Alpine awe in Hope Valley

The Carson River flows through Hope Valley. | Tim Hauserman

Just a little over an hour from North Tahoe lies Hope Valley, a spectacular alpine valley surrounded by the high peaks of the Sierra. While close to the action of South Lake Tahoe, it also feels quite remote and the fall is the perfect time to visit since the area is picture perfect, packed with aspen groves.

There are plenty of hiking and biking opportunities in Hope Valley and in the Carson Pass environs nearby, and afterwards you can find refreshments at Sorenson’s Resort, just down the road a piece, or venture to the small burg of Markleeville about 10 miles away. If you find yourself heading over nearby Carson Pass, the ancient Kirkwood Inn is another nice option.

The journey to Hope Valley from Tahoe is part of the fun. Drive south out of Meyers toward Kirkwood on Highway 89. As you climb, you get a good view of the engineering marvel that is Highway 50’s Echo Summit, before reaching the Tahoe Rim Trail’s Big Meadow trailhead. For fall colors, you can take this trail through aspen groves just a mile to Big Meadow, or further to Round Lake and Meiss Meadows.

Past the TRT trailhead on 89, the road levels at Grass Lake, before reaching Luther Pass. After Luther, enjoy the long descent past miles of aspen trees into Hope Valley at the junction of Highway 88 and Highway 89.

Now it’s time to begin exploring this mountain valley. Recently, I turned right onto Highway 88 and quickly pulled into a roadside rest stop. From here, the remains of the old road to Luther Pass make for a good starting point for a walk through the meadows and along the Carson River. With the meadow dryer this year, it’s easier to follow old fishing trails along the river and past beaver dams without getting too wet.

I was lucky enough on my recent visit to encounter a group of middle school children in the midst of a living history trip. Dressed in period costumes and walking alongside a wagon train, they were passing through Hope Valley on day four of their five-day trip.

Local school children take part in a living history wagon train across Hope Valley. | Tim Hauserman

Spectacular road biking

This roadside stop is also a good beginning for a road bike ride through the valley. A few possible routes are available: Ride west on Highway 88 and take the long climb to the top of Carson Pass. Once you make it to the top, pat yourself on the back, for you have just completed one of the five passes of the infamous 129-mile Death Ride held each July.

Slightly easier, but still giving you a good workout, is the ride to Blue Lakes. This 28-mile round trip from the rest stop rises more than 1,000 feet while going through Hope, Faith and Charity valleys to reach the lakes.

Round Top Peak and Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail. | Tim Hauserman

Abundance of hiking trails

Ready for a hike? Several great trails lead off from Carson Pass: To the south, you can follow the Pacific Crest Trail just a short distance to Frog Lake, then go further to Winnemucca Lake, and Round Top Lake. The trail passes through open volcanic terrain with sweeping views and scattered groves of aspens.

Remind yourself to come back here early next summer for the jaw-dropping wildflower display. Be sure and take the time to wander over to the eastern cliff edge side of Frog Lake to get a glimpse of Red Lake and Hope Valley below.

On the north side of Carson Pass, the Pacific Crest Trail heads toward Meiss Meadows (the southernmost spot on the Tahoe Rim Trail) and Showers Lake. In just the first mile or two though, you can get a quick dash of fall colors with views of Round Top, Elephants Back and Caples Lake.

Cobbler & hot springs

Once you have worked up an appetite, it’s time to stop in at Sorenson’s Resort for a cup of hearty burgundy beef stew followed by a bit of berry cobbler topped with ice cream. Yep, it’s as good as it sounds. Since Sorenson’s sits in the middle of a lovely grove of aspens, you can take a seat outside and combine leaf peeping and cobbler eating at the same time. Now were talking.

Looking to soak your tired muscles? Grover Hot Springs State Park is located outside of Markleeville. The park has a pool complex with a hot pool and a swimming pool heated by natural hot springs, as well as a campground, picnic area and hiking trails and is open daily except Wednesdays.