Fall colors road trip: Hope Valley

As the nightly temperatures change from cool to brisk, and the daytime light fades away earlier each evening, it can only mean one thing: fall is in the air. And, if you’re one to get excited by gazing at the tree leaves as the chlorophyll slows and eventually is destroyed inside them (a.k.a. watching fall leaves change colors), you’re not alone.

An Aspen lined river in Hope Valley.
Hannah Pence / Tahoe Daily Tribune

But, with so many pine trees surrounding the Tahoe Basin, there isn’t quite the abundance of color that many places close by might flaunt – enter Hope Valley.

If you’ve lived around the basin (especially in the south shore) for any number of years, you’re probably versed in the wonders Hope Valley brings. But, if you haven’t made the short drive over Luther Pass on State Route 89 from the lake (about 20 miles), there are many reasons to make the trek over the following weeks.

Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

While each year is a little different on when (and for how long) the leaves will change color, you can typically bank on the first or second week in October to deliver the spectacle. Covered in beautiful aspens, you are littered with views of bright and glorious colors against the backdrop of the Sierra.

As part of Alpine County’s Aspen Celebration this weekend (Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), Friends of Hope Valley will be meeting at Picketts Junction for a series of nature and history talks as well as hikes around the area.

However, if you prefer to do your own exploration and color observing, there are plenty of other options Hope Valley has to offer.

Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Burnside Lake Trail: This 12-mile out-and-back hike or bike option also allows for motor vehicles so it’s a great option for any type of transportation. The lake itself is not particularly large, but is a popular lake-away-from-Tahoe option with plenty of fall leaf colors on the way. Depending on your hiking level, it can be gauged as anywhere from moderate to challenging.

Hope Valley to Scotts Lake: Similar to the Burnside Trail, you have the option of transportation via vehicle, hiking or biking. The road is easy to follow, although steep in some areas. With the trail heading up the mountain on the Tahoe side of the valley, as you reach the summit you can turn around for a great view of Pickett Peak and Hope Valley, sporting all its fall colors.

If you really want to get into the weeds with more lakes and trails, look no further than the turnoff to Blue Lakes Road where the valley becomes your oyster. Sporting multiple trails, rivers, and lakes, you have an option for everyone in the family – even if that means just copping a squat at a day-use area.

Desolation Hotel.
Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

As with all locations this time of year, be sure to check ahead of time for closures and availability.

Or, if hiking, biking, and fishing your way through the trees and trails of the valley isn’t for you, the Desolation Hotel could be your haven. Located right off State Route 88, the 165-acre resort boasts a variety of different amenities, including one of the best options to do nothing but eat and drink your afternoon away while you stare at the colored surroundings: Sorensen’s Café.

Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

The restaurant features a menu full of tasty options, including two classics (burgundy stew and berry cobbler) that have been listed for over 40 years, along with handcrafted cocktails.

If you get there and you find yourself not wanting to leave, the property has 28 historic cabins (including the favorite Saint Nick cabin) that range in size for you to choose from. Although, color season is one of their busiest, so you might want to reach out ahead to review availability. If cabins aren’t available, just down the road at the Desolation Campground, luxury yurts are also available.

Saint Nick historic cabin.
Rob Galloway / Tahoe Daily Tribune

If none of that is in your wheelhouse, and all you really want to do is check out some brilliant fall colors and go home, you can do that, too. There are ample places to pull over, park, and chew the scenery. Bring a picnic lunch and at least stay awhile, though. The colors can come and go in the blink of an eye.

For more information about Alpine County’s Aspen Celebration this weekend visit To view a color map of leaves turning throughout California visit or to look specifically at the color live stream for Hope Valley visit

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