Hiking in the Sierra in the fall stimulates the senses more so than any other season. Visually, the scenery is more stunning. A slight chill tingles the skin. The decaying foliage casts a distinct aroma.
Often a lake is the destination for a Tahoe area hike. This time it was the starting point. It would have been easy to stay there and call it a day because the aspens and other foliage along the road were going off in mid-October like painters had been there competing to see who could create the most vibrant mosaic. For those wanting a memorable leaf peeping experience without exercise just drive the 5.6 miles of Burnside Road from Highway 88 to Burnside Lake.
Even though we enjoyed traveling along the dirt road, the hike was even more glorious. While we clocked 6.85 miles round trip, some outrageously terrific views are to be had just more than a mile into the forest. Stopping where the terrain opens into a valley below with mountains framing it will save you from needing poles, and going down, up, down and up again in elevation. This first part of the trail is relatively flat, with an expansive meadow.
When the descent began Sue and I each pulled out our poles. It’s less than a mile down, but it’s steep and about 1,000 feet. Lots of stops were necessary going down and up—all because of the need to take pictures. I won’t admit to needing to catch my breath on the climb up or that I felt it in my calves the next day.
The marker at the bottom says it’s another three miles to Charity Valley and four miles to Blue Lakes Road. What it doesn’t say is that going straight would take us to Grover Hot Springs State Park in Markleeville. At several points the meadow at the state park is visible in the distance. We headed to Charity Valley.
Aspens are the primary deciduous tree in this part of the Toiyabe National Forest in Alpine County. While yellow is the primary color, the shades vary, with other leaves orange and red. In some locations it was like a carpet of leaves decorated the forest floor. Against the gray granite of the surrounding cliffs the aspens were even more vibrant.
In October there was not much water until we headed toward Charity Valley. However, there were plenty of signs that this would be a wet trail in spring and early summer. Ferns are a good indicator water is not a scarcity. Other low-growing foliage included a plant with green leaves that resembled a maple leaf. Trees were growing out of the granite where it didn’t look like there was any dirt.
The trail is varied—soft dirt, hard pack dirt, decomposed granite, baseball size rocks, granite (follow the cairns), and a log crossing a dry stream.
Getting a late start meant we didn’t reach our original destination—Charity Valley. That would have been another three miles in total; there wasn’t enough daylight to carry on. We turned around at another incredible aspen grove that punctuated the reason we were out on that day—to witness the changing seasons.
- From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 west. In Meyers, take the roundabout toward Highway 89. At the T in Hope Valley, go straight onto Burnside Road. Travel for 5.6 miles. (Four-wheel drive not necessary, but recommended.) Park at the lake. There are trail signs.
- Dogs allowed.
- Elevation gain was 1,578 feet, with minimum being 7,189 feet and maximum 8,228 feet.
- For more ideas about where to hike in the greater Lake Tahoe area, check out The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes or Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks.