Summer Hiking Near Tahoe
Summer days are made for getting out in our beautiful area and exploring, but these unusually hot, sunny ones may not be the best of conditions for all hikers. If you are up for a jaunt somewhere in between couch surfing and the whole of the Tahoe Rim Trail, there are many local options for you. Here are two that some Dickson agents took recently, that you might like.
In the heart of Tahoe City is the historic Fanny Bridge, which got its name from all of the “fannies” that can be seen from the road as gawkers stare over the edge into the clear waters. This is the only outlet of Lake Tahoe into the Truckee River. However, this summer, there isn’t much to see in terms of water with our current drought conditions. But when a door closes, a window opens as the saying goes, and what used to be rushing water is now a field of wildflowers. Where the lake outflow used to be, Mother Nature has delivered the most spectacular field of Lupine we’ve seen in years. This area was lake bed, and the fertile soil exposed from the low lake level combined with all the rain and cool weather of late, provides the perfect environment for a blooming paradise. It’s one of the best wild flower seasons in years. Just park at the Gatekeepers Museum immediately south of the “Y” as you enter Tahoe City and walk out into the midst of this spectacular purple haze, and marvel!
In Truckee, above Donner Lake, is the famous, or infamous, Donner Pass. Before it was so named, the Washoe people and those who came even before them roamed and hunted here. The first wagon train to successfully cross the Sierra Nevada squeezed through this granite gap in 1844. In the 1860s laborers built massive walls and tunnels through the pass to complete the most difficult section of the Transcontinental Railroad route. And in the early 1900s the Lincoln Highway, America's first transcontinental automobile highway, was developed and included a route through here on what was known as the Dutch Flat Wagon Road. It’s truly a walk through history to wander and explore here.
The original transcontinental railroad tunnels and snow sheds over Donner Summit were abandoned in 1993. But now they make a cool (if sometimes dark) hike for a blistering summer day. You can park near the Judah Lodge entrance to Sugar Bowl, behind the Sugar Bowl Academy on Old Highway 40, and walk the many miles of tunnels and cliffs blasted out by Chinese laborers in the 1860’s. It is almost surreal to walk through these tunnels, blasted out with black powder and nitroglycerin, 150 years earlier and knowing that many Chinese men lost their lives creating these engineering marvels.
These concrete snow sheds were built to replace the wooden coverings that were prone to fire from the steam engine embers. Their easy access has made them a canvass for graffiti art. Some of the graffiti is quite impressive and intricate. Although there are occasional slits in the walls for light, there are longer, and thus, darker tunnels, as well. A flashlight, or flashlight app on your phone, would be handy to have. The temperature inside the tunnels is consistently cool, no matter the outside temperature. You’ll want a sweater or sweatshirt, too.
There is a sign on the west end of the old summit tunnel advising that the area is off-limits, but the tunnels and snow-sheds of the old #1 track in the summit area are well-traveled by hikers and mountain bikers. The old rail bed is a fun family hike through snow sheds and history. You will see families with young children, grandparents, and everyone in between.
There are also many hieroglyphics, or rock art, made by the Washoe and their predecessors in this area. The flats are covered with an estimated 200 pieces of this rock art. The Donner Summit Historical Society says archaeologists estimate the art is 1,500 to 4,000 years old and provides a record of the first human inhabitants of the area.
So, don’t let the heat beat you down! There is still plenty of exploring to do in our area. For more information about hikes of all levels, click here.