Sierra Nevada Forests, Part 2D: Mother Lode trails, wilderness areas, and wild rivers

Part 2D describes the national trail system, wilderness areas, and  wild and scenic rivers in the Tahoe-Eldorado area of the Sierra Nevada forests.


National Trails System

California National Historic Trail

The Beckwourth Trail, Walker River-Sonora Route, Carson Route, and Truckee Routes of the California National Historic Trail cross the Sierra Nevada ecoregion. In addition, the emigrants used at least 11 alternate routes in addition to the four main routes. One alternate route that ultimately became the most popular was the Johnson Cutoff, which is roughly modern-day U.S. Route 50.

Walker River-Sonora Route was the original route dating from 1841. Its modern-day equivalent is through the Hoover and Emigrant Wilderness areas. It was a very difficult route, going over 9,800-foot Emigrant Pass, and was abandoned in 1854. Sites in the Sierra Nevada ecoregion include Little Lost Canyon in Slinkard-Little Antelope State Wildlife Area (N38º30’ W119º30’); Upper Levitt Meadow, Toiyabe National Forest (N38º20’ W119º33’); Browder Flat, Hoover Wilderness; Fremont Lake, Hoover Wilderness (N38º15’ W119º33’); Little Emigrant Valley, Emigrant Wilderness (N38º12’ W119º39’); Hubbs Grave Site, Emigrant Wilderness (N38º14’ W119º43’); Relief Camp, Emigrant Wilderness (N38º14’ W119º45’); and Burst Rock, Emigrant Wilderness and Stanislaus National Forest (N38º12’ W119º52’).

The Carson Route roughly follows State Route 88 over 8,500-foot Carson Pass. Sites in the Sierra Nevada forests ecoregion include Woodfords Station (N38º47’ W119º50’), Hope Valley (now in Hope Valley Wildlife Area) (N38º46’ W119º56’), Carson Pass, Toiyabe National Forest (N38º42’ W119º59’), Caples Lake, Eldorado National Forest (N38º42’ W120º2’), Emigrant Valley, Mokelumne Wiilderness (N38º40’ W120º3’), West Pass, Eldorado National Forest and Mokelumne Wilderness (N38º40’ W120º3’), Melissa Cordy Peak, Mokelumne Wilderness and Eldorado National Forest (N38º39’ W120º2’), Tragedy Springs, Eldorado National Forest (N38º38’ W120º9’), and Union House (N38º46’ W120º33’). The 15-mile section from Caples Lake to Tragedy Springs is designated a National Recreation Trail. The section of trail east of Carson Pass in the Toiyabe National Forest is known as Devils Ladder (N38º42’ W119º59’) where emigrants had to use block and tackle to haul wagons up the steep slope from Red Lake.

The Truckee Route was another early route, dating to 1844, which roughly follows today’s I-80 over 7,000-foot Donner Pass. Sites in the Sierra Nevada ecoregion are in the Tahoe and Toiyabe National Forests. In the Toiyabe National Forest are Dog Valley (N39º33’ W120º2’) and Donner Camp (N39º23’ W120º11’). The Donner Lake site (N39º19’ W120º14’) is in Donner Memorial State Park. Donner Pass (N39º19’ W120º20’), Roller Pass (N39º18’ W120º19’), and Bear Valley (N39º18’ W120º41’) are in the Tahoe National Forest. The Mule Springs site (N39º15’ W120º48’) is on private land.

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail extends 2,600 miles from Canada to Mexico, passing through some of the most scenic areas in California. The Sierra Nevada section provides a tour of wilderness areas.

North of Carson Pass, the trail enters the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and follows the western watershed divide around Lake Tahoe. The trail joins the Tahoe Rim Trail in the Upper Truckee area north of Carson Pass (N38º43’ W120º1’) and crosses Echo Summit (US Route 50) (N38º49’ W120º2’) before entering the Desolation Wilderness at Upper Echo Lake. It leaves the Desolation Wilderness at Lost Corner Mountain and enters the Tahoe National Forest at Miller Meadows (N39º2’ W120º14’).

In the Tahoe National Forest, the trail enters Granite Chief Wilderness at Twin Peaks (N39º6’ W120º14’) and leaves the wilderness at Granite Chief (N39º12’ W120º17’). It then crosses Donner Pass (N39º19’ W120º19’), Donner Summit (N39º21’ W120º20’), Meadow Lake Road (N39º25’ W120º27’), Henness Pass Road (N39º30’ W120º32’), State Route 49 at Sierra City (N39º35’ W120º37’), Summit Lake (N39º40’ W120º41’) on the Plumas National Forest boundary, and leaves the forest at Gibraltar (N39º43’ W120º46’).

Pony Express National Historic Trail

Pony Express National Historic Trail crosses the Sierra Nevada from the Carson Valley to Placerville. Portions of the trail cross the Toiyabe National Forest, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, and Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada. Most of the stations and sites are privately owned. Sites from east to west are listed.

Mormon Station State Historic Park, Nevada (N39º0’ W119º51’) is in Genoa on State Route 206 (Main Street) at Genoa Lane. This was a trading post established in 1851 to serve California emigrants as they prepared to leave the desert and cross the Sierra Nevada. Van Sickle’s Station, Nevada (N38º56’ W119º51’), privately owned, was the site of a hotel built in 1857 and a stop at the base of the Kingsbury Grade, now State Route 207, which climbs over the Carson Range to Lake Tahoe.

Woodford’s Station, California (N38º47’ W119º49’) is at the junction of State Routes 88 and 89. This was the initial route prior to the completion of the Kingsbury Grade over the Carson Range.

Friday’s Station, Nevada (N38º58’ W119º56’) was in present-day Stateline, Nevada on US Route 50 just south of the junction with State Route 207 (Kingsbury Grade).

Yanks Station Toll House, California (N38º51’ W120º1’) was a hotel and trading post in addition to a Pony Express station. It was on US Route 50 at Apache Avenue in present-day Meyers. The route to Echo Summit was via the Hawley Grade (N38º48’ W120º1’), which was the first graded wagon road in the Sierra, built in 1857, with original retaining walls and cobblestones still visible. The Hawley Grade National Recreation Trail is on Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit lands. The trail passes the Lake Valley House, a station on the Pony Express Trail.

Strawberry Valley House, California (N38º48’ W120º9’), was the first stop after crossing Echo Summit. It is on US Route 50. The eight-mile trail between Strawberry Valley House and Sugar Loaf House is designated Pony Express National Recreation Trail. Sugar Loaf House, California (N38º46’ W120º19’) is one mile west of Kyburz on US Route 50.

Riverton Station, California (N38º46’ W120º27’) is on US Route 50 at the bridge over the South Fork American River. In the Pony Express period, the river crossing was at Brockliss Bridge, below Bridal Veil Falls in the Eldorado National Forest (N38º46’ W120º30’) downstream near Pacific.

Sportsman Hall Station, California (N38º46’ W120º35’) is on Old Pony Express Trail in Pollock Pines. This was considered one of the finest restaurants and hotels along the route.

Placerville Station, California (N38º44’ W120º48’) was at the junction of Main and Sacramento in Placerville.

National Recreation Trails (NRTs)

Carson Emigrant Historic NRT, Mokelumne Wilderness and Eldorado National Forest, is 15 miles, extending from Caples Lake Dam (N38º42’ W120º4’) to Tragedy Spring (N38º38’ W120º9’), both on State Route 88, the Carson Pass National Scenic Byway. The trail is partially in the Mokelumne Wilderness and passes Plasse Trading Post site and Mud Lake in the Eldorado National Forest.

Donner Camp NRT, Tahoe NF, California (N39º23’ W120º11’), is a 0.4-mile trail with interpretive displays at the Donner Camp Picnic Area north of Truckee on State Route 89.

Hawley Grade NRT, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, California (N38º48’ W120º1’) is a 1.8-mile trail from Echo Pass on US Route 50 to the Upper Truckee River. It was the former route of the Pony Express Trail.

Pioneer NRT, Tahoe NF, California, extends from the forest boundary at Five Mile House east of Nevada City (N39º17’ W120º57’) parallel to State Route 20 to Bear Valley, and then north to Lake Spaulding (N39º20’ W120º38’).

Pony Express NRT, Eldorado National Forest, is eight miles between Strawberry (N38º47’ W120º9’) and Kyburz (N38º46’ W120º20’). The trail is a multiple use trail paralleling US Route 50.

Pope-Baldwin NRT, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (N38º56’ W120º3’) is a three-mile paved bicycle path following State Route 89 through national forest system lands between South Lake Tahoe and Tallac Creek.

Tahoe Rim NRT, California and Nevada, is a ridgetop trail extending 165 miles across national forest and state lands managed by Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Toiyabe National Forest, and Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The trail crosses the southern portion of the Mount Rose Wilderness. The trail makes a complete loop around Lake Tahoe. The portion west of Lake Tahoe is co-located with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. The portion around the east side of the lake in the map area offers views of the Carson Valley as well as Lake Tahoe. The south junction of the TRT with the Pacific Crest NST is along the Upper Truckee River, California (N38º43’ W120º1’). Trailheads on the east side are at Big Meadow-State Route 89 crossing in California (N38º47’ W120º0’), Kingsbury Grade-State Route 207 near Daggett Pass in Nevada (N38º59’ W119º54’), Spooner Summit on US Route 50 in Nevada (N39º6’ W119º54’), Tahoe Meadows on State Route 431 in Nevada (N39º18’ W119º55’), Brockway Summit on State Route 207 in California (N39º16’ W120º4’), and Tahoe City, California at the junction of State Route 89 and 28 (N39º10’ W120º8’). The northern connection with the Pacific Crest Trail is at Twin Peaks (N39º6’ W120º14’). The Pacific Crest Trail portion passes through the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Tahoe National Forest, Eldorado National Forest, and Desolation Wilderness. Access is at Barker Pass (N39º5’ W120º14’) and at Echo Summit on US Route 50 (N38º49’ W120º2’).

Western States Pioneer NRT, National System of Public Lands, Tahoe National Forest, and Auburn State Recreation Area, California, begins in Auburn State Recreation Area at Maidu Drive and China Bar Road in Auburn (N38º52’ W121º4’), follows the Middle Fork American River to Foresthill, enters the Tahoe National Forest (N39º2’ W120º47’), and continues east to Painted Rock (N39º13’ W120º11’), in the Squaw Valley area on State Route 89 near Lake Tahoe. The trail is 55 miles long and used for endurance riding

South Yuba NRT, National System of Public Lands and Tahoe National Forest, California, begins at the Purdon Crossing in South Yuba River State Park (N39º20’ W121º3’) and extends 12 miles upstream to Poorman Creek in the Tahoe National Forest (N39º21’ W120º49’).

National Wild and Scenic River System

The North Fork American River, Tahoe National Forest and National System of Public Lands, is a wild and scenic river from the Colfax-Iowa Hill Bridge (N39º6’ W120º55’) 38 miles upstream to Green Valley/Heath Springs (N39º15’ W120º24’).

National Wilderness Preservation System

The 23 areas that make up the National Wilderness Preservation System include some of the oldest and largest areas in the wilderness system. Yosemite Wilderness is described under World Heritage Sites. The John Krebs Wilderness and Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness areas are described under Man and the Biosphere Reserves.

Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, Stanislaus and Toiyabe National Forests, California, is 161,000 acres, with 12 peaks above 10,000 feet and 200 miles of trails, located between State Routes 4 and 108. Volcanic ridges and peaks including The Iceberg (N38º25’ W119º45’) and The Dardanelles (N38º24’ W119º45’), are found in the wilderness.  On the southeast boundary, Sonora Peak reaches 11,459 feet. The Iceberg is visible from the end of Clarks Fork Road. Deep canyons drain to the Stanislaus and Carson Rivers. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail traverses the wilderness from the East Fork Carson River headwaters on Sonora Peak (N38º22’ W119º38’) to north of Wolf Creek Pass (N38º30’ W119º46’), passing Boulder Peak along the way. The East Fork Carson River is eligible for the national wild and scenic river system for 27 miles from its source (N38º22’ W119º38’) to the Silver King Valley (N38º33’ W119º38’). Carson Falls is included in this river reach. Other sites showing the extent of the wilderness are Wolf Creek Lake in the north (N38º36’ W119º40’), Clark Fork Meadow and St. Marys Pass (N38º21’ W119º39’) in the south, Donnell Lake and the Middle Fork Stanislaus River (N38º20’ W119º58’) in the southwest, Rose Meadow near Lake Alpine (N38º28’ W120º0’) in the west, Antelope Peak (N38º28’ W119º33’) in the east, and the Elephant Rock (N38º27’ W119º58’). Access points from the Stanislaus National Forest include Iceberg Meadow at The Iceberg, Clark Fork Campground (N38º24’ W119º48’), and Tryon Meadow on Highland Lake Road (N38º30’ W119º48’). From the Toiyabe National Forest, Rodriquez Flat (N38º31’ W119º33’) and Wolf Creek Meadows (N38º35’ W119º42’) provide trail access. Silver King Creek (N38º28’ W119º36’) in the Toiyabe section is considered a potential National Natural Landmark.

Desolation Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, is 64,000 acres of glacially smoothed terrain with 130 lakes and granite peaks. Middle Mountain proposed Research Natural Area (N38º56’ W120º10’) is 400 acres of mountain hemlock vegetation type. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses the wilderness from Lost Corner Mountain (N39º0’ W120º13’) south to Upper Echo Lake (N38º51’ W120º5’). Trailheads on the Lake Tahoe Basin side of the wilderness include Mount Tallac (N38º55’ W120º4’), Glen Alpine (N38º53’ W120º5’), Echo Lakes (N38º50’ W120º3’), Eagle Falls (N38º57’ W120º7’), Bayview (N38º57’ W120º6’), and Meeks Bay (N39º2’ W120º8’). Rubicon Reservoir, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (N38º59’ W120º13’) is on the Rubicon River in the wilderness. It is part of the Upper American River hydroelectric project. Lake Aloha (N38º52’ W120º8’) is on Pyramid Creek in the southern part of the wilderness. It drains to the South Fork American River as part of the hydro projects of the El Dorado Irrigation District. There are six auxillary dams that keep the reservoir from overflowing into other lakes in the vicinity.

Granite Chief Wilderness, Tahoe National Forest, California, is 25,100 acres between the Rubicon River and Middle Fork American River. Topography is exposed rocks, cliffs, and glacier-carved forested valleys. The northernmost point is near Lyon Peak (N39º13’ W120º20) and the southernmost point is near the Rubicon River (N39º3’ W120º18’) upstream from Hell Hole Reservoir. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail crosses the wilderness between Twin Peaks (N39º6’ W120º14’) and Granite Chief (N39º12’ W120º17’). The Western States Pioneer Recreation Trail crosses the wilderness from French Meadows (N39º11’ W120º21’) to Squaw Valley Ski Area (N39º12’ W120º17’).  The wilderness borders the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and is usually accessed from the Lake Tahoe area.

Hoover Wilderness, Inyo and Toiyabe National Forests and Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area, California, is a 124,500-acre region of alpine lakes and meadows adjacent to Yosemite NP. It extends from 300-foot Leavitt Falls (N38º19’ W119º34’) in the north to the Twenty Lakes Basin (N37º59’ W119º18’) in the south. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses a small portion of the wilderness from Dorothy Lake Pass (N38º11’ W119º35’) to Kennedy Canyon (N38º15’ W119º36’). Sites in the Toiyabe portion include Kennedy Canyon and Tower Canyon in the West Walker River drainage, Virginia Lakes,Green Creek, Barney Lake, Peeler Lake, and Little Slide Canyon. Sites in the Inyo portion include Lundy Canyon, Tioga Peak, and Twenty Lakes Basin. Mono Dome is in the Mono Lakes National Scenic Area portion. Rainbow Meadows Research Natural Area (N38º9’ W119º31’) is a 1,500-acre area of subalpine white bark pine and pristine alpine habitats in the West Walker River headwaters near Hawksbeak Peak, adjoining Yosemite NP. Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area (N37º58’ W119º18’) is 3,900 acres of alpine meadow and subalpine forest north of Tioga Pass on the Yosemite National Park boundary. The West Walker River is eligible for the national wild and scenic river system from its headwaters (N38º10’ W119º33’) downstream to Leavitt Meadows (N38º18’ W119º33’) in the wilderness. The Walker River-Sonora Route of the California National Historic Trail crosses the wilderness from Leavitt Meadow (N38º20’ W119º33’) to Fremont Lake (N38º15’ W119º33’).

Mokelumne Wilderness, Eldorado, Stanislaus, and Toiyabe National Forests, California, is 105,000 acres in two sections separated by the Deer Valley four-wheel-drive route (N38º34’ W119º55’). The west segment extends from Winnemucca Lake in the north and Avalanche Meadow in the south. This is a volcanic area that has been shaped by glaciers. Volcanic peaks include Elephants Back (N38º41’ W119º59’) and Round Top (N38º40’ W120º0’), which is also a geological and botanical special interest area. A glaciated valley in the west section is Summit City Canyon (N38º39’ W119º59’). In the east section, glaciated valleys include Pleasant Valley (N38º38’ W119º52’) and Thornberg Canyon (N38º39’ W119º51’). The west section extends from Grover Hot Springs in the north and Grouse Flat on State Route 4 in the south. The North Fork Mokelumne River and its canyon in the wilderness from State Route 4 (N38º32’ W119º55’) 18 miles downstream to Salt Springs Reservoir (N38º30’ W120º9’) is eligible for the national wild and scenic river system. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail traverses the two sections of the wilderness between Carson Pass (N38º41’ W120º0’) and Raymond Meadow (N38º35’ W119º50’) north of Ebbetts Pass. Round Top Botanical and Geological Area (N38º41’ W119º59’) is 4,000 acres in the northwestern portion of the wilderness and Eldorado National Forest lands to the north. Snow Canyon proposed RNA (N38º37’ W119º59’) in the Eldorado portion is a subalpine forest with western white pine, alpine barrens, and shrub steppe. The Carson Route of the California National Historic Trail crosses the wilderness in the area of Emigrant Valley (N38º40’ W120º3’) near Caples Lake. This trail is designated the Carson Emigrant Historic National Recreation Trail.

Mount Rose Wilderness, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada, is in two units separated by Hunter Lake Road (Forest Road 392). The Carson Range, including 10,780-foot Mount Rose, is included along with meadows and small lakes. Trails from the east side begin at the Galena Creek Visitor Center (N39º22’ W119º51’) and adjacent Galena Regional Park. The Tahoe Rim National Recreation Trail crosses the wilderness from Relay Peak (N39º16’ W119º57’) west to Mount Baldy (N39º17’ W120º0’).

National Fish Hatchery System

The Lahontan National Fish Hatchery, Nevada (N38º53’ W119º42’) is focused on recovery of the endangered cui-ui (Chasmistes cujui) and Lahontan cutthroat trout, which migrated between Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake in the Truckee River. Fish are placed in Pyramid Lake, Walker Lake, the Truckee River, Fallen Leaf Lake, and Marlette Reservoir to aid in the recovery, with the goal of restoring the fish to their historic range in the Sierra Nevada.

Other Federal Sites

Indian Creek Recreation Area, National System of Public Lands, California (N38º45’ W119º47’), is 7,000 acres in the eastern Sierra north of Markleeville off of State Route 89. A campground, eight miles of trails, and the Curtz Lake Environmental Study Area are featured.

Mountain Warfare Training Center, U.S. Marine Corps, California (N38º22’ W119º31’) is on State Route 108 in the Toiyabe National Forest. Training occurs on 46,000 acres of the Toiyabe National Forest.

Stevens Trail, National System of Public Lands, California (N39º6’ W120º57’) begins at I-80 on Canon Way in Colfax and extends four miles, providing views of the North Fork American River, Cape Horn loop of the Central Pacific Railroad, and Secret Ravine.

Part 2E describes state and local sites in the Mother Lode (Tahoe-Eldorado areas).