Los Angeles Day Trips: Escape to Keough Hot Springs, Bishop, CA
Want a road trip out of Los Angeles near or far? Sometimes we just need to get away for several hours or a few days.
No kids to worry about. The truth struck me on a Thursday in mid-March and I urged my wife to escape up Highway 395 to the Keough Hot Springs. She agreed but I hesitated on Friday afternoon. The drive from our house in Pasadena was about three hours and forty-five minutes one way. But why not? So it was all systems go on Saturday morning when we drove onto the 210 freeway at eight a.m.
Driving to Bishop
We get refreshed in different ways and driving along Highway 395 actually rejuvenates me. You leave the urban sprawl after driving the 210 freeway, hitting the 5 north for a couple of miles and veering north onto Highway 14. Hills filled with houses and flat spaces stuffed with industrial parks fades away while heading toward Palmdale. This isn’t virgin wilderness but the landscape changes into red rocks and scrub brush in a desolate way that I find appealing.
Antelope Valley — the High Desert — One Hour Plus from Pasadena
The first view of the Antelope Valley is Lake Palmdale and the California Aqueduct winding through the High Desert. No one would say that WalMart shopping centers and car dealerships are a sight to behold, but hitting this stretch of road is a different world from Pasadena.
You get a sense of flying along while heading through Palmdale, Lancaster and heading to the dusty, gritty interchange of Mojave.
Access to the golden poppy fields is out of Lancaster.
Mojave, Rosamond and Edwards Air Force Base — Kern County — 1 ½ hours from Pasadena
A number of stops make Highway 14 intriguing. This middle-of-nowhere feeling ninety minutes from our home is the gateway to private space exploration. Edwards Air Force base was the landing place for space shuttles and their sonic booms over the San Gabriel Mountains near our house.
The Mojave Air and Space Port was licensed in 2004 as the first facility in the United States for horizontal launches of reusable spacecraft.
The home for future air and space travel also houses dozens of commercial aircraft with their fuselages gleaming under the desert sun.
Red Rock State Park — Appx 2 hours from Pasadena
Southern California’s landscape is filled with diversity, even in the desert. Wind your way through the environs of Red Rock State Park with vivid colors in the canyons. The visitor center is only a few minutes off the freeway and is worth a brief stop for passersby.
Spend a night and enjoy the scenery and the history any time of the year.
Connecting with the 395
Now it’s good-bye to Highway 14 and hello to Highway 395 that splits the Sierra Nevads on the western side with the hills on the east that border Death Valley.
Constant reminders of the past stand along the road with abandoned buildings. With the snow and winter, many were framed against snow-capped peaks. Just south of Lone Pine, we saw cowboys herding cattle in an open field. Appropriate for the town that was a mecca for cowboy movies in the early years of the television and film industry.
Lone Pine, Independence and Big Pine — 3 hours plus from Pasadena
Small yet significant is how I think of Lone Pine and the other towns on the way to Bishop.
What’s there to do? Try:
o Film lore
o Hiking to Mount Whitney
o Manzanar — the WW II Japanese Internment Camp
Hiking to, or toward, Mount Whitney is one of those “worth it” experiences. To minimize environmental stress, the forest service requires day hikers and overnight trekkers to get a permit for the journey to the 14,494 foot peak, the highest mountain the “Lower 48.”
Contact the Mt. Whitney Ranger District: 760–876–6200.
An annual quota system is in effect from May 1 to November 1.
Lone Pine was a hotbed of movie making. Stop in the Museum of Western Film History for an hour or two for a filmography visit that’s worthwhile.
Just north of Lone Pine is the remains of the Manzanita Internment Camp that housed Japanese families, ripped from their homes in Southern California during World War Two. It’s easily accessible whether driving north or south on 395.
Now it’s time to motor north to the Hot Springs with the peaks of the Sierras on your left and the brown Alabama Hills on your right. There are two more towns to pass through.
Big Pine and Independence — 3 ½ hours from Pasadena
Don’t blink when driving through either. Better yet, stop at one of the cafes or spend a night at the motels. The small town atmosphere is an appealing part of driving 395.
Keough Hot Springs — 3 hours 45 min to 4 hours from Pasadena
The sign for Keough Hot Springs isn’t very large and there’s no advance warning. It’s several miles south of Bishop. When driving north, carefully cross 395 to the left and head up the road. It’s one of those places that you can’t see from the highway, tucked in behind the hills.
There’s a campground with shade trees and camping cabins plus the grounds have picnic tables.
The Hot Springs was commercialized in the 1920s and the current structure has a 1950s — ’60s appeal. We first came across it during a trip to Lake Tahoe in November 2018 and here’s what we enjoyed:
- A spacious pool 100 ft by about 40 feet
- Naturally heated at 90 degrees
- Emptied and cleaned once a week, on Tuesdays
- A wide and easily accessible wading, sitting area that’s at about 103 degrees. There are no jets.
- Great for families, couples and singles.
- The admission fee of $ 12 for adults is reasonable.
On this day trip, we swam for about an hour, sat briefly in the wading pool before showering and heading to a picnic table.
We set up a pop-up covering, ate lunch and sat in it while watching a movie on our phone and then napped. No home responsibilities to get in our way as we lounged, woke and then headed back for another round of swimming and sitting in the wading pool.
This was the third Saturday in March and the temperature reached the low 70s. The pool was busy and the lounge chairs were taken, which didn’t bother us since we’re not likely to sit poolside.
Those intent on swimming may get a little groggy from the warmth after a while, but it’s certainly soothing and fun to frolic in.
After taking our time, we headed south for the return trip and stopped in Lone Pine for dinner.
We returned home about 9pm. A 13-hour round trip but one that we enjoyed and look forward to doing again.
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