While Lake Tahoe is no New England when it comes to fall colors, the bright golds of our aspens and cottonwoods and the rusty reds of low-lying brush contrasts beautifully against the deep green of our pines and firs. And, we have a special color that those famous fall color regions can’t compete with: the deep, dark blue that can only be found at Lake Tahoe.
Just a drive around the lake in the fall will give you a nice taste of autumn, but why not get some exercise while leaf peeping by getting on a bike, taking a hike or setting out on the lake on a paddleboard or kayak?
Take a hike
Page Meadows | The series of interconnected meadows that we call Page is a feast for the eyes in the fall. There are oranges, yellows and deep reds to be found, and what makes Page especially wonderful is that each meadow peaks at a different time. While one stand of aspens is still surrounded by leaves of green, another is reaching its peak of color. A few weeks later, when the leaves are on the ground in one meadow, another meadow is just beginning to reach its prime.
Ophir Creek | The Ophir Creek trail heads from Tahoe Meadows toward Price Lake, which sits at the base of the slide side of Slide Mountain. If you time it right, you will be greeted by amazing waves of orange aspens contrasting against the stark face of the scarred mountainside. Keep your eyes peeled for hang gliders, as the top of Slide is a popular jump off spot for those who like to fly all the way to the Washoe Valley far below.
Ride the dirt
Marlette Lake & Spooner Lake | A fall mountain biking favorite is the popular route from Spooner Summit to Marlette Lake on Tahoe’s East Shore. Much of the route is lined with aspen trees, with three distinctly beautiful sections that should not be missed: at the beginning in the first mile of trail, about four miles in as you reach Snow Valley, and Marlette Lake itself, where the stands of orange wonderfulness contrast nicely with the blue of the lake.
The steepest part of the ride is a half-mile section between the start of Snow Valley and the saddle where you drop down to Marlette. Even some of the heartiest of riders might have to take a break here, although they may claim that it was the view of Snow Valley’s aspens that stopped them rather than the lack of oxygen.
From Marlette, you can come back the way you came, treating yourself to a long downhill or head over to the popular Flume Trail with its jaw-dropping, cliff-edged views of Lake Tahoe. You can arrange for a shuttle via the Tunnel Creek Café. Park your car at the cafe and get a ride to the start and then at the end you can fly down to the cafe and a much-appreciated sandwich or glass of brew.
Tahoe Donner & Truckee: The extensive network of trails around Tahoe Donner and the Donner Lake Rim Trail provide folks in Truckee with plenty of opportunities to find patches of fall color. You can head up Negro Canyon via the Wendin Way Access Trail to the Donner Lake Rim Trail, and then climb all the way to the Drifter Hut at Tahoe Donner. Or, you could start at the Tahoe Donner Cross Country trailhead, and find your way via single track or road to the lovely Euer Valley.
Find your narrow road
Barker Pass | The 7-mile roll from Lake Tahoe to Barker Pass is a popular place to road bike any time of year, but once the colors start to turn it is a ribbon of yellow and orange, with colossal views of Blackwood Canyon. The first 2-miles to the crossing of Blackwood Creek are relatively gentle, but provide lots of leafy vistas. Then the next 5-miles will give you the opportunity to enjoy the view even more, since it gets steeper and you will be riding much slower.
Luther Pass, Hope Valley & Blue Lakes | If you don’t mind taking a bit of a jaunt to the south side of the lake, begin a road ride at the Big Meadow Trailhead near Luther Pass. From here, the route follows Highway 89 past Grass Lake down the long, aspen-lined descent to Hope Valley, and a junction with Highway 88. From here, turn right on 88, enjoying several luscious miles of yellow brightness in fall color central. At Blue Lakes Road you can turn around or take the 24-mile round trip on lightly traveled road out to Blue Lakes and back.
Put your paddle in the water
Hurricane Bay | The West Shore is definitely the best shore when it comes to enjoying paddling and fall colors at the same time. Two best bets are to enter the lake either with your paddleboard or kayak at the easily accessible William Kent Beach next to Sunnyside and head south, or start at Hurricane Bay, a few miles further to the south, and head north toward Sunnyside. Whichever way you choose, you will be gliding past Ward Creek and some of the finest estates at Lake Tahoe whose large parcels are filled with cottonwoods and other colorful deciduous trees.