OK. We are in the midst of having another snow dump on the Sierras (yay!) and while we don’t recommend heading up there this weekend, if you haven’t managed to spend any time out in the snow this year, we really, really recommend getting up there at least once. We’ll have at least a few more weekends of snow time, so DO IT!
If you have been hesitating because this would be your first time snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, we have THE place for you. Hope Valley is south of Lake Tahoe, starting from the intersection of Highway 88 and Highway 89, heading towards Carson Pass along Highway 88. While you are not going to have a remote wilderness experience (you can see the highway the whole time), Hope Valley is a beginner’s paradise, and a great place to take kids.
First, Hope Valley is flat. If you are just getting used to skis, this is a big bonus. It’s also better for getting small people moving, no matter WHAT the mode of transportation. We were there in February, and the day before had tried to head up the hill out of Red Lake with the 3.5 year old. It’s true that probably we didn’t make sure that she had enough snacks in her before starting, but pretty much after 20 minutes, she was toast– and she did more than 4 miles hiking in the rain today, so she has some stamina. The day we spent wandering Hope Valley was much, much better.
You can start from almost the intersection of Highway 88/89 if you want (there is a bathroom to indicate the start), or you can go up further to an area that is extremely popular with dogsledders. In fact, we saw at least three dogsled teams running back and forth from our side of the valley– THAT was exciting for the 3 year old! (And ok, let’s be honest- how often do Californians see dogsledding, anyway? It will probably be exciting for you, too.) From there, do what you will! You can tromp around for a good 2-3 miles of fun, maybe finding a place to eat lunch by the river, as we did. If you start further up, where lots of the dogsleds start, you can head up the hill until you feel like turning around.
My Snowshoe Trails of California book claims there are two different trails out of Hope Valley that sound really interesting (Scott’s Lake and Crater Lake) but I have yet to figure out how to find the trailheads in the winter. If we do, rest assured that you will be the first to know about it.
Another delight of this area is the small but mighty Hope Valley Outdoors center, which rents cross-country skis and snowshoes. It doesn’t take reservations, so be aware that you could show up and not have any options, BUT if you are heading up to find some snow on a whim, they would be a good bet. (I also saw they had a map that included the elusive Scott’s Lake–we must return!)
Get out there! It’s March, and while I’d love to think that we have nothing but years of great snow to look forward to, we’re coming off years of drought and not enough snow. Carpe Nix!
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