Have you ever wondered why leaves change color in the fall? Science fun fact alert – It’s because the chlorophyll giving the leaves their green color is no longer produced. At the same time, there are additional chemical changes happening which lead to the mixing of different pigments such as the reds, yellows and browns. So, where are the best places to see Lake Tahoe fall colors and take in this amazing change of seasons?
Mt Rose Summit – An Easy Drive
If you’re looking for an easy drive with great views, Mount Rose highway will fit the bill. Just over 24 miles in length, State Route 431 is the highest summit open year-round in the Sierra Nevadas. Standing at over 8,911′, the pass gives you unmatched views of Lake Tahoe, Slide Mountain, Reno and Carson City. The golden Aspen foliage is a sight to behold for sure.
Directions: From Incline Village, head east for 7 miles on NV-431.
Hope Valley – A Place of Contrasts
Located just down the road from Kirkwood ski resort, regardless of time of year, Hope Valley is a land of contrasts. This valley contains the meandering West Carson River surrounded by massive peaks – its scenery is amazing. Another ‘Hope Valley bonus’ is the lack of human development. This allows you to look over the countryside and enjoy natural beauty as far as the eye can see. Stands of Aspen, Black Cottonwood and Willows dot the meadows, leaving you with yellow, gold and orange.
Directions: From Meyers, head south on Highway 89 towards Markleeville, driving approximately 12 miles. Turn west on Highway 88 at about 2 miles. The fall foliage can be seen off the road, but if you are looking for a hike, make a right onto the Blue Lakes Road turnoff and drive another 1.3 miles to the trail head.
Spooner Lake – Fishing and Fall Foliage
A lake built to store irrigation water in 1927, Spooner Lake is home to all kinds of trout such as Lahontan cutthroat and rainbow. It’s a perfect opportunity to check out the fall foliage AND with fishing available year round, you can even catch some dinner.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, head east on Highway 50 approximately 15 miles. Turn north on Highway 28 for ½ mile to the Spooner Lake Park entrance.
Marlette Lake – Built by Silver
No matter where you go in the Lake Tahoe basin, there’s always a place that somehow relates back to the silver mining boom in Virginia City. Marlette Lake is a great example of this. Built as a reservoir in 1873, the flume, now named the ‘Flume Trail‘, provided water to Nevada mining operations. It was built to ship logs via a waterway to the Incline Village lumber mill. Now converted into a classic mountain biking trail, the hike up to Marlette Lake is more challenging compared to other ones on the list but well worth it. The trail passes through a Sugar Pine forest, stands of Aspen and even a fern patch, so the opportunity of colors is amazing.
Directions: From Incline Village, take Route 28 for 5 miles to the parking area just across the road from the Chimney Beach trail-head.
Fallen Leaf Lake – Glacial History and Aspen Beauty
Nestled just below Mt. Tallac, the most recognizable peak in the Lake Tahoe basin, Fallen Leaf Lake sits nearly 152′ above the Lake Tahoe shoreline. This lake was created by two glaciers from the Glen Alpine Valley. If the glaciers would’ve kept moving, Fallen Leaf Lake would’ve been a bay of Lake Tahoe instead of its own body of water. One of the best vantage points to see its fall colors is in Frederick’s Meadow. An easy relaxing hike, the meadow itself is surrounded by Aspen stands and Conifers allowing you to get a little outside exercise AND enjoy some fall colors.
Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, take Hwy 89 north. Just past Camp Richardson, turn left onto Fallen Leaf Lake road (FS road 1212). Drive past the campground and you will see a small trail head. The trail wanders through the meadow and then reaches the lake. There are additional pull out spots along the road up to where there’s a gated road on the left.
Page Meadows – Great Single Track
Some people spell this ‘Paige’ Meadows but based on Tahoe Place Names, by Barbara Lekisch, the correct name is Page Meadows. Just down the road from Tahoe City, it’s actually a series of five interconnected prairies. In the spring/summer, the meadow’s filled with wildflowers. But in the fall, the groves of Aspen explode with hues of red and yellow. Part of the path is connected to the Tahoe Rim Trail, also accessible by mountain bikes. With a hiking loop just under two miles, it’s great for people looking for an easy hike without too much exertion.
Directions: From Tahoe City, drive south on Highway 89 just past Sunnyside. Turn right on Pineland Drive and a left at the “Y” where it says Ward Valley. Follow the trail 2 miles to the Tahoe Rim Trail trailhead on the left. Take the TRT trail on your right and head north to beautiful Page Meadows.
Time is running out to see fall colors in the Lake Tahoe basin. Be sure to get out there in the next week or two or you might just miss one of the most under-rated times of the year. And don’t forget to take lots of photos!
Looking for something else to do, wondering what’s the best way to get to Tahoe, or the best cheap east? We answer all of these questions and much, much more in our comprehensive Lake Tahoe guide: