A Winter Wonderland at Tahoe Meadows

Lake Tahoe from Chickadee Ridge.

While hardly a treasured secret to either winter or summer recreationists, the sweeping expanse of popular Tahoe Meadows above the North Shore of Lake Tahoe provides an excellent spot for novices to become acquainted with the nuances of traipsing through the fluffy white powder on those new snowshoes found under this year’s Christmas tree.

As one of the Sierra Nevada’s largest subalpine meadows, the open and gentle terrain allows for easy navigation without the fear of getting lost while providing a large swath of non-challenging topography that requires minimal technical skill to traverse. When recreationists visiting shoreline areas around Lake Tahoe may be experiencing marginal snow conditions, Tahoe Meadows at 2,500 feet higher is usually blessed with excellent quality snow during the course of an average winter.

While a possible detriment to solitude seekers, the area’s popularity usually affords the opportunity for those snowshoers who may prefer to avoid the work of breaking their own trail to follow a previous group’s tracks. The wide-open meadows offer a variety of options for destinations, allowing the tailoring of the length of a trip to suit the individual needs of a wide range of groups. Whether it’s families with young children, seniors out for an afternoon stroll or any age group in between, Tahoe Meadows is the place to be on a fine winter’s day. A sunny weekend will typically see a wide range of recreationists enjoying the scenery that not only includes snowshoers but cross-country and back-country skiers, sledders and families out for a day of snow play, as well. Snowmobilers are on the west side of the highway.

Fringed by a lodgepole pine forest and backdropped by rugged Slide Mountain and other attractive summits of the Carson Range towering above, Tahoe Meadows certainly does not lack for picturesque scenery, especially after the plain is carpeted with a pristine blanket of fresh snow. Usually hidden beneath the surface, the clearing is home to nascent Ophir Creek, which glides across the clearing to the west end, where the stream begins a steep plunge down a narrowing canyon to Price Lake and then continues farther downhill to Washoe Lake in the valley below.

Snowshoeing with Bruce Farenkopf.

More experienced snowshoers searching for a stiffer challenge than just a romp across the open terrain, need not look any farther than the back country immediately beyond Tahoe Meadows. Beginning at the southern edge of the meadows, one well-known option follows an initially gentle route (roughly coinciding with the summertime Tahoe Rim Trail) on the way through the forest fringe to the base of what locals refer to as Chickadee Ridge. From there, a moderate climb ensues through the conifers to the crest of the ridge near Point 8996, where a break in the tree cover reveals panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains sure to satisfy shutterbugs and professional photographers alike. The fantastic scenery continues along the gently undulating Carson Range crest for as far as desirable — just make sure you leave enough time and energy for the return trip.

The ridge is so named for the black-headed mountain chickadees that frequent the area. Although some wildlife biologists frown on the activity, by holding your palm upright and filling it with birdseed you can attract these little creatures to nibble the seed right out of your hand. If you elect to participate in such an activity, do not under any circumstances try to feed these critters anything but wild birdseed, as their health can be seriously jeopardized.

How to get there

Follow State Route 431 from State Route 28 in Incline Village, Nev., toward Mount Rose Summit about 7 miles to the obvious expansive clearing of Tahoe Meadows and park on the right-hand shoulder as space allows. Parking is at a premium on sunny weekends, so an early start may be a good move.

Be aware

State Route 431 is a major thoroughfare with plenty of traffic requiring pedestrians to be cognizant of their surroundings at all times when along the shoulder, especially parents with small children. Be sure to show up armed with the latest weather forecast; while Tahoe Meadows can be an idyllic spot when the weather is clear and sunny, the conditions can become miserable under strong winds or whiteout conditions. Avalanche danger is extremely minimal at Tahoe Meadows, but recreationists can consult daily reports at sierraavalanchecenter.org.