Pleasant Valley Pit is a primitive campground located 8 miles north of Bishop, California, on Highway 395. While the amenities are spartan—with pit toilets, dirt roads, and no running water or electricity—the views are unbeatable so close to the Sierra Nevada. The 75 tent and RV sites are first-come, first-serve—and self-serve, as the case may be. The informal layout of the grounds can make determining what exactly counts as a site a little confusing. Fortunately, each is distinguished by a firepit, picnic table, and lantern holder.
While the amazing views mean that the campground maintains a healthy assortment of campers throughout the winter, the 14-day maximum stay, limited resources, and 30-foot maximum vehicle length mean that campsites are often discoverable for last-minute campers in need. The 30 feet maximum vehicle length is partially due to the relatively small campsites. The rough, narrow roads accessing the grounds don’t help. We did spot one oversized camper, but it looks like accessing their campsite was no easy feat.
A Primitive Campground With A Luxury View
Pleasant Valley Pit’s grounds form a bowl-like depression with campsites scattered within the depression and along the rim. Rim sites enjoy exceptional views of the Sierra Nevada to the west but are completely exposed to buffeting winds. While the more centrally located depression sites benefit from a little more protection, it is minor. The hills surrounding the campground give it visual privacy from the main road, but there isn’t much privacy to be found within the pit. There is quite a bit of scrub brush scattered around the campgrounds, but nothing exceeds waist height. So, there is no shade worth mentioning or visual privacy from any of the surrounding campers.
The core amenities of Pleasant Valley Pit are gathered near the center of the depression. The structure for the pit toilets is easy to spot. Next to it is a self-serve station with envelopes to pay the $5 camping fee and information about the campgrounds and surrounding area. We did not expect the two colorfully painted lockers that hold a mini library, community larder, and a lost and found. It’s a charming addition that we don’t often encounter.
Accessing Pleasant Valley Pit is only a 1/2-mile drive down Pleasant Valley Dam Road off Highway 395 (8-miles north of Bishop, California). Don’t count on Google for directions here. Our phones weren’t even clear where to turn off the highway. Fortunately, Pleasant Valley Dam Road is significant enough to have a turn lane off Highway 395, and the dirt access road to the campground is marked.
As short a route as it might be, the narrow and rocky dirt access road is a rattling experience. For those with larger rigs or more delicate sensibilities, the much more convenient paved Pleasant Valley Owens River Campground is within eyeshot of the access road. While it doesn’t enjoy quite the brilliant views of the Sierra Nevada as Pleasant Valley Pit, it boasts all the standard amenities as well as potable water, all next to a picturesque river and prime fly fishing.
Camping at Pleasant Valley Pit
We did not plan to spend the night at Pleasant Valley Pit. My ambitions had us parked on the public land just outside Lake Mono. I looked up the weather (cold but manageable) and triple-checked Forest Service directions for dispersed camping. What I did not encounter was reports on the height of the snow (almost 2-feet).
All the access roads are closed due to snow. So, I start desperately googling for campgrounds as the sun flirts with the horizon. Each one closed for the season. Until, thankfully, I encounter an announcement that not only declares the latest candidate campground closed for the season but lists the three that aren’t.
So I know our next stop: Pleasant Valley Pit—a more oxymoronic name I have never encountered. But for all the desperate rush to find a base for the night, the solution is ideal. We find a site on the rim of Pleasant Valley’s pit and settle in along the outer rim of the “pit.” This section offers premium views of the Sierra Nevada to the west. While we spend whatever daylight remains setting up our campsite, we anticipate what will surely be a magnificent sunrise.
We are not dissapointed.
No, that disappointment is reserved for when our toilet fails to flush. We waste the golden light of dawn handling waste. (I’ll have more to say on this point soon.) Thank goodness for the Pleasant Valley pit toilets.