Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Bishop Pass and Dusy Basin

Meadows and streams of Dusy Basin
15 miles round trip, 3000 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no fee required

The alpine streams, lakes, and meadows of Kings Canyon National Park’s Dusy Basin are hemmed in by the greatest array of granite peaks in California’s Sierra Nevada, making this a sublime destination for hikers looking for a High Sierra experience. The standard hike to Dusy Basin, which lies west of the Sierra Crest, starts from South Lake near Bishop on the east side of the crest and thus involves crossing high-elevation Bishop Pass, an extremely scenic route littered with alpine lakes and wildflowers in season. While Bishop Pass is a standard day hiking destination from South Lake, Dusy Basin, just 1.5 miles further, is typically visited only by backpackers and is thus somewhat quieter than the pass; however, very fit day hikers who start early can visit this remarkable destination in a day.

Altitude sickness is a major concern at Dusy Basin: Bishop Pass is at nearly 12000 feet, while Dusy Basin itself remains at nearly 11400 feet, so many hikers- especially those coming straight from sea level in Los Angeles or the Bay Area- will experience at least some symptoms associated with altitude sickness. Diamox (by prescription) can help alleviate symptoms if taken beforehand; altitude headaches are common and should be taken seriously. If altitude sickness symptoms progress beyond a mild state, you should turn around and descend to lower altitude. This hike is only accessible in summer after winter snows melt off of Bishop Pass; summer hikers should be wary of summer afternoon thunderstorms and check the forecast before heading out, as Bishop Pass is especially exposed and dangerous during storms.

I hiked to Dusy Basin during a July trip to the Bishop area. Dusy Basin had been on my radar for a long time: I first learned about it while researching Kings Canyon National Park for a visit with my parents at the end of middle school so I was excited to finally see it in person. The timing of my trip was quite good: July is a perfect time of year to see wildflowers blooming along the trail to Bishop Pass. The hike is usually accessible from sometime in June or July through October each year. While I describe a day hike to Dusy Basin in this post, those who want to spend more time in the basin and camp will need to obtain backpacking permits departing the trailhead at South Lake, which can be obtained online in advance at 

The trailhead for Dusy Basin is just outside the town of Bishop but is a long drive from any major metropolitan area, about five hours from Los Angeles and over six hours from the San Francisco Bay Area. Unless you approach on Highway 6 from Tonopah, you’ll inevitably have to arrive at Bishop on US 395. Once in downtown Bishop, at the junction of US Highway 395 and Highway 168, I headed west on Highway 168 and followed it out of town and uphill, continuing straight along this road until I reached the turnoff for South Lake. Taking the left turn for South Lake, I followed the South Lake Road until it dead-ended at a hiker and backpacker parking area near the lake, just above the dam. When I arrived at 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning, the lot was half full already. There are pit toilets at the parking lot. The trailhead lies within Inyo National Forest.

The Bishop Pass Trail started at the south end of the parking lot. I followed this trail into the aspens, descending briefly through forest before coming out to a nice initial view of South Lake. South Lake and nearby Lake Sabrina are both reservoirs, held back by dams built by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that redirect Eastern Sierra snowmelt through an engineering marvel of aqueducts to keep the lawns green in San Fernando Valley. During my visit in 2022, the water level of South Lake was shockingly low: the bathtub ring around the lake seemed to suggest that the lake level was perhaps as much as a hundred feet below normal. Still, the backdrop of High Sierra granite peaks here made the scene quite pretty.
South Lake
The trail began a steady uphill climb above the east shore of South Lake at this point. The trail predominately stayed in the forest during this ascent, although halfway through the climb there was a brief clearing that allowed some more views of South Lake.

At 0.8 miles from the trailhead, I came to a fork in the trail: the trail to Treasure Lakes headed straight, while the Bishop Pass Trail branched off to the left. I took the left fork to continue my journey towards Bishop Pass and Dusy Basin. The Bishop Pass Trail continued a steady ascent through the forest but soon passed by some small, elongated meadows that stretched along a burbling stream. In July, wildflowers such as shooting stars and paintbrush were blooming prolifically here. A steady ascent through the forest eventually brought me up to a rocky outcrop at 1.6 miles with some open views over the South Fork Bishop Creek valley; most notable were views of the High Sierra Peaks and of Hurd Lake below. 

Hurd Lake
The trail continued to ascend past this viewpoint with occasional switchbacks and passed a junction with the Chocolate Lakes Trail at 1.8 miles. Finally, at 2 miles from the trailhead, the Bishop Pass Trail flattened out and then dropped sightly to reach a lovely, open green meadow with views of Mount Goode, Mount Agassiz, and the brown and white swirls of Chocolate Peak. From here to Dusy Basin, the Bishop Trail Pass was a nonstop parade of spectacular alpine scenery.

Chocolate Peak and Picture Puzzle Peak from a meadow near Long Lake
At the far end of this small meadow, I came to the northern end of Long Lake, a drop-dead gorgeous lake lined with trees and meadows at the base of Mount Goode. The trail crossed the lake’s outlet stream and then followed the east shore of Long Lake for the next three-quarters of a mile, hugging the lake at times while heading up and down nearby hills at other times. Explosions of blooming wildflowers dotted the lakeshore.

Mount Goode rises above Long Lake
I passed a turnoff for Ruwau Lake to the left at 2.6 miles from the trailhead and came to the far end of Long Lake at 2.8 miles. The trail crossed an inlet stream and began wrapping around the south side of the lake before turning south again to continue heading up Bishop Creek Valley.

Looking north along Long Lake
Shortly afterwards, Spearhead Lake came into view at the bottom of the valley below the trail at the foot of Mount Goode. The trail began a steady ascent up a rocky slope. 
Mount Goode above Spearhead Lake
While ascending above Spearhead Lake, I saw patches of pink and yellow Sierra Columbine in bloom, one of the prettiest wildflowers that grace the alpine Sierra in summer.

Sierra columbine
A 300-foot ascent from Long Lake brought me to one of the two Timberline Tarns at 3.5 miles from the trailhead. The trail came upon this small lake right after crossing South Fork Bishop Creek; the tarn was exceptionally scenic with Mount No Goode rising behind it and Bishop Creek cascading down a small slope into the tarns' beautifully blue water.

Mount No Goode above the Timberline Tarns
At the far end of the Timberline Tarns, the trail began a short ascent along tumbling South Fork Bishop Creek to climb to Saddlerock Lake. I found this stretch of trail, where the stream flowed through lush meadows with point Mount No Goode in the background, to be especially scenic.

South Fork Bishop Creek below the outlet of Saddlerock Lake
At 3.7 miles, the trail came upon the much bigger Saddlerock Lake, which filled an alpine basin with Mount No Goode rising impressively behind it. Here, the trees were really beginning to thin out and the opposite shore of the lake was mostly barren rock. The trail followed the lake's eastern shore for about a hundred meters before it began ascending again.

Saddlerock Lake
As the trail ascended above Saddlerock Lake, it passed a small, unnamed pond to the left. With trees now very sparse, there were open views along the rocky trail both back down the valley towards Mount Goode and Saddlerock Lake and ahead towards Mount No Goode and Bishop Pass.

Looking back to Saddlerock Lake
The trail came over the top of a hill at 4.1 miles and descended slightly, reaching a spur trail that led to Bishop Lake and the crossing a tributary stream that fed into Bishop Lake at 4.3 miles. The spur trail provided shore access to Bishop Lake; while it was a nice detour, I consider it an optional stop on this hike as the climb to Bishop Pass provides plenty of excellent views over the lake as well.

Mount Agassiz above the inlet to Bishop Lake
After crossing the inlet to Bishop Lake, the Bishop Pass Trail began its final steady climb up to the pass itself, gaining 750 feet in elevation over the next 1.5 miles. At this point, I began to feel the effects of the altitude more acutely and found myself struggling a bit more with the ascent than I usually would with a similar uphill climb at lower elevations: I was now at over 11300 feet above sea level. My frequent need for breaks during the climb gave me more time to enjoy lovely views over Bishop Lake at the foot of Mount No Goode and Mount Goode. Bishop Lake is the last of the chain of lakes in the valley and is thus also the headwaters of South Fork Bishop Creek.

Bishop Lake
As the trail continued to climb, the trees ended and the I entered rocky scree slopes that make up the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada. The trail made liberal use of switchbacks to moderate the grade during the ascent, which tackled a set of cliffs that almost seemed to wall off the pass from the valley below. Incredible views back down the valley to Bishop and Saddlerock Lakes opened up. 

Looking back down the South Fork Bishop Creek valley
A more macabre find during the climb were the full skeletons of a number of deer and a good amount of scattered deer bones and hide. These remains were left over from a 2017 mass death event of mule deer at Bishop Pass. Bishop Pass is an animal migration route across the Sierra Nevada; in 2017, mule deer that overwinter in Round Valley in the Eastern Sierra were descending from their summer homes in the High Sierra but ran into icy and treacherous conditions at Bishop Pass, which caused around a hundred of the herd to slip down the slope that this very trail follows to their deaths.

At 5.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail delivered its final views over the South Fork Bishop Creek Valley before heading into a small ravine. While the approach to Bishop Pass from the north is quite steep, the pass itself is quite broad: it took a half mile of fairly flat hiking across rocky terrain to finally arrive at the nearly 12000-foot high pass at 6 miles from the trailhead. Arriving at the pass, I crossed from Inyo National Forest into Kings Canyon National Park.

The view of the Kings Canyon backcountry from the far end of Bishop Pass was stunning. Mount Agassiz rose directly from the pass to the south, while a wall of summits that included Columbine Peak and Giraud Peak rose to the west.

High Sierra view from Bishop Pass
Bishop Pass is a good turnaround point for many day hikers: the round trip to this destination is 12 miles, a satisfying full day hike for most people. Dusy Basin is the hike's most scenic destination and is only an additional 3 miles round trip, but is about 650 feet downhill from Bishop Pass, which means that there is a substantial ascent for hikers on their return journey. If you have enough in the tank, Dusy Basin is a very rewarding destination, but if the hike's altitude, length, or weather have you skeptical about going onward, Bishop Pass is an appropriate place to turn around. Day hikers to Dusy Basin should especially be aware of summer thunderstorms, as returning to the trailhead requires a second crossing of Bishop Pass, meaning that lightning can effectively create a temporary trap for day hikers on the wrong side of the Sierra Crest.

I continued on towards Dusy Basin by continuing along the trail from Bishop Pass. The trail began to ascend gradually at first as it traveled through rocky scree and then meadows with million-dollar views of Columbine Peak, Mount Agassiz, and the Black Divide. The landscape below soon opened up into the meadows of the upper part of the Dusy Basin; the trail skirted around this area by descending along a minor ridge down into the main part of Dusy Basin.

Giraud Peak rises over upper Dusy Basin
The descent into the basin was scenic every step of the way: this area has some of the very best scenery of the High Sierra. At 7 miles from the trailhead, the descent began leveling out as the trail entered the main basin of Dusy Basin. A lake was visible off to the left- this would be my destination for the day. 

Descending into Dusy Basin with views of the Black Divide
The Bishop Pass Trail does not itself visit any lakes in Dusy Basin, so I left the trail at this point and traveled cross country until reaching this nameless but strikingly beautiful lake.

Columbine and Isosceles Peaks rise above Dusy Basin
The first (and lowest) lake in Dusy Basin featured some lush, green meadows on its shoreline but had a stark and barren backdrop of dramatic granite peaks. Chief among those peaks was an austere ridge of skyscrapers composed of Mount Agassiz, Mount Winchell, Thunderbolt Peak, and North Palisade. North Palisade- the last of this parade- is the third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada.

To the right of this great wall rose Isosceles and Columbine Peaks. Isosceles Peak indeed looked like an isosceles triangle from this vantage point. Further to the right rose Giraud Peak, a particularly picturesque wall of granite; beyond that lay the Black Divide. To fully soak in the scenery, I spent over an hour wandering around the environs surrounding the lake, taking in not only the lake itself but the idyllic nearby meadows and streams, all set beneath one of the most stunning High Sierra backdrops.

North Palisade and Columbine Peak over the first lake in Dusy Basin

Columbine Peak and Isosceles Peak

Mount Agassiz, Mount Winchell, Thunderbolt Peak, and North Palisade
There are four additional lakes in the upper reaches of Dusy Basin, which is an area where hikers can spend days exploring. As I was on a day hike to Dusy Basin, I unfortunately only had time to enjoy the first lake before I had to return. This would undoubtedly be an incredible place to camp and see alpenglow on Sierra peaks; I just didn't have the time on this trip.

An early afternoon thunderstorm flared up while I was in the Dusy Basin, forcing me to wait out the storm near the lake. After the storm lifted temporarily, I made a quick dash back up to Bishop Pass and made a rapid descent back into the South Fork Bishop Creek Valley before the next round of lightning kicked in. I finished the hike after a lengthy 12 hour day.

There were a decent number of other hikers on this trail: the Bishop Creek area is one of the best known High Sierra hiking areas and is clearly not off the beaten path. However, it never felt crowded as the other hikers were spread out over such a lengthy trail. The beauty of this landscape is ultimately rivalled by only a few other alpine regions in the United States; any serious hiker should not miss seeing the High Sierra scenery here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Snow Mountain

Southerly views from the summit

16 miles round trip, 4300 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Strenuous, stream crossing involved
Access: Narrow paved road to trailhead, no fee required

Snow Mountain is the first peak of California's Coast Range north of San Francisco to exceed 7000 feet in elevation and thus is a particularly prominent mountain in the range; its name derives from the fact that the peak is usually snow-covered through the winter and spring and it is the northern namesake landmark of Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument, which was established in 2017. These factoids about Snow Mountain may make it an appealing destination; the summit itself, however, is hardly worth the effort necessary to reach it. The approach from the Deafy Glade trailhead is long, grueling, and frequently very hot and passes through ghastly areas that were incinerated by the Ranch Fire in 2018. Summit views are nice, but Snow Mountain is ultimately far from being a scenic highlight in a state that is home to the Trinity Alps, the Cascades, the Santa Lucia Range, and the High Sierra. Hikers who love tagging notable high points may still find this hike rewarding, but most hikers will find better value hiking elsewhere in the state.

The trail from Deafy Glade requires crossing Stony Creek; the level of the creek can be quite high in spring and may make the hike less safe or even impassable. I hiked in July and found the creek level to be fine; in most years, the creek crossing should be manageable in May or later, although you should check the latest conditions before hiking.

The hike consists of four major portions: an initial mile of relatively flat hiking from the Deafy Glade Trailhead to Stony Creek, three miles of morale-busting ascent after the creek crossing that form the bulk of hike's uphill, a little over 2 miles of continued ascent along the Summit Springs Trail through the 2018 Ranch Fire burn area, and a final mile and a half through a subalpine landscape to the summit.

The trailhead for Snow Mountain is a surprisingly long drive from the Bay Area: it's about a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco. To reach the Deafy Glade Trailhead from I-5, I left the freeway at Exit 586 and followed the Maxwell Colusa Road west through the town of Maxwell, at which point it turned into the Maxwell Sites Road. I followed the road into the mountains and then through the town of Sites, at which point it turned into Sites Lodoga Road. Sites Lodoga Road traveled through the mountains for 14 miles to reach Lodoga, where I turned right onto Lodoga Stonyford Road. Another 8 miles along this road through a broad valley brought me to Stonyford, where Lodoga Stonyford Road ended at its junction with Market Street next to the Stonyford General Store. Turning left onto Market Street, I headed north just two blocks before turning left again onto Fouts Spring Road. The final 13 miles of driving were along Fouts Spring Road, which entered the Coast Range and became extremely windy, taking about 40 minutes to travel. The road remained paved the entire time and I arrived at the trailhead, a small pull-off on the right side of the road, just under a mile after passing the Dixie Glade Campground. The trailhead is not well marked, there is limited parking, and there are no restrooms, as this is an off the beaten path hike. 

The Deafy Glade Trail followed a road trace west from the Deafy Glade parking area, staying level and contouring along the side of the mountain through the forest as the Fouts Spring Road continued ascending just uphill from the trail. Although road traces are generally easy to follow, the trail here was extremely brushy throughout and overgrown in parts, making it both a challenge to move through the vegetation and at times a little hard to follow. I recommend long pants to avoid picking up ticks here. The first mile of the trail was a very gradual descent as the Deafy Glade Trail traveled towards its crossing of Stony Creek. As I approached Stony Creek, I began to catch glimpses of Deafy Rock, a massive outcrop, across the creek, although there were no clear views of the rock due to the tree cover. The gradual descent steepened on the final approach to Stony Creek and at one mile into the hike I came to the creek.

Stony Creek
The environs around Stony Creek were lush and green, a stark difference from the terrain that would come ahead. The creek is bit too wide and deep to be rock-hopped, so I switched out for some sandals to cross the creek, where the water came up halfway up my calf in July.

After crossing the creek, the Deafy Glade Trail immediately embarked upon the hike's primary climb. After curving into a small ravine, the trail used a direct and brutal angle of ascent to gain the crest of a minor ridge. The trail then followed the backbone of this ridge directly uphill and quickly lifted me above the creek. At one point early along this ascent, a social trail branched off to the right that led to a rare view of massive Deafy Rock rising above the forested valley of Stony Creek.

Deafy Rock
A third of a mile and 300 feet of ascent after crossing Stony Creek, the trail came to an open meadow surrounded by trees. The trail skirted the eastern side of the meadow all while ascending and I spotted a handful of wildflowers that had bloomed into July; it was clear that the area would've been greener and sported more flowers earlier during the year. After the northeastern corner of the meadow, the trail turned sharply uphill and began the soul-sucking ascent up Morale Buster Hill. 

Meadow near Deafy Glade
Over the next 1.2 miles, the trail ascended nearly directly up the slopes of Snow Mountain. The trail through the forest here was often brushy and I almost lost it on one or two occasions, but its general route along the top of a minor ridge made it a bit easier to relocate when I lost the path. It's best to do this hike as early in the morning as possible during the summer, because this ascent can become quite hot later in the day. This was one of the more brutal ascents that I've dealt with in California and a big part of the reason I classified this hike as being strenuous.

At 2.6 miles from the trailhead and more than 1500 feet of uphill, I got some slight relief from the intensity of the ascent as the trail began to switchback with a slightly more moderate grade. The uphill didn't stop, though, continuing through a set of switchbacks until the trail gained the South Ridge of Snow Mountain at 4.2 miles and came to its junction with the Summit Springs Trail.

By the time I reached the junction with the Summit Springs Trail, I had traveled just over half of the distance from the Deafy Glade Trailhead to Snow Mountain's summit but had completed nearly 2500 feet of elevation gain. From the manzanita-covered ridge, there were the first significant views of the hike, encompassing the peaks of the Coast Range to the south and to the west as well as the Central Valley to the east and High Rock above. I took the right fork at the junction to follow the Summit Springs Trail north towards Snow Mountain; the left fork led downhill to an alternate trailhead that is much makes for a much shorter hike to Snow Mountain but requires much more driving and a 4WD vehicle to access.

Summit Springs Trail
I followed the Summit Springs Trail north along a ridge with wide open views, continuing to ascend steadily. The openness of the Summit Springs Trail here made the terrain much hotter: in fact, upon leaving the forest of the Deafy Glade Trail, there would be no more extended areas of shade along the hike at all.

After a short stretch of hiking atop the ridge, the Summit Springs Trail peeled off to the west side of the ridge. While the entirety of the terrain of this hike burned in the 2018 Ranch Fire, part of the larger Mendocino Complex Fire, the damage was limited and often non-obvious along the Deafy Glade Trail: however, the upper reaches of Snow Mountain burned intensely and the effects of the fire became obvious along the Summit Springs Trail. At 4.5 miles, the trail turned into a small ravine that was once forested but was now just a graveyard of charred trunks. While brushy vegetation had sprouted in the four years since the fire, it seemed clear that recovery of the full forest would take a while.

Hiking through the burn area of the Ranch Fire
The Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018 was the largest wildfire in California's history when it happened, although it would be dwarfed by the megafires of 2020 and 2021 soon afterwards. Over 450000 acres burned between the Clear Lake area through Snow Mountain; combined with the August Complex Fire in 2020 and the Monument Fire in 2021, nearly every acre of the Coast Range between Clear Lake and the Trinity Alps were torched, a slow-motion conflagration of astounding proportions that illustrates how the climate of these mountains has changed.

Deer amidst Ranch Fire devastation
Numerous switchbacks through the burn area brought me out to the spine of the ridge again. Here, I had a grand view of High Rock, an outcrop that marked the southern end of the higher elevation cluster of hills and peaks around Snow Mountain. Beyond High Rock, I could see back out to Central Valley and the Sutter Buttes, a tiny, circular collection of hills in the heart of the valley between Yuba City and Oroville. On a clear day, it would be possible to see the Sierra Nevada and spot peaks like the Sierra Buttes, but the day of my hike was a standard summer day, meaning that a layer of haze covered the Central Valley and restricted longer-range views to the east.

High Rock and Central Valley views
The trail flattened out for a brief stretch as it reentered another charred ghost forest. At 5.8 miles, the trail descended slightly and came to a large meadow. A few trees surrounding this meadow had survived the fire, making for a tiny oasis of green in an otherwise barren and charred landscape. During the spring snowmelt, this meadow contains the small Cedar Pond, but the pond had disappeared for the summer by the time of my hike.

Cedar "Pond" amidst the devastation of the 2018 Ranch Fire
The trail skirted the eastern end of the meadow and delved back into the charred forest. I ascended steadily through one small ravine; at the top of that ravine, I came into another burnt ravine and followed it up to a saddle at 6.5 miles.

The extended ascent that started from the crossing of Stony Creek ended here. Reaching the saddle, I could finally see the summit of Snow Mountain for the first time, about a mile north from where I stood. From here onward, the burnt forest thinned out and was replaced by chaparral and subalpine meadows. The trail descended briefly after leaving the saddle and then stayed level for a while as it crossed through a number of clearings with sweeping views east into Central Valley. At 7.2 miles, the trail reached a basin at the base of Snow Mountain's east peak and began ascending again along a small stream.

This was the most scenic part of the hike, with scenery that more closely resembled that of the state's famed alpine regions than the standard Coast Range scenery. There were still many wildflowers blooming in the meadows here and the sparser trees here appeared to have largely escaped the fiery fate of the forest near Cedar Pond. 

Meadow and the Snow Mountain East summit
The Summit Springs Trail led uphill to a saddle between Snow Mountain's East and West summits at just over 7.5 miles. The East Peak was the mountain's true high point, so I turned right and followed the open, rocky ridgeline towards the summit. The trail was not always obvious here but my objective was obvious enough that I knew to make a beeline for the summit along the ridge.

Ridge leading to the summit of Snow Mountain
A few switchbacks assisted the final push to the summit. While the rocky summit looked barren from a distance, I found it brimming with wildflowers when I got closer, which added some much needed color to a landscape that showed too much wildfire devastation.

Wildflowers near the summit
After 8 miles of hard hiking, I arrived at the broad plateau that made up the summit of Snow Mountain East Peak. Walking to the various corners of the plateau, I pieced together a far-ranging panorama of the Coast Range and the Central Valley. The Sutter Buttes, nearby Saint John Mountain, and Mount St. Helena were notable landmarks in the view. On a clearer day, hikers at this summit would likely be able to see the Sierra Buttes, Lassen Peak, and Mount Shasta. The view was lovely, but much of the landscape that I could see was brown from either the summer sun or the Ranch Fire, so it ultimately compared unfavorably to summit views that one can find in the Trinity Alps or the Sierra Nevada. I had the summit completely to myself (in fact, I did not see another human on the trail all day) and had a nice time, but did wonder whether it was worth the intensity of the hike and the summer heat to reach it.

View into the Central Valley and Sutter Buttes from the top of Snow Mountain

View north along the crest of the Coast Range

Looking south towards Mount St. Helena

View towards Saint John Mountain and the Central Valley

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Page Meadows

Page Meadows
2.5 miles round trip, 100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no fee required

In early summer, Page Meadows puts on one of the prettier wildflower shows in the Lake Tahoe area, with nice blooms of common subalpine flowers in its flat grassy expanses at the foot of the rocky peaks of the Sierra Nevada. This easy hike to those meadows is right outside Tahoe City on national forest land and is thus easily reachable by most visitors to Lake Tahoe’s north shore. The downsides of this hike are that the mountain backdrop of the meadows ultimately pales to the huge granite peaks in the High Sierra- while this hike and its flowers and meadows are pleasant, its ultimately not spectacular. Hikers who are looking for some flowers in June and July around Tahoe may find this a worthwhile outing, although most hikers would be better served heading to the High Sierra further south or simply catching more patchy wildflower blooms on hikes to more exciting destinations around the Tahoe area.

There are four main meadows on the hike; there is no need to visit all four, although the third meadow in particular is quite scenic and it is worth going out at least that far if you're hiking here. While there is some initial elevation loss from the trailhead to the meadows, the trail through the meadows is quite flat.

I hiked to Page Meadows during an early July trip to Tahoe with Anna and some friends. Early summer is typically the best timing to see wildflowers here: later in summer, when the meadows dry up, the meadows are probably less scenic. A handful of aspens that grow near the meadows also make this a fairly popular spot to see fall colors in October, while snowshoers also come out to this flat and open terrain in winter.

There are a number of ways to approach Page Meadows, but the fastest hiking approach is from Silver Tip Drive in Tahoe City. To reach the trailhead from Tahoe City, we took Highway 89 south from the Truckee River bridge for 1.8 miles and then turned right onto Pine Ave. After following Pine Ave for a quarter mile, I turned right onto Tahoe Park Heights Drive. I followed Tahoe Park Heights Drive uphill for three-quarters mile, which had some nice views of the lake as it climbed; after crossing Skyline Drive, Tahoe Park Heights Drive became Big Pine Drive. After continuing briefly on Big Pine Drive, I turned left onto Silver Tip Drive and followed it to its dead end. The trailhead was at the end of a residential street; there was no formal parking lot, just parallel parking along Silver Tip Drive at the dead end, and there were no restrooms here. 

The trail started out on a four-wheel drive road that continued past the end of Silver Tip Drive. After briefly heading uphill, the trail began to drop gradually downhill through the forest. The road was a little dusty and was occasionally used by 4WD trucks, which made it a little less pleasant. Blooming lupine lined the road but spotting the rarer snow plant was a highlight here: these parasitic plants do not photosynthesize and instead feed off the nutrients of other plants and are typically spotted earlier in the summer.

Snow plants in the forest
At 0.3 miles, we came to a junction with the trail leading down to Page Meadows. We followed this trail off to the right from the 4WD road; this trail descended slightly more through the forest but reached the edge of Page Meadows after just a hundred meters, with the forest opening up to an expansive grassy clearing.

Approaching Page Meadows through the forest
Arriving at the first meadow, we skirted the eastern edge of the meadow, which was lined by forest on all sides. During our visit, the first meadow was primarily grassy and had just a smattering of wildflowers; the center of the meadow was still flooded from the winter's snowmelt.

First meadow

At a half mile from the trailhead, we came to a junction: the right fork led away from the meadows toward the Tahoe Rim Trail, while the left fork traveled west towards the other meadows. We took the left fork, which led across the heart of the water-logged first meadow. The trail was slightly elevated but the meadow itself was still flooded here; we spotted tadpoles swimming in the murky water amongst the grasses.

Tadpole in the marshy meadows
Continuing west along the main trail, we followed the boundary between the forest and the first meadow. There were frequently small, dense patches of wildflowers, including pansies, columbine, and penstemon; the flowers dotted not only the meadow itself but also populated the forest understory.


The trail passed through the second meadow at 0.8 miles into the hike; much like the first meadow, this one was ringed by forest with a few mountains visible in the distance, poking above the trees. While the first meadow was fairly busy, the number of hikers began to thin as we hiked further.

Page Meadows
At a mile from the trailhead, we came to the third meadow, which was the prettiest of the meadows during our visit. Rocky peaks peeked out behind the forest that lined the meadow and the center of the meadow had a profuse bloom of purple penstemon. An unmarked spur trail branched off to the left and cut through the meadow, leading through the dense patches of the purple flower; we, however, stayed on the main trail and continued heading west across the meadow.

Penstemon blooming around the trail
A small clearing just beyond the third meadow delivered the hike's densest profusion of wildflowers: here, we saw penstemon blooming alongside paintbrush and a variety of other wildflowers.

Wildflower profusion
The trail reentered the forest and came to a junction with the Tahoe Rim Trail at 1.3 miles from the trailhead. Here, we took the left fork and headed south briefly to the final meadow, which was still mostly flooded and had limited wildflowers during the time of our visit. After enjoying the views here, we retraced our steps back to the trailhead.

Last of the meadows
This hike through Page meadows was fairly popular due to its proximity to Tahoe City and residential areas. Tahoe has many spots with better scenery, so Page Meadows is not my highest recommendation in the area, but it is an easy and short hike with nice wildflowers at the right time of year if that's what you're looking for.