From mining camp to verdant meadows | Elizabethtown Meadows Trail

50 Year Meadow. | Mark McLaughlin

Few people know about the silver strike and mining boom near Lake Tahoe back in the 1860s, but for a short period of time hopes were high that it was another mother lode of wealth for lucky prospectors. In the summer of 1863, there were hundreds of claims staked out along the Truckee River near Olympic Valley, and also 5 miles east over the ridge in Tim-i-lick Valley, now called Martis Valley. Mining districts were organized, and ramshackle shantytowns were laid out in the mountain wilderness.

The Trail
Opening to hiking and mountain biking.
4.4 miles roundtrip | Easy-moderate

Download the trail map

The short-lived mining camp of Elizabethtown sprung up near Martis Creek. Speculation in mining footage sent the price of town lots up to $200 each. Later that fall, however, an assay report came back on ore specimens sent to Sacramento. The chemist stated that the rock was worthless, with no silver content — meaning the strike was a bust. And just as quickly as they had arrived, the miners dispersed to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

The 1863 silver rush is memorialized today by the namesake Elizabethtown Meadows Trail, a relatively new route for hikers and mountain bikers that starts near the main entrance of Northstar California on Highway 267.

That 1863 silver rush is memorialized today by the namesake Elizabethtown Meadows Trail, a relatively new route for hikers and mountain bikers that starts near the main entrance of Northstar California on Highway 267. There is no parking at the trailhead so turn on Northstar Drive and park in the Castle Peak Red Lot No. 1 on the right. A pathway in the southeast corner of the lot leads past the resort’s realty office to the intersection of Northstar Drive and Highway 267.

View of Martis Valley. | Mark McLaughlin

Elizabethtown Meadows Trail begins across the street. A small bridge allows pedestrians and cyclists to cross the creek to the trailhead that bears left on the other side. This mellow trail meanders 2.2 miles down the drainage of the Middle Fork of Martis Creek, eventually dropping in elevation through open stands of Jeffrey pine and white fir. Along the way you’ll enter the Waddle Ranch Preserve below in Martis Valley.

The Elizabethtown Trail. | Mark McLaughlin

Within minutes of starting the walk you’ll pass the verdant 50 Year Meadow, garnished with aspen trees and named in recognition of conservation efforts by Warren and Mary Brown. Water that drains this meadow and others support a robust growth of wildflowers; I observed more than 20 vibrant species alongside the trail and I’m sure there were many more. Flashy columbine, red paintbrush, flowering bitterbrush, blossoming mule ear plants and pink wild rose bushes are a few of the plants that stimulated my senses with fragrance and visuals during my visit. Multicolored butterflies added to the kaleidoscope of nature’s vivid palette.

Just to the right of the convenient picnic table at 50 Year Meadow there is a stout century-old Jeffrey pine. Place your nose close to the deep grooves in the tree bark and enjoy the sweet aroma of vanilla. As you stroll through the forest, you’ll notice that the landscape shows evidence of significant commercial logging in the past — as does most of the Tahoe Sierra — but it’s also a good example of healthy woodland regeneration with proper protection and resource management. I saw only one person on my hike, but the openness of the tree density gave me a glimpse of three mule deer browsing the hillside. There are alternating sections of wet and dry zones, but footbridges over the most sensitive areas protect the environment.

Along the way, keep your eyes open for filtered views of Northstar’s volcanic Mount Pluto and the distant Sierra ridgeline crowned by Castle Peak near Donner Pass. This trail eventually segues onto the River Trail along East Martis Creek and ultimately the scenic Waddle Ranch trail system. If you have the time and energy continue deeper into Martis Valley where migratory birds enjoy Martis Lake (reservoir) wetlands and predatory raptors soar overhead.

The trail is relaxing, but unfortunately there are no historic remains of that 1863 silver rush. The bonanza ended abruptly and within a few days the scattered shacks were deserted — all except for near Tahoe City, that is. The fledgling settlement eventually became the gateway to the entire Tahoe Basin. A few frustrated miners gave up the search for silver and settled along the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe.

Each lent their name to the geography of the region: Ward Creek is named for Ward Rush, Blackwood Creek for Hampton Craig Blackwood, McKinney Creek for John McKinney and Burton Creek for Homer D. Burton. |