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Stories from the valley

Alpine Lakes just over two hours from the Capitol

Contributed by Tim Johnson

One of the best things about Sacramento is its proximity to so many great attractions. In a couple of hours, you can be somewhere completely different every weekend. Most of the time we think about San Francisco or Lake Tahoe, but what about alpine lakes, early California emigrant history and blow your mind day hikes?

In reality, the Sacramento Valley is rife with alpine lakes and great hikes just a few hours from the Capitol. My favorite is Highway 88 East through Jackson over Carson Pass to Hope Valley.

Silver Lake in the Eldorado National Forest

Many will make the trek to Kirkwood for skiing, but I actually think the area is better in the summer. Wildflowers, crystalline lakes and trails hewn through granite landscapes are all part of a day or a weekend in this less traveled portion of the Sierras.


You simply can’t beat the hiking in and around Carson Pass. The best place to start is the Carson Pass Information Station. Parking, information on day hikes and current trail conditions are all here. They have a great Facebook Page to get you started. Good shoes, plenty of water, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and a rain shell and you are set. Long hikes to overlook Silver Lake or shorter to Lake Winnemucca are fantastic.

Silver Lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains


The area is also filled with history of early eastern emigrants trekking over the same harsh landscape in wagons. The volunteers at the information station can tell you where to look for wagon wheel ruts in the granite and rope marks still on the trees from 160 years ago. If this is not exciting enough, you can see the highest point reached by a wagon train in the continental U.S. or see where a group of early Mormon pioneers met their demise (conveniently attributed to ‘hostile Indians’ but likely just an act of murder and highway robbery) at Tragedy Springs. Here is a good link to some of the rich history of the area and another on the pass’ namesake, Kit Carson 

Caples Lake near Carson's Pass


If you just want to escape the heat and dip your feet in a cool mountain lake both Silver Lake and Caples Lake offer great spots for picnics a swim or to cast a line. Right off Highway 88, they are deep, blue and rimmed with lodgepole pines.

Head over the edge of the pass on Highway 88 for lunch or dinner at Sorensen’s Resort or take Highway 89 into Lake Tahoe.

Not bad for a couple of hours out of the Summer Valley heat! Take a drive and a hike and enjoy the upper rim of our great Valley.