A Beacon of Hope in History - Hope Valley
By: Natasha Bourlin
South Lake Tahoe is the cerulean Sierra gem’s hub for happenings around the basin. Activities both inside and out abound here in Lake Tahoe. You truly feel as if you’re in a picturesque, magical realm with a surreal focal point, Lake Tahoe. Not to mention the endless outdoor and indoor recreation.
Yet, when you want to get even farther away from it all, head to Hope Valley. Just 20 miles from Lake Tahoe’s South Shore in Alpine County, the least populated county in California is an extraordinarily exquisite area teeming with lakes, trails, and arrowlike peaks pointing towards the wide-open skies above.
A year-round wonderland, Hope Valley in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is a verdant natural expanse rolling through the High Sierra. More than three square miles in area, it was among the indigenous Washoe tribe’s primary hunting and fishing grounds for thousands of years.
To get there, head south on Highway 50 out of the Tahoe basin, then take Highway 89 until you reach Blue Lakes Road. The drive there from Lake Tahoe’s South Shore may be one of the most spectacularly scenic on the planet.
While close to iconic Lake Tahoe, Hope Valley is home to dozens of quiet, crystal-clear alpine lakes ready for fishing, boating, or swimming.
Upon arrival, the sublime valley inspires both awe and — as its moniker suggests — hope. Imagine what the Mormon settlers passing through the region during the Gold Rush must have thought when they laid eyes on this peaceful valley after traversing wagons and horses through the dramatic surrounding peaks.
Its new English name given by the settlers was natural.
Two clear sections of the Old Emigrant Trail also can still be found in Hope Valley. The first is a bit hard to locate unless you know exactly where to look. From Pickett’s Junction, go west about 0.3 miles on Hwy 88 (past the intersection with 89) and watch for the Wildlife Area & Fishing Access parking lot on your right. Park in the Fishing Access parking lot, and follow the paved path as it loops around to the left. When you see the interpretive sign, you’ll know you are in the right spot.
The region is packed with history. Hope Valley has been a hotspot for the Washoe tribe as well as settlers for generations. Traveling along the highway, an assertive boulder commemorates the valley’s historic role on the Pony Express. From 1861-1862, riders stopped here on their mission to deliver the mail. You can find the marker at Pickett’s Junction at the corner of Highways 88 and 89.
The valley was also a natural respite for weary travelers. Remnants of the Emigrant Trail can also be found in Hope Valley, near the Wildlife Area and Fishing Access parking lot. Just follow the paved pathway to the left and keep your eyes open.
Driving a bit farther west past the parking lot and find one of the most mentioned places in the diaries of passing emigrants: the Fourth Crossing. Countless wagons attempted their final crossing of the Carson River here while heading to hopefully strike gold just over the hill.
Today, it’s a tranquil utopia for residents, farmers, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, and fishers who still revel in its beauty and natural resources. Its sparseness helps visitors and residents alike tune fully into the environs.
It is a place to revive, rejuvenate and find tranquility amidst the trees, rivers, lakes and surrounding summits.
Come spring, a kaleidoscope of wildflowers dot the valley, embraced by groves of aspens, willows and cottonwoods as far as the eye can see. The Carson River meanders through, delivering freshly melted Tahoe snowpack to the valley. Wildlife returns after their winter rest, ready to feast on Mother Nature’s fare. Birds flit through the air, serenading hypnotized hikers.
When warm in the High Sierra, the abundant bodies of water in Hope Valley provide refreshment, as well as food: Cool, crisp Crater and Scotts Lakes are habitats to a plethora of trout.
Grab a mountain bike or hiking boots and take to the trails while the snow is sparse. When done for the day, set up camp at any of the approximately 100 sites available in the valley.
And when the temperatures turn, autumn in Hope Valley is positively ethereal. Leaves radiate with red, gold, orange and russet tones, changing the landscape into a mesmerizing masterpiece. For leaf-peepers and photographers, this may be paradise.
Once winter temperatures arrive and the snow strips the leaves from the rainbow-hued trees, Hope Valley Sno-Park beckons powder lovers with 11 miles of snow-laden trails ripe for snowshoeing, snowmobiling or cross-country skiing.
Ice fishing is another exhilarating way to experience the valley come wintertime, and a short drive away are the sensational slopes of Kirkwood Ski Resort.
Eventually, sleep is needed to keep the energy up for more Hope Valley adventures. Naturally, Lake Tahoe boasts a bevy of lodging options, and camping is available in the valley itself, but in the center of Hope Valley is the historic Wylder, a resort property first established in 1926 by the Sorensen family who immigrated from Denmark.
The Wylder boasts recently updated 100-year-old cabins, hiking and snowshoeing trails throughout the resort’s 165 acres, plus a general store and café.
Nearby in Markleeville, revel in the region’s geothermic activity at Grover Hot Springs State Park. Their relaxing, warm hot spring-fed pools offer rejuvenation after long days exploring Hope Valley.
Hope Valley is a hidden treasure just down the hill from Lake Tahoe. It makes for an ideal day trip or a quick getaway from the exciting action of Lake Lake Tahoe Shore. Rural and exquisitely scenic, it’s worth the drive and journey through this historic and spectacular area.
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