I grew up in the mountains of Amador County and my family often traveled up Highway 88 to fish in Bear Reservoir or Caples Lake, picnic and hike around Woods Lake, ski at Kirkwood, or simply enjoy the beautiful colors of autumn in Hope Valley. Since then, I’ve moved from my hometown and traveled the world, but I still believe there is no place more beautiful in the fall of the year than the high Sierra.
When I was a kid, Hope Valley was always a quick day trip since we just lived down the road. Today it is a bit farther away, but it is still a place that I love to visit – and I thought you might like it too. Hope Valley is located in Alpine County along Highway 88. As one of the largest alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada, its streams and tall grasses once provided water and food for emigrants and their livestock as they journeyed to California via the Carson River Route of the Emigrant Trail. I would imagine the valley was named because of the hope it offered weary travelers.
The most beautiful way to enjoy the fall color is to approach Hope Valley by traveling east along Highway 88. You’ll pass by Kirkwood, Caples Lake, and Woods Lake (which is a bit off the main drag, but is worthy of a stop), then you will round the corner and descend the grade and enter Hope Valley. This is where you will want to linger, stop, take photos, and appreciate the almost fluorescent colors of grove after grove of Quaking Aspen trees. There are a few side roads you can take, including Blue Lakes Road – which is now nicely paved (much different than it was in my childhood!) – and several little no-name roads (well, I imagine they probably have names – I just don’t know what they are…). No need to stray from the beaten path, however, as the autumn color in its full glory can be appreciated right from the highway. You won’t want to miss the little cabin along the way. It will be hard to miss, as I suspect it is probably one of the most photographed autumn scenes in the area and, in all likelihood there will be numerous cars parked alongside the road.
For a bite to eat, or a place to stay, stop at Sorensens, a small all-season resort at the eastern edge of Hope Valley, or continue along Highway 88 into Genoa or Carson City. Genoa is a stop in itself. It is home to Mormon Station State Historic Park, the site of Nevada’s first permanent non-native settlement and trading post, as well as the very charming Genoa Bar & Saloon, which brags that it is Nevada’s oldest “thirst parlor”.
Lake Tahoe is also just a hop-skip-and-jump away from Hope Valley. Luther Pass Road (HWY 89) will take you directly into South Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is always wonderful this time of year. The summer crowds are gone and ski season has not yet begun, making it the perfect time to do some of those touristy things you’ve always wanted to do.
I do hope you find some time in your fall schedule to enjoy the beauty of autumn. If you venture to Hope Valley, maybe I’ll see you there!