Set your sights on Dollar Hill for some late-season Tahoe biking |

Set your sights on Dollar Hill for some late-season Tahoe biking

Mark McLaughlin
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
Stunning views of Big Blue greet mountain bikers from the lookout at the North Lake Tahoe Mountain Biking and Hiking Center near Dollar Hill.
Courtesy Mark McLaughlin |

It’s still too early to break out the skis and snowboards, so keep your mountain bike handy.

A great place to day trip on a labyrinth of trails starts at the North Lake Tahoe Mountain Biking and Hiking Center. The center is known as Tahoe XC during the winter months, but before the snow flies the labyrinth of trails offers great riding for mountain bikes and dog-friendly strolling. Located at 925 Country Club Drive in forested highlands near Dollar Hill on State Route 28, the center is smack dab between Tahoe City and Carnelian Bay. Single tracks and U.S. Forest Service roads meander around Burton Creek State Park, the Antone Meadows Natural Preserve and connect with the Tahoe Rim Trail. Challenge yourself with a burst up to the lookout on the slopes of Mount Watson for stunning views of Big Blue.

Maps show the area as Dollar Hill, but in 1873 a surveyor and ambitious engineer named Alexis Von Schmidt recommended it for the James Lick Astronomical Observatory. James Lick, a thrifty Pennsylvania Dutchman, had struck it rich in the California Gold Rush and then parlayed his luck into a fortune by investing in the booming San Francisco real estate market. Lick was a skilled craftsman, trained in making custom cabinets and pianos, but he had always been interested in astronomy. By the 1870s, however, Lick was in poor physical and mental health but fiercely determined to build the world’s most powerful telescope. The high-profile project would help advance a science that he felt passionate about while also leaving behind an important monument as Lick’s legacy. Many parties were interested in Lick’s $2 million estate and bringing the soon-to-be-famous telescope to their own region. Astronomers from around the world told James Lick that a high-altitude mountain location made the best sense, as it would be above most of the dust and water vapor that obscures the sky at lower elevations.

There were many suitors for the prestigious and expensive project, but Alexis Von Schmidt thought Lake Tahoe was the perfect choice. He chose a site 300 feet above the lake and named it Observatory Point in anticipation. Von Schmidt also envisioned turning the 300-acre plot into a park and a summer campground. Unfortunately, citizens In Virginia City protested the location, as did civic boosters in Grass Valley and the Bay Area, who insisted that they were better suited for an observatory than snowbound Lake Tahoe. Initially James Lick was inclined toward Von Schmidt’s recommended choice, but the dying philanthropist designated a committee to make the best determination among all the competing proposals. After years of bickering, the Lick Observatory was constructed in 1888 on the 4,200-foot summit of Mount Hamilton east of San Jose. It was the first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory in the world and for nearly 10 years its telescope was the largest ever built.

Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award winning books are available at local stores or at Mark can be reached at Check out his blog at

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