Words and photos by Tim Hauserman
Outdoor exercise addicts are always looking for an excuse to get aerobic in nature. We sign up for centuries so we have to “train” by going on a series of great rides leading up to the event. We buy season passes to ski as often as possible to justify the expense. And right now catching the fall colors is an awesome excuse to grab your bike or hiking shoes and head for the hills. And the good news is that fall is a slow time in the Sierra, and there are awesome places to find your yellows and reds without the crowds. Here are a few choices near Lake Tahoe:
For an amazing tour of Hope Valley, start at the Big Meadow Trailhead of the Tahoe Rim Trail and head south on Highway 89. In just a few miles, you top Luther Pass and a sea of aspen leaves on the long sweeping downhill to Hope Valley. Always sublimely beautiful, Hope Valley is even more so when the groves of shining yellow are backdropped by the high peaks above Carson Pass. Heading west on Highway 88, take a left onto the lightly traveled Blue Lakes Road, a 24 mile out and back, making for a 40 mile roundtrip. To add a bit more adventure on your way back, just before reaching Highway 89 pull over at a rest stop on the left. Behind it lies an old, narrow, mostly paved goat trail of a road that is an awesome route to Luther Pass.
For Blackwood Canyon, start just four miles south of Tahoe City, and a seven mile climb on a road with more bikes then cars takes you to Barker Pass. The views of Blackwood Canyon and its immense groves of aspens are a constant companion in the distance, while along the roadside the thick brush, deciduous trees, and last flowers of summer are a nice distraction from the 1400 foot climb.
The Flume Trail, located on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe, is one of the west’s most popular mountain biking routes. While the views of the lake are spectacular on the cliff-edged Flume section, in the fall the best part of the trip might be the five mile climb up through Snow Valley and along the shores of Marlette Lake, where some of the most dramatic aspen views in the Sierra can be found.
Page Meadows is another piece of Tahoe area mountain biking heaven, just a few miles uphill from Tahoe City. It includes a series of Aspen bordered meadows, with frequent glimpses of Twin Peaks and Ward Peak (Alpine Meadows). You don’t have to find the perfect time to hit Page, since it seems as if each meadow takes its turn in the color parade.
As opposed to the emphasis on groves of aspen that is the focus of autumn for many, Desolation Wilderness provides the equally stunning visual of the bright reds and oranges of low lying brush standing against the stark white walls of granite. Remember that Desolation trip you avoided in the summer because the hordes of tourists had once again inundated one of America’s most popular wilderness areas? In the fall, you just might have the trail to yourself.
The Lakes Basin, a quiet gem near Graeagle, is gorgeous in the fall, and you will wonder where everybody is. Dominated by the impressive visage of the Sierra Buttes, the Lakes Basin has an extensive network of trails that seem to take you by another beautiful lake every half mile. Gold Lake Road, which accesses Lakes Basin, also features prime road biking as well.
Tahoe Meadows lies at the top of the summit of the Mt. Rose Highway, between Incline Village and Reno. At the western edge of the meadow lies the Ophir Creek Trail, which on it’s descent towards Price Lake passes through one of the largest groves of aspens in the Sierra. Don’t forget to look up, as Slide Mountain high above is a popular jumping off spot for hang gliders.
Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail.
The Color of Kokanee
One of my favorite bits of mountain fall color is not a plant, but the annual Kokanee salmon spawning at Taylor Creek in South Lake Tahoe. From late September into mid October the shallow creek is alive with the bright red of transitioning fish. At peak, it appears as if you could walk across the water on the sea of crooked red backs. Stroll to the shores of the creek, or enjoy the viewing chamber which allows you to see the fish from down below. Smaller spawnings occur at the head of Emerald Bay in Eagle Creek, and in the Truckee river, just downstream of the dam in Tahoe City.
For information on fall colors in the Eastern Sierra and other parts of California, visit www.californiafallcolor.com