Snowshoeing to Chickadee Ridge

Climbing to the top of Chickadee Ridge with Mount Rose in the background.

#64 on The Ultimate Tahoe Winter Bucket List

This winter I set my personal record for the number of snowshoe and cross-country ski trips to Tahoe Meadows. Situated at 8,500 feet near the top of the Mount Rose Highway, Tahoe Meadows is always a good choice. It gets plenty of snow, the terrain is not too steep and in less than an hour you can reach Chickadee Ridge where spectacular views of Lake Tahoe await.

About midway into the hike
you will begin to discover how
Chickadee Ridge got its name
as little mountain chickadees
begin flitting around you.

The north side of Tahoe Meadows is the haven for snowmobilers and sled riders. On the south side, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe. A snowshoe up to Chickadee Ridge is good at any time, but just after a windy snowstorm is best. All that wind and snow will leave a beautiful layer of hoarfrost on the weather-beaten trees on the ridgetop.

Michelle Allen and Copper take a snack break along the trail to enjoy the view.

From Incline Village, the access to Tahoe Meadows is straight forward. Head up State Route 431 toward Reno for about 7 miles and then, just as the road levels out, a large meadow will appear on the right. Park where you can find a spot. Try to come midweek because Tahoe Meadows can get pretty busy on weekends. It is the closest place to play in the snow for Renoites. The good news is that a portion of the snow lovers are busy on the sled hill or racing away on a snowmobile, so the south side is usually not crazy busy.

From the meadow, head south to southwest into the trees toward the ridge. You can follow the paths of other snowshoers or make your own trail. If possible, keep out of the tracks of skiers. The route is less steep toward the western edge of the ridge. As you climb, you will pass through a scattered forest of lodgepole pines; then near the top, the western white pines and mountain hemlock become dominant.

About midway into the hike you will begin to discover how Chickadee Ridge got its name as little mountain chickadees begin flitting around you. The chickadee is a hearty bird that lives through the winter at high elevations. For many, it’s known as the cheeseburger bird because its three-syllable call sounds as if it were saying, “Cheeese…burr…ger.” It’s also fun to repeat their calls as you stomp your way through the snow.

In a little over 1 mile, you reach a saddle. Here amongst giant granite boulders and gnarly ancient trees, views of Lake Tahoe begin to appear. Here also is where you might find hoarfrost: thick coatings of white, icy crystals coating the needles and branches of trees. It makes for magnificent photos.

Top of Chickadee Ridge with Lake Tahoe in the background.

Stop here for a snack or lunch, then turn around. But, if you still have plenty left in the tank, keep going, you have arrived at the best part. Follow the ridgeline, which now heads to the east. It starts out with a climb through the trees and then levels off on a wide ridge top with scattered white bark pines. Along the route, the views keep getting better with expansive views of much of Tahoe off to the south and west.

In about a half-mile the open plateau meets a steep rocky peak at nearly 9,000 feet and this is where most snowshoers turn around. Before you do, look to the east through a deep notch below Slide Mountain to see Washoe Lake in the Carson Valley.

You can retrace your path back or for a little extra adventure, head down the steeper slopes in the trees close to the eastern edge of the ridge. Soon you will be back to your car, hopefully to a warm thermos of hot chocolate.