Your Guide to the Great Owens Valley

If you live here, you know firsthand the great diversity of the Owens Valley. If you’re just visiting, you probably wish you lived here.

People enjoy fishing and water sports, go on hiking and horse-packing adventures on land dedicated for outdoor recreation, visit nineteenth century mining towns and local museums that tell stories of days gone by, ski at nearby world-class mountain resorts, play ball in modern sports complexes, rock climb vertical walls in the Owens Gorge, compete in fishing derbies, and attend the Mule Days celebration.

The Owens Valley is a great place to play and a wonderfully complex ecosystem to explore. Streams, rivers, and lakes form a riparian corridor that provides lush relief from the broad, arid valley floor. Artesian wells and hot springs dot the landscape and rock outcrops and canyons abound.

14,495-foot Mount Whitney, the Sierras to the west, and White Mountain Peak at 14,246 feet to the east, dwarf the narrow 4,000-foot high valley but make the views incredible anywhere you turn.

One aspect that makes the Owens Valley such an enjoyable place is its wide-open spaces. LADWP’s policy is to leave most of its properties undeveloped and open to the public to preserve the rich landscape and ecosystem.

Mt. Tom east of Bishop in the north end of beautiful Owens Valley

Here you'll find the “behind the scenes” story of the LADWP’s extensive efforts to protect the open space which distinguishes this valley from other regions in California. It also shares some hidden treasures where the LADWP has provided opportunities for recreation, agriculture, and tourism – places that you might like to visit.

LADWP manages natural resources and land uses throughout the Owens Valley to insure the health of the Owens River watershed, which includes public recreation, riparian habitat, wildlife, and agricultural activities. For more information on opportunities to enjoy City of Los Angeles’ lands, call us at 760-872-1104 or visit the Eastern Sierra Recreation page.

There are many places you can enjoy in the Owens Valley that have benefited from LADWP’s support. You’ll find a tule elk viewing area, fishing holes, sports fields, river and vegetation restoration projects, museums and visitors centers, access to rock climbing in the Gorge, and much more.

A Shared Resource

The City of Los Angeles built the first of two Los Angeles Aqueducts in 1913. A second aqueduct from the Haiwee Reservoirs was completed in 1970. LADWP began purchasing Owens River watershed lands in 1905. Today, 80% of the 314,000 acres owned by the LADWP in the Owens Valley is leased. The city’s long-standing land use policies ensure that a minimum of 75% of these leased lands remain open to the public for recreational use. This policy, along with federal management of public lands in the surrounding mountains, has preserved unmatched recreational opportunities in a beautiful, natural setting.

While the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management own the majority of land in the Eastern Sierra, the LADWP is the largest private landowner in the Owens Valley watershed. Twentieth century land uses, including the LADWP’s use of water resources in the Owens Valley, have also shaped this region. Historical impacts from some of these uses were not compatible with a healthy watershed and modern perspectives related to resource conservation.

Ranching is still a viable way of life thanks to agricultural leases on the majority of the open space owned and managed by the LADWP. The oldest trees on the planet — 4,000 year-old Bristlecone pines — are found east of Big Pine in the White Mountains. The Palisades Glacier, the southern-most active glacier in the United States, is located between some of the Eastern Sierra’s highest peaks.

Tule Elk herds that graze on City of Los Angeles land are managed cooperatively by the LADWP and the California Department of Fish and Game. Since so much of the Owens Valley has remained open and undeveloped, the land has remained in its natural state.

Tens of thousands of anglers are lured here every year to fish for bass and trout in Eastern Sierra reservoirs and in the rivers and creeks that shape the valley floor. Due to the wide variety of habitats in the Eastern Sierra, many wildlife species are found here that are rare elsewhere.

Sharing the Land, Part I

The Owens Valley is home to 19,000 people who live, work, and play here. LADWP lands provide much of the recreation enjoyed by residents and visitors. LADWP leases land to others who develop trails and campgrounds and, at times, takes a more direct role to support the communities throughout the Owens Valley. The next time you go to the park, play golf, or visit a local museum, you can enjoy the benefits of the LADWP’s policy to share the land. For the past 70 years, the LADWP has followed a consistent policy of making Owens Valley lands available for recreation, local farming and ranching, horse and mule packing, business uses, schools, and use by college and university researchers, city and county governments, and state and federal agencies.

Parks, Golf Courses, Campgrounds, Museums, and More

LADWP provides land for parks, golf courses, and museums throughout the Owens Valley. Parks include: the Lone Pine Sports Complex, which was a collaboration between the Lone Pine community and the LADWP (the 50-acre sports complex near the edge of town has three modern ball fields, grasslands, and picnic grounds); the Mendenhall Park in Big Pine, which has 10 acres of ball fields and picnic grounds; the City Park and Izaak Walton Park in Bishop; and Dehy Park in Independence, with more ball fields. LADWP also leases land to Inyo County for the Millpond Recreation Area, a county park north of Bishop.

Golfers rate the Bishop Country Club golf course as one of the most beautiful public 18-hole championship courses anywhere in America. From the Mt. Whitney Golf Club’s course in Lone Pine, golfers have breathtaking views of the highest peak in the continental United States. To schedule your tee time, call the Bishop Country Club at 1-760-873-5828, or the Mt. Whitney Golf Club at 1-760-876-5795.

At the Eastern California Museum in Independence, visitors learn about Owens Valley pioneer days, the railroad, 19th-century mining operations, construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and Manzanar Relocation Camp. The museum has one of the West’s finest collections of Paiute and Shoshone artifacts. For museum information, call 1-760-878-2258.

Photo of lone Pine Visitor Center

The Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine is the hub for information about things to do and places to see in the Owens Valley. LADWP, the United States Forest Service, United States Bureau of Land Management, Caltrans, California Department of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and Inyo and Mono counties share in the development and maintenance of this center. These same agencies are working together on a new, much larger center for visitors to the Owens Valley. For Interagency Visitor Center information call 760-876-6222.

The Eastern Sierra is famous for unparalleled camping and outdoor recreation. LADWP leases land to Inyo and Mono counties for campgrounds in unsurpassed settings near streams and lakes, hiking trails, and wildlife viewing areas. For more information about campgrounds on LADWP land, call 1-760-872-4706.

Sharing the Land, Part II


Crowley Lake, Pleasant Valley Reservoir, and Grant Lake were created by the LADWP for water storage, and do double-duty as recreation spots. In addition to the lakes, area creeks are often very rewarding for anglers. Bait and tackle shops, fishing guides, boating stores and launches, restaurants, hotels, concession stands, and outdoor recreation businesses along Highway 395 from Lee Vining to Coso Junction support the year-round fishing paradise in the Owens Valley.

LADWP contracts with a private vendor to give the public safe access to Crowley Lake and to provide all of the services that support a very popular fishing operation. Management of recreational and vehicular activity helps to ensure lake water quality.

Packing in the High Sierra

Packing in the wilderness is a big part of the recreational economy in the Eastern Sierra. During the winter months, many local outfitters graze their herds on pasture leased from the LADWP.

Boosting the Local Economy

The LADWP lands and leases help the Owens Valley economy. Film companies bring their buying power into the area when they film commercials, documentaries, and feature-length films on the LADWP lands. Leases for sites used for television and radio stations, and local telephone facility relay stations, also benefit the communities. Local governments save public funds through leases, as they are charged only an administrative fee by the LADWP for land for airports, fire stations, museums, fairgrounds, parking lots, road maintenance yards, schools, parks, and campgrounds.


Ranching has been a constant in the Owens Valley for well over 100 years. LADWP leases hundreds of thousands of acres of land for raising livestock and growing crops on many of the same sites that have been used since the 19th century.

LADWP’s range management specialists work with local ranchers to use best management practices that protect the watershed. These efforts minimize erosion and the potential for agricultural activities to contribute to water quality problems while allowing for sustainable agriculture. Herds are rotated and managed to keep grasses and soils in good condition.

Environmental Enhancement Projects

Photo of Ownes Lake, with mountains in the background.

When you are out and about in the Owens Valley, look for LADWP trucks and employees who may be working on projects that are changing things for the better. LADWP is working on dozens of projects that will enhance the environment for the people and wildlife of the Owens Valley.

Many of these projects are part of the Mitigation Program that was agreed to by Inyo County and the City of Los Angeles in the “1991 Environmental Impact Report on Water from the Owens Valley to Supply the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct." Many were already being implemented and actually began well before the 1990’s as ongoing enhancement projects.

Implemented Projects

Water has been provided to:

  • Independence wood lot
  • Shepherds Creek alfalfa field in Independence
  • Fish Springs and Blackrock Fish Hatcheries
  • Seeley Springs Road
  • Little Blackrock Springs
  • Richards and Van Norman fields (360 acres)
  • Pasturelands and native pastures in Independence (743 acres)
  • Lone Pine wood lot
  • Lone Pine riparian park (320 acres)
  • Lone Pine regreening, east and west
  • Buckley Ponds
  • Lower Owens River Project rewatering
  • Laws area ponds and native pasturelands (564 acres)
  • Farmer’s Pond
  • Klondike Lake
  • Millpond Recreation Area

Other Completed Projects

  • Lone Pine Sports Complex
  • Lone Pine north clean up
  • Manzanar tree pruning
  • Tree planting along public roads
  • Independence Roadside Rest
  • Eastern California Museum
  • Salt cedar eradication program

Projects Under Development

  • Big Pine northeast regreening
  • Independence east side regreening
  • Hines Springs Pond
  • Revegetation projects throughout Owens Valley (920 acres)
  • Laws Museum pastureland
  • Big Pine ditch system
  • Full Lower Owens River Project

Wildlife Gets a Helping Hand

As a land steward for 314,000 acres, the LADWP actively manages its properties to keep streams and adjacent lands in good condition. This ensures optimal water quality and a reliable water supply for the citizens of Los Angeles. This same philosophy greatly benefits fish and wildlife species as well, since the habitats they depend on within the watershed are maintained in good health. Another effective measure that helps wildlife and plants thrive is to simply keep the land undeveloped, as the LADWP has done for almost a century.

Wildlife studies and monitoring are performed by the LADWP’s watershed resource specialists who also participate on conservation teams with other agencies such as the Sage Grouse Conservation Planning Team. Over 30 years ago, the LADWP helped organize the Interagency Committee on Owens Valley Land and Wildlife that brings together more than a dozen federal, state, and local agencies to protect wildlife and other natural resources in the Eastern Sierra environment.

Many wildlife species treasured in the Owens Valley can be seen at the Wildlife Viewing Areas along Highway 395.


Millions of trout are grown in fish hatcheries for release into local streams so that anglers who come to the region have plenty to catch. LADWP provides property to the State of California for regional fisheries including the Hot Creek, Fish Springs, and Blackrock fish hatcheries, the Owens Valley Native Fish Sanctuary at Fish Slough, and the University of California Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory.

Wild Trout Waters

The stretch of City of Los Angeles lands on the Owens River from Pleasant Valley Reservoir to Five Bridges is one of the most heavily fished wild trout streams in California and has been designated “Wild Trout Waters” by the California Fish and Game Commission. Crowley Lake is recognized as one of the premier trout fisheries in the state. LADWP has also received the “Golden Trout Award” from Caltrout for their stream enhancement projects on all the tributaries to Crowley Lake. LADWP facilities and ongoing watershed projects have contributed to the outstanding angling opportunities the public enjoys in the Eastern Sierra today.

Tule Elk Herd Protected in the Owens Valley

Early evening hours are the best time to see one of the tule elk herds at the Wildlife Viewing Area seven miles south of Big Pine. The tule elk, found only in California, originally numbered up to 500,000 in the Central Valley alone. In 1874, the species was thought to be extinct, yet one small herd was found in the San Joaquin Valley and was given protection by the State.

A small herd was eventually relocated to the Owens Valley in 1933. Today there are six thriving herds between Owens Lake and Bishop. Elk from the Owens Valley have been used to stock historic habitats throughout California. This cooperative effort with the California Department of Fish and Game has increased the state population to a level that has resulted in delisting of tule elk as endangered.

Restoring a Bird Population

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed one of nature’s swiftest flying birds, the peregrine falcon, as an endangered species in 1970. LADWP participated in an inter-agency effort with the United States Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish and Game, and the Point Reyes Bird Observatory to help the birds recover by building a “hack” tower near Crowley Lake. Five-week old peregrine chicks were placed in the artificial tower built to protect them from predators and human disturbance. Hacked birds often return to the general area of the hack site as breeding adults, which helps to reestablish the breeding population. Twenty-four peregrine falcon chicks were raised in a hack tower and released back into the wild. This contributed to the species being delisted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999 after recovery efforts proved successful.

Recovering a Wildlife Population

These bighorn sheep from the Sierra Nevada initially began to decline in the mid-1800s and by the 1980s the decrease in numbers became even more dramatic as disease, mountain lion predation, and other factors took their toll. In 1999, they were listed as an endangered species.

LADWP’s wildlife specialists participated on a recovery team with multiple agencies and interest groups, assisting in transplanting efforts and managing livestock operations to avoid wild bighorn sheep conflicts. Hopefully, as each agency does their part, recovery of wild Sierra Nevada bighorns will become a reality

Sage Grouse

The sage grouse is dependent on healthy sagebrush ecosystems, which are still found on LADWP lands in Long Valley. This type of habitat has declined in the West due to urbanization, although this Eastern Sierra bird population has remained stable since the 1950s. LADWP has not allowed development to encroach on their habitat. LADWP monitors the strutting (mating) grounds every year and adjusts grazing and recreational activities to insure that sage grouse habitat needs are being met. LADWP biologists have also found new strutting grounds in Mono Basin that were previously unknown.

Restoring the Owens River Watershed

LADWP’S Owen River Watershed Eco-Restoration Projects

A healthy Owens River watershed is a priority when LADWP’s biologists and engineers make water resource decisions that affect water quality and supply within the Owens River system. LADWP has been working for many years to enhance the watershed by managing water resources in an environmentally responsible manner.

Photo of creek

McGee Creek in 1992 (above) prior to implementation of LADWP’s stream enhancement project, and (below) in 1998 just five years after project implementation.

Photo of McGee creek

As a result, the LADWP has been on the cutting edge of a nationally recognized watershed restoration effort and the research that supports it. In fact, people involved in ecosystem restoration projects around the globe know about the LADWP’s work in the Owens Valley. Now you will too.

Eco-restoration began in the early 1990s after environmental studies were conducted on four tributaries to Crowley Lake in the Upper Owens River basin ecosystem: Convict, McGee and Mammoth Creeks, and the Upper Owens River. LADWP installed fences to better manage recreational and livestock uses on sensitive riparian habitats along these four tributaries.

Riparian vegetation and stream channel habitats (e.g. pools, gravel bars, undercut banks) showed dramatic and rapid recovery with the protection provided by the restoration project. Restoring these tributaries was very important to the Owens Valley because what happens upstream directly affects downstream areas. In addition to water quality benefits, fish and wildlife enjoy the diverse habitats associated with healthy flood plains.

The Owens River Gorge

The Owens Gorge serves as a prime example of how to manage water resources to accommodate fish and wildlife needs while providing essential power generation.

The once-dry Owens River Gorge channel is now a thriving fishery with some of the best brown trout fishing in the state.

LADWP began restoring the Owens Gorge in the early 1990s. Flows from Crowley Reservoir were increased slowly at first to give the new vegetation a chance to take root and thrive, interact with the stream hydraulics, and create sustainable fish habitats. The Owens Gorge is one of the LADWP’s premier river restoration projects. After a decade, the Gorge is now a trout fishery and home to more birds and wildlife than ever as well as a favorite for rock climbers.

The walls of the Owens Gorge canyon are nearly vertical – averaging 240 meters from bottom to rim. It is one of the best sport climbing destinations in the United States, reached by driving north of Bishop on Highway 395, and east on Owens Gorge Road.

Three LADWP clean hydroelectric power generating plants operate in the Gorge and supply electricity to people throughout the Owens Valley and to the City of Los Angeles.

The Lower Owens River Project

After 80 years of diversions, the Lower Owens River will soon flow year-round once again. The lower 62 miles of the river will be re-watered and provided with flow management to stimulate recovery of native stream habitats. Mother Nature will then go to work to restore the habitats, much as she has done in Mono Basin in similar natural restoration efforts.

The Lower Owens River Project will apply appropriate flow and land management practices to four major areas along the 62- mile stretch of river: the riverine-riparian system, off-river lakes and ponds, Blackrock Waterfowl Habitat Area, and the Owens River Delta to provide nature with the tools to produce native wetland habitats.

The public reviewed a draft environmental impact report / statement (EIR/EIS) on the landmark restoration project in 2002, which was cooperatively written by the LADWP, Inyo County, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Some of the pre-restoration work will include: installation of temporary flow gauging stations, removal of in-channel sediments that obstruct flow, modification of the river intake, pump station construction, and the beginning of flow releases to the Blackrock Waterfowl Habitat Area.

Owens Lake Dust Mitigation

LADWP and its team of contractors are installing one of the world’s largest shallow flooding systems to reduce dust on Owens Lake and reach the LADWP's ultimate goal; to improve air quality around the dry lake. The shallow flooding system consists of a network of computer-controlled sprinklers placed across more than 14 square miles (so far) of the ancient lakebed. The overall irrigation system will have over 60 miles of pipelines and over 2,000 miles of buried drip irrigation lines.

In addition, 2,400 acres of saltgrass have been planted on the lake playa, and a massive irrigation system was installed to water the plants. About 30 million saltgrass seedling plugs were planted on Owens Lake over two months in 2002. Saltgrass anchors the dust and holds water in the top layer of soil. The saltgrass has stabilized and is already working effectively to reduce dust emissions from the ancient lakebed.

LADWP has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this unprecedented mitigation project to improve air quality for residents of the Owens Valley. For more information on this project, click here.


The amount of open space in the Owens Valley has not changed much in 100 years. What has changed is that almost one third of the water once sent south for a growing metropolitan population is now being used directly in the Eastern Sierra for enhancing wildlife and plant habitats, restoring the Owens River, and creating even better habitat and recreational opportunities. Management of water resources has adjusted to the changing perspectives of modern times where environmental needs are considered in water supply decisions. As part of the many restoration and revegetation projects that the LADWP undertakes, staff specialists are involved in vegetation mapping, rare plant studies, growing native plant stock for revegetation projects, and ongoing monitoring of plant community health.

More than 700 plant species have been identified in the Owens Valley, living in alkali shrub, desert scrub, alkali grassland, riparian, urban, and irrigated agriculture plant communities. While some of these species can be found in parts of the Sierra Nevada, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the Owens Valley provides an environment where they all can thrive. LADWP cares for these treasures with botanists and range management specialists who map the resources, study rare plant distributions, eliminate noxious species that interfere with native vegetation, revegetate where needed, and constantly monitor the area’s vegetation.

Native Plant Seed Farm

Native plants produce seeds intermittently during naturally wet years. However, native plant seeds are needed on an ongoing basis in many of the LADWP’s revegetation efforts in the valley. To give nature a hand, the LADWP is developing seed farms near Bishop that will produce a reliable supply of seeds every year. These seeds will be used in the coming years for restoring native vegetation where needed in the region. LADWP is growing salt grass for dust mitigation as shown in the photo to the right. The Owens Valley is home to an astoundingly wide array of plant, animal, and bird species. Wildlife inventories show that 299 species of birds, 73 species of mammals, 14 species of fish, 32 species of reptiles, six species of amphibians, and hundreds of species of invertebrates inhabit Owens Valley.

Owens Valley Re-vegetation Pilot Project

First-year pilot projects to revegetate abandoned agricultural land with native plants have just been completed. Plots in Independence, Big Pine, Bishop, and Laws were planted with native grasses and shrubs. Since these are pilot projects, the LADWP has tried extensive combinations of soil preparation treatments and irrigated and dry land techniques to develop the most viable methods for revegetating larger tracts of land. These important pilot projects require several more years of plant growth to show reliable results. One unique aspect of dry land revegetation methods is that supplemental irrigation water is not used.

LADWP biologists use a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit to accurately locate a monitoring point for their extensive program to carefully track and document the growth and diversity of grasses and shrubs in the Owens Valley.

The Owens Valley is a high altitude desert and very dry. The average rainfall is between five and six inches a year. A goal of the pilot project is to get these native plants to sprout and survive with nature’s sprinkler – rainfall – as the sole source of water. Another revegetation project is underway in Bishop. LADWP researchers are studying ways to capture a small amount of moisture from an arid environment and direct it onto adjacent vegetation, using ancient irrigation techniques similar to those practiced by the Native Americans in the Owens Valley. LADWP’s own expert biologists are working with nationally recognized botanists to monitor and draw scientifically sound conclusions for future vegetation restoration efforts.