yes, you’ll find more than swallowtail butterflies and mariposa lilies here (although you’ll find those too). You may be lucky enough to spy a sierra marten (Martes caurina sierra) or an Inyo Mountains salamander (Batrachoseps campi). As you may have already deduced from the names, these two species reside in Inyo, and only Inyo, making them incredibly rare and precious animals.

A marten is a creature from the Mustelidae family, the same group as badgers, wolverines, and minks. If you’ve never seen one, just imagine a kitten-ferret with the tail of a fox and a coat of brown and gold. No, somehow these are not Pokémon, they are real creatures!

The greater population of martens called the American pines martens extends all the way from Mexico to Canada, but the Inyo martens only inhabit the Inyo National Forest area, so biologists have to work hard to monitor this tiny population closely. It is because of these efforts that in 2017 park officials realized that the population had declined and needed to be declared endangered.

For the latest reports of endangered animals and plants in Inyo National Forest, click here.  

The moon over Inyo National Forest
A mesmerizing shot of Inyo National Forest – Photo by Walther Nunez on Unsplash

History of Inyo National Forest

Established in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt in contribution to The Los Angeles Aqueduct, this forest was primarily used by California natives for its plentiful water, timber, and food. The land is still a valuable logging and watershed site today, serving Californians for over 100 years. Thanks to the USDA’s strategic land management, this and many other California forests such as Eldorado National Forest can be used to both preserve nature and serve humanity for decades to come.  

As if housing more than one rare, endemic species wasn’t enough, Inyo National Forest is also the habitat of the oldest living Great Basin bristlecone pine tree in the world: the famous Methuselah, named after one of the oldest characters in the Christian Bible. This still-living tree was sprouting around the same time the great pyramids were being built!

For its own safety, the tree’s exact location in The White Mountains is a secret, so don’t expect to see this exact 4,852-year-old legend specifically, but there are still plenty more bristlecone pines of extraordinary age to gawk at in Inyo’s ancient, magical woods. And, who knows? Perhaps you will find rest under Methuselah’s centuries-old branches without even realizing it.

If seeking out the historical aspects of the forest is your jam, you may also consider a visit to Mono Lake. At 700,000 years old, it is one of the oldest surviving lakes in The United States.

Ranger Districts

The supervisor’s office in Bishop, CA heads Inyo National Forest. This is where specialists report, such as biologists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and engineers. Together with the following four ranger districts, the forest is managed for its many uses. The four districts are located with two in the north zone of the forest and two in the south. To reach the supervisor’s office, call 760-873-2400. To reach a specific district, call:

White Mountain Ranger District:
798 N Main St.
Bishop, CA. 93514

Mono Lake Ranger District:
P.O. Box 429
Lee Vining, CA 93541

Mammoth Ranger District:
2500 HWY 203
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

Mt. Whitney Ranger District:
640 South Main Street
Lone Pine, CA 93545

Be sure to stop by any of the five visitor’s centers throughout the forest for general questions and information.

A dead bristlecone pine tree in Inyo National Forest
A dead bristlecone pine tree in Inyo National Forest – Image by mcanzon from Pixabay

Recreation in Inyo National Forest

Inyo offers all the best of the basics in recreation such as picnicking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding. It also particularly shines in the winter, when the park can show off its two beautiful ski and snowboarding resorts, 100 miles of carefully prepared trails for snowshoe hiking, and 45 miles of cross-country ski trails. Opportunities for snowmobiles are also available!

Wilderness Areas

Did you know three out of the nine wilderness areas in Inyo National Forest were some of the very first designated wilderness areas Congress created as part of The Wilderness Act of 1964? This park is rich in both wildlife, history, and modern pop culture. In fact, this wilderness is the backdrop of some Clint Eastwood and Star Trek films.

The nine wilderness areas are:

Many of these wilderness areas require park passes to visit, so make sure you contact the ranger district associated with each area before planning your trip if you do not already own a pass.

Hikers in Inyo National Forest
Hikers in Inyo National Forest – Photo by Isaac Garcia on Unsplash

Visit Inyo National Forest

From desert shrubland to color-coated mountain meadows, conifer forests, and record-holding mountain peaks, this wise old forest has a variety of adventures and memories to offer every visitor.

Be sure to consult this interactive map of the forest while planning your trip, as it comes in handy for locating specific recreational sites, trailheads, and campgrounds, not to mention important accessibility information.

Want to know what boots on the ground have to say about the place? Visit this page on Trip Advisor for the latest reviews and ratings of each area and activity the forest has to offer, including restaurants and visitor’s centers. For specific information on the highest rated campgrounds in the park, click here.  

And of course, save  to your reading list to always have a quick and easy connection to America’s national forests.

-By Heaven Morrow

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