Big Pine is a classic small town; Christmas Tree lighting of a giant sequoia (the big pine at the north end of town), Worm Day, a high school fundraiser the day before Fishmas (the opening day of fishing season), and a giant barbecue put on by the volunteer fire department on the Fourth of July. There are two gas stations, one bar, and three churches, but what Big Pine lacks in size, it makes up for with adventure.
Big Pine is known as a jumping off point, because big city livin’ is fine, but the real fun happens outside. Flanked on the west by the Sierra Nevada and the White/Inyo Mountains to the east, Big Pine is the backdoor to Death Valley, the road to some of the oldest living things on the planet, and it’s the gateway to the Palisades, home to the Palisade Glacier -- the largest in the Sierra.
The Palisade Glacier Trail is one of the most popular and scenic hikes in the Sierra. The strenuous outing takes hikers through several ecosystems, from desert playa and scrub oak, to glacier fed, turquoise blue lakes, and finally, above tree line to the glacier and a concentration of 14,000 ft. peaks in a tight cirque – the Palisades. The trail flattens out at about mile 3, and makes its way past a well-fortified cabin named Cienega Mirth (meaning slow moving water and happiness), built and owned by Lon Chaney Sr., known for being the monster in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Phantom of the Opera."
Big Pine Creek Road passes through plains of volcanic rock on its south side, an area known locally as the Lava Tubes because of the shallow tubes and cinder cones found there. It’s a great place to hike with the kids. Baker Creek has great fishing and is on the north side of the road.
On the north end of town, Highway 395 continues north, and a steep, winding road - State Route 168 - heads east into a seemingly barren landscape. The road divides the White Mountains to the north and the Inyo Mountains to the south. Past the Owens River, on the north side of S.R. 168, is the Owens Valley Radio Observatory, known locally as the “Big Ears,” and is one of the largest radio observatories on the planet. Tours are offered on the first Monday of every month. Call (760) 358-6410 for more information.
Past the Big Ears turnoff is Death Valley Road. It heads southeast, passing by the Eureka Sand Dunes, which rise nearly 700 feet above the valley floor. Farther down the dusty road is the Ubehebe Crater, a half-mile wide, 600 ft. deep result of a magma/water explosion 2,100 years ago; trails abound at both destinations. Death Valley Road turns into Scotty’s Castle Road, with access to that iconic structure. Check out Death Valley National Park on Facebook for up to date information on road conditions and closures. Bring a map -- GPS is unreliable in Death Valley!
The best place to eat in the Yelp Universe is at the north end of town, across from the Fire Department -- Copper Top BBQ. But get there in the early afternoon, because they sell out quick.