Lake Tahoe and the South Shore from Van Sickle Bi-State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Don’t let a one-way hike fool you. It doesn’t mean it will be easier than an out-and-back or that it’s all downhill. Such is the case when going from Kingsbury Grade to Van Sickle Bi-State Park. This 5.91-mile hike is uphill the first half, downhill the second.
The first part is all along the Tahoe Rim Trail, while the second is through the state park that spans Nevada and California. This is the only bi-state park in the United States.
Round Hill in Nevada stands out before Lake Tahoe unfolds. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Even in smoky conditions, the scenery is stunning with the forest providing ample opportunities for photos before Lake Tahoe comes into view. At the connector to the state park it’s possible to climb a bit higher for more views. This is where Heavenly Mountain Resort’s Boulder chairlift ends and the North Bowl chair starts. The hiking trail is outside the resort’s boundary.
Most of the route is single track, with it being soft dirt going up. It’s not terribly steep, but is distinctly uphill. While there are switchbacks, it’s more of a meander. Starting at more than 7,000 feet, the trees are not as dense here compared to some hikes in the Tahoe basin.
This half of the trail provides views of some large homes on the Nevada side that otherwise go unnoticed. A couple spots along the way the lake comes into view, with Round Hill being a prominent natural feature.
A waterfall tumbles out of the hillside in Van Sickle Bi-State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The first time I was on this trail I did an out-and-back where we started at the stairs off of Kingsbury Grade and went as far as the vista point. There is a sign marking that location. This was 4.75 miles round trip. Two weeks later I did the one-way with another friend starting on Buchanan Road. Seeing a bear and walking under clear skies were bonuses on the first hike. Doing the one-way meant better views of Lake Tahoe, even with smoky skies.
Descending into the state park the trail changes to where there is more rock to navigate. This would be where poles might be welcome for those with knee issues. Some of that granite comes in the form of stairs, other times it is embedded in the trail. None of it is all that difficult, it’s just different than the first half of the route. Expect to run into more people on the section in Van Sickle park.
Bears also find this section of the forest a good place to stroll. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Once Lake Tahoe comes into view on the descent she is nearly a constant fixture. The entire South Shore unfolds—the natural and man-made. A little water is still flowing before getting to the main waterfall at the bridge. The waterfall is at 4.77 miles in, meaning there is less than 1¼ miles left to reach the vehicle you dropped off in the park.
While there is water along the trail, be sure to bring some for your four legged companions. The opportunities to drink are too far apart at the beginning to be sufficient. Expect to encounter mountain bikers on the Rim Trail. The entire hike is in Nevada.
The dirt single-track path weaves through the conifers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe, turn on Heavenly Village Way. This leads into Van Sickle Bi-State Park. Leave a car in the upper parking lot. From there, exit park by turning right onto Lake Parkway. At light, turn right onto Highway 50. Turn right onto Kingsbury Grade (Route 207), then turn right on Buchanan Road. Park in front of the gate on the left. On the trail be sure to follow the TRT signs at the beginning. There is a distinct right across a small creek. (Going straight will take you to the Boulder ski lodge and parking lot.) Then go right at the connector toward Van Sickle. (Staying straight keeps you on the Tahoe Rim Trail.)
Elevation gain was 830 feet, with minimum being 6,494 feet and maximum 7,862 feet.
The UV vessel removes 8- to 10-foot high invasive plants from Lakeside Beach swimming area in South Lake Tahoe. (Image: UNR)
Zapping invasive weeds with ultraviolet light has been so successful that study areas at Lake Tahoe are getting larger.
“A few years ago we started off with a 4 foot by 8 foot UV array. We now have a 12 foot by 32 foot array so we can treat larger areas. We went from treating square feet to acres,” explained John J. Paoluccio, president of Inventive Resources Inc. “UNR is studying the effects on different plants. This is the first time we have been able to study the full life cycle of the plants so we can learn when it is best to treat, and how many times.”
Paoluccio first presented his technique to the Near Shore Agency Working Group in December 2015. Success was achieved starting in 2017 with a two-year pilot project by using ultra violet C light at Lakeside Marina in South Lake Tahoe. The light array is mounted under a barge that goes through the water zapping plants growing on the lake’s bottom. Plants collapsed or deteriorated in seven to 14 days.
UVC light works by damaging the DNA and cellular structure of the plants. This then stops reproduction. Because there isn’t much cellular structure the plants essentially shrivel up and decompose in a matter of days. Eurasian milfoil, curly leaf pondweed and coontail are three of the main targets.
The latest study is another two-year project. It is a private-public partnership between UNR, Inventive Resources Inc. and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. This time a larger area will be treated.
Paoluccio said his three main goals are to: “Build a local team and construct an array that can treat an acre per day. Work more closely with the local scientists to show the benefits of treating plants with UV. See this technology be used in other locations.”
The problem with invasive plants is that they clog water ways, especially in marinas, with the Tahoe Keys on the South Shore being the worst. This can cause problems for boaters. In recent years more plants have been growing near the shoreline, making it nasty for swimmers and making what was pristine water murky.
Emigrant Lake is at an elevation of 8,602 feet in the Mokelumne Wilderness. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Impressive peaks reaching nearly 9,800 feet create a bowl effect, framing Emigrant Lake in a manner that could captivate hikers for hours. Even more remarkable, though, is the woman Melissa Coray Peak is named after.
Melissa Coray was the only woman in the 46-member battalion that was the first wagon train to go over the Carson Pass and the first to go west to east, according to the Sons of Utah Pioneers. Congress designated the Mormon-Carson Pass Emigrant Trail a national historic trail in August 1992. In October 1993, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names named the peak after Coray. The agency when naming the peak said it was to honor Coray and the “thousands of emigrant women who endured similar hardships in settling the West.”
Melissa Coray Peak at 9,763 feet is actually a subpeak of Peak 9795. Peak 9795, getting its name from its height, is identifiable because it has a small electric tower on it. From Emigrant Lake hikers are looking up to border of Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Skiers are known to venture down this back side in winter.
A few wildflowers decorate the trail even in mid-August. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Hikers can reach Emigrant Lake via Kirkwood, but some bushwhacking is required. A distinct trail juts off toward Kirkwood from the Emigrant Lake trail that leads to Covered Wagon Peak (9,565 feet) and Melissa Coray Peak. The latter is on the border of the Mokelumne Wilderness.
The out-and-back trail from the Caples Lake dam is 8.2 miles. We logged 8.63 miles that day, with the extra including a side trip to the waterfall and then to our granite slabs for lunch.
Water is a feature along much of the trail, with Caples Lake being the initial focal point. Driving along this body of water doesn’t reveal her true beauty; walking it does. The shoreline is pretty and inviting, with plenty of people only going this far. The trail flanks much of the southwest edge of Caples Lake before heading due south to Emigrant Lake.
Emigrant Creek flows from Emigrant Lake into Caples Lake. At various times it is visible from the trail, or can be heard. This would be a welcome relief for four-legged hikers. With so much water, it made for lush, verdant terrain. Small meadow-like grassy areas were a delight around more than one corner, as were the fields of flowers. Even in mid-August wildflowers were still pretty and worth gawking at. It would be a great trail to explore during their prime.
Most of the trail is a gradual climb along soft dirt and decomposed granite. Some was hardpack dirt from recent afternoon rains. Most people would not need poles going up or down. It’s single track, necessitating stepping off the trail so others can pass.
The trail from Caples to Emigrant is one most people in good shape can navigate without difficulty. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 west to Meyers. At the roundabout, take Highway 89 south. In Hope Valley, go right onto Highway 88. Just past the Caples Lake dam is parking on the left for the trailhead.
Permits required to stay overnight; must not camp closer than 300 feet to the lake.
Elevation gain was 980 feet, with minimum being 7,840 feet and maximum 8,650 feet.
An aerial view of the R/V John Le Conte pulling a large custom designed trawl to harvest mysis shrimp from Emerald Bay. (Image: UC Davis)
After spending about $2,000,000,000 ($2 billion for those who forgot what all those zeros mean) to improve Lake Tahoe’s clarity, the efforts seem to be for naught. Even so, the Draconian measures placed on government jurisdictions and agencies in the basin by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board remain intact. The silly idea of having every homeowner and business spend thousands of dollars on erosion control measures—aka BMPs—is still in place even though it’s not the cause of Tahoe going brown.
Fingers now point to mysis shrimp, also known as opossum shrimp, for the degradation of Tahoe’s famous clarity. These tiny critters that grow to less than 1 inch were introduced to the lake in 1963 by California and Nevada fish and wildlife departments in an effort to improve fisheries. This was done at multiple lakes. It was a failure in so many ways.
The sun may be setting on the opportunity to restore Lake Tahoe’s clarity. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
“It was seen as an ecological mistake, if not a disaster,” Geoff Schladow, director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, said during a July webinar about the shrimp. “It does not seem that we can return to our goals; our goal to restore Lake Tahoe clarity to 97 feet.”
Data released earlier this month show the clarity on average in 2019 was at 62.7 feet. It was at 70.9 feet the previous year. A white disc that looks like a dinner plate is dropped over the side of a boat at various times to come up with the average reading. It’s gauged by the naked eye of someone on board. Measurements were first taken in 1968; the level of clarity was 102.4 feet then.
Starting with the 1997 Lake Tahoe Environmental Summit with then President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore launching the inaugural Lake Tahoe Restoration Act there has been about $2 billion spent on efforts to restore the lake’s clarity. Money comes from the feds, both states, local jurisdictions, and private contributions. Results have been mixed, but never enough to accomplish the goals.
Now an effort is under way to remove the mysis shrimp to see if that will turn the tide. Schladow said this invasive critter has “profound effects” on the food web below and above it. The problem is the shrimp “annihilated” the daphnia population. Daphnia are small plankton that consume algae that cloud the water. While the shrimp have short lifespans, they are prolific at reproducing.
A collaborative project between Tahoe Environmental Research Center, UC Davis Graduate School of Management and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is developing a premium dog food out of the shrimp that is projected to make enough money to keep the harvesting component viable.
Billions of dollars have been spent to restore Lake Tahoe clarity with little to show for it. (Graphic: TERC)
Yuan Cheng, one of the MBA students working on the project, also spoke during the webinar last month. He said the No. 1 goal is to restore the ecosystem, then create awareness and public education, and third is economics, as in generating enough sales to keep the operation going. A nonprofit is the most likely way to bring Tahoe Mysis Treats to market. Food scientists and creative strategists were added to the MBA program’s team.
The mysis come up from the bottom of the lake at night, making harvesting trickier at that hour. A large trawl net is dragged behind a boat. Bioacoustics is also used to determine where the shrimp are in the water.
Researchers were led to the mysis-daphnia phenomenon when in 2011 the shrimp had all but disappeared from Emerald Bay, the daphnia returned, and water clarity increased by 30 to 40 feet, nearly doubling. (It’s not known why the shrimp left.) This was the first time anywhere that the relationship between mysis, daphnia and clarity had been established. A five-year study was started with private money that confirmed this link. Then in 2018 a two-year study began to determine if the shrimp could be harvested to levels that would allow daphnia to return.
The next step is to launch a pilot study in Emerald Bay in fall 2021 to determine how quickly the shrimp can be removed and how fast clarity is restored, outline the cost constraints, and determine the market demand for the product.
This would not be the first time a tiny critter was harvested from the lake in hopes of improving water clarity. Crayfish were the rage several years ago with more than one commercial outfitter working traps and selling the crustaceans to regional restaurants. Those businesses are no longer operating.
A bear in South Lake Tahoe fills up on cherries. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Humans have a way of interfering with the food chain for wild animals beyond leaving garbage out. The addition of unnatural food sources like bird seed is one way, other ways are via water sources like bird feeders and pools. Compost and livestock are other disrupters.
Add in non-native predators like cats and dogs and the system can get really out of whack. Buildings and habitat degradation also contribute to the problem.
“All of this can change animal behavior,” said Jessica Wolff with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. NDOW earlier this month hosted a webinar about the food chain titled “You are what you eat.”
It’s not just birds that are eating the seed people put out. Coyotes, bobcats, rodents, snakes and bears all find it tasty. Another issue is that birds are starting not to migrate because they can find food year-round when people provide it.
One reason mule deer love urban environments is because of all the ornamental flowers available in people’s yards.
There is a hierarchy in the animal kingdom when it comes to who eats whom. (Graphic: NDOW)
Participants were asked how much they and their families affect the local food webs. Twenty-five percent said not at all, 33 percent said a little, and 42 percent said a lot. Every home is taking up land that once was home to some other creature, so everyone is affecting the food chain. Fences limit travel. Human noise can be an issue, as well as lights at night.
NDOW officials stated how most places in the wild coyotes hunt during the day. Not so around the Lake Tahoe area and other parts of Northern Nevada. They are more nocturnal and eat human food. Even though Nevada is one of the driest states it has plenty of coyotes. This is because humans have put out water in the form of pools and bird baths.
While wildlife is wonderful to observe, it’s best not to encourage coyotes, bears and other animals to be comfortable in neighborhoods. Eliminating food sources, including garbage, is the first step. Scaring them away is also suggested by wildlife officials. The whole goal is to keep all animals wild.
Hiking in the Mokelumne Wilderness stimulates so many senses. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
What goes down must come up. This can be a painful reality when the down comes in the middle of a hike. No fireworks were going off, but the drop into Fourth of July Lake was worth having to climb out 2 miles and more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
In mid-July the bonus was all of the wildflowers. The array of flowers and their size is largely dependent on the previous winter’s snowfall. The four of us were not disappointed with the variety on July 19. Columbine, lupine, mule’s ear, daisies, Indian paintbrush, yarrow, and so much more filled the terrain. Rubbing a few leaves of the mountain peppermint was a great way to cleanse my hands of the mosquito repellent.
Lupine fields in the high country of Alpine Country are almost at peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Stopping to take pictures made this a much longer day. No one was complaining. Flowers were growing out of granite rocks, in fields that carpeted the ground, in clusters like a bouquet, and as single strands of beauty.
Roundtop Lake with the reflection of the peak by the same name. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Water was abundant along the trail, making the landscape so verdant, especially on the climb to Round Top Lake. These creeks would be a welcome relief for four-legged hikers. All the water meant two stream crossings across logs. There could be more in early season.
While the hike starts near Woods Lake, the trail doesn’t actually go to that body of water. However, it doesn’t take long for it to come into view through the tall pines. A highlight of this hike was that the views were always changing, seeming to only get better around each bend. It wasn’t long before Red Lake Peak (10,061 feet) and Elephants Back (9,585 feet) were visible. Not far off the trail was a distinct waterfall reminiscent of the Glen Alpine Waterfall near Fallen Leaf Lake on the South Shore.
Fourth of July Lake in the center is about 1,000 down. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
At first the trees provided plenty of shade, but that didn’t last. Going higher the subalpine setting turned to more expansive land with few trees.
At times part of the trek is along what was obviously an old road. A rusted frame of a vehicle that we guessed was from the 1930s is off to one side facing a stream. A structure in the water we surmised was once a bridge. Why the people didn’t turn around we don’t know. If only the trees could talk.
Several places along the trail flowers grow out of the rocks. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Other parts of the trail were soft dirt with a thin layer of duff, other sections were rocky, some granite stairs had to be climbed, other parts were loose scree. I was happy to have my poles, which came off the backpack for the decent into Fourth of July Lake and were used the rest of the trek.
Once through the main section of wildflowers, Round Top Peak (10,381 feet) and The Sisters (10,153 feet) come into view. There wasn’t much snow left on Round Top, but one diehard skier found enough white stuff to make a few turns between the two peaks. It’s possible to stop at Round Top Lake. The beauty was magical as the mountains reflected into the water.
Fourth of July Lake is a beautiful spot for lunch. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
We opted to continue on to our destination. Even if you don’t want to make the descent into Fourth of July Lake, keep going until you see it. It’s worth the view even from afar. An outcropping of rocks is where two people in our group waited for me and Brenda as we headed to the lake. Once at the lake we were at tree line again, with pines surrounding us. On the far side of Fourth of July a small waterfall flowed from the rocks. It would have been possible to keep hiking from there. This section is part of the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. We opted not to visit the national park that day.
Starting from the trailhead parking lot we clocked 9.82 miles round trip. The elevation at Woods Lake Campground, which is near where we started, is 8,240 feet. Fourth of July Lake is just a bit more than 8,000 feet. The problem, so to speak, is that first we climbed to 9,433 feet before dropping down. While we didn’t bag a peak this particular day, the graphic on the GPS looked like we did a couple.
Another option from this starting point is to make a loop via Winnemucca Lake. Signs make this an easy option at the get-go or when at Round Top Lake. The nice thing about bypassing Winnemucca is that you are likely to see fewer people, especially when the wildflowers are out.
Brenda and Roni on their way to Roundtop Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe go west on Highway 50. In Meyers, take Highway 89 south. In Hope Valley, go right onto Highway 88. Turn left at the Woods Lake sign. This is 1.7 miles west of the Carson Pass Ranger District.
While much of the country tears down racist statues, in the Tahoe area change has come via the renaming of a peak. Jeff Davis Peak in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is now Da-ek Dow Go-et Mountain.
In the Washoe Indian language the name means saddle between points. The rock cropping at the top is now Sentinel Rock. The names were officially recorded with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names on July 9. Sentinel rock is what is listed on an 1883 survey map.
Talk of renaming this 9,025-foot peak in Alpine County in Mokelumne Wilderness has been going on for several years. Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. He doesn’t have any ties to California, and reportedly didn’t want it to become a state because of its anti-slavery position. Davis once said, “African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”
Alpine County Board of Supervisors, the U.S. Forest Service, and Gov. Gavin Newsom backed the name change.
Now the Washoe Tribe is working to change Jeff Davis Creek near the peak to Da-ek Dow Go-et Wa Tah. A decision is expected later this year.
In June 2019, the federal agency renamed Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park in Nevada to Doso Doyabi. In the Shoshone Indian language it means white mountain.
Looking north from the base of Rubicon Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Up, up some more, then even more. That’s what hiking Rubicon Peak is all about—the ascent. In about 2 miles the elevation gain is more than 2,000 feet. My glutes on the way up and calves on the way down felt every foot of that climb.
The scenery, well, that’s what makes the effort worth it. It doesn’t take long before Lake Tahoe is behind you. Looking forward it’s obvious this swath of forest on the West Shore has been thinned. The openness is nice because the trail is single track. The second half of the route is steeper and eventually the trail diverges into many options. While there are cairns to help direct you, they are all over the place. Pick the route that looks best to you. This isn’t an ordinary Tahoe trek with nice switchbacks. Those barely existed.
At the start it looks like it will take all day to reach Rubicon Peak. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From Highway 89 travelers, most notably headed south, can get glimpses Rubicon Peak with its unique rock formation. It’s from the tiptop that one gets the best views—essentially the entirety of Lake Tahoe from north to south. While this peak is in Desolation Wilderness, neighboring Granite Chief Wilderness is visible to the north.
With winds about 25 mph in Tahoma the afternoon we climbed, we opted to not scale the last 100 feet of rock. Rock climbers will find this last bit fun as it’s rated a class 3. Gusts were even worse where we were; to the extent I didn’t feel steady on my feet especially with the talus slope. Even not getting to the summit at 9,183 feet, the hike was well worth it because of the views and sense of accomplishment even for a short excursion.
While one dog and two kids were out on this particular day, this isn’t the hike for every dog or every child. The steepness, zero water for canines, and uneven/loose rock at the top would be reasons to think twice about who goes on the trail. It’s definitely one of the hardest 2-mile climbs I’ve done based on the slope and elevation gain. I would not do this hike in spring with any snow on the trail.
Reaching the top of Rubicon Peak takes some rock climbing skills. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
From South Lake Tahoe go north on Highway 89. If you hit Tahoma, you have gone too far. Turn left on Scenic Drive, right on Woodland Drive, right on Brook Drive, left on Crest Drive, right on Forest View Drive, left on High View Drive, and right on Highland Drive. Go through the gate to park so you are not on a residential street. The trail is the dirt road ahead. Do not go up toward the water towers. (Scenic Drive has two entrances off Highway 89. This route is from the southern entrance.)
The elevation gain was 2,112 feet. The lowest elevation was 6,931 feet, with the highest being 9,045 feet.