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Stories from the valley

Autumn Ablaze in Hope Valley

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

With cooler temperatures, many people breathe a sigh of relief after a long, hot summer. Autumn is a wonderful time between the heat and the rainy season to come. It’s heralded by a brilliant show of color this year in Hope Valley.

Located about a two-hour drive from Sacramento, Hope Valley is a historic region through which pioneers traveled in hope of a better life in California. The Carson River carves ox bow turns through this huge high Sierra meadow once used by pioneer ranchers for cattle grazing. The picturesque nature of this bucolic setting is highlighted right now by a tremendous display of golden aspen.

Approaching Carson Pass from the west along Highway 88, many aspens are in various stages of showing their color. Aspens grow in groups like families, and each group changes color together. For this reason, there can be a group that is red, right next to it one that’s green and has not yet begun its change, and then another that has already passed its peak and lost most of its leaves.

Hope Valley

Descending from Carson Pass into Hope Valley, one sees brilliant swaths of yellow in places as well as many groupings of aspen that are just beginning to change. This being the case, now is an excellent time to plan your trip to see the fall display.

Because of the number of visitors eager to behold this annual showcase, it would be best to journey to the area on a weekday, if possible. While traveling along the highway, be wary of others stopping to capture photos who might create hazards by abrupt stops, turns, or exits from vehicles. 

A less stressful, more leisurely way to view the aspen is to park at Red Vista Rd, located just over 2 miles east of Carson Pass Station, and walk out the Forestdale Divide Road. My wife and I strolled along this dirt road through the aspen, enjoying many wonderful views and engaging in socially-distanced chats with others out admiring nature’s beauty.

Hope Valley

For lunch, I would suggest a picnic at the Hope Valley Wildlife Area. We parked along Highway 88 and walked back a bit along Historic Highway 89. Just before the bridge, there’s an improved trail that’s wheelchair accessible and offers several benches providing views of the Carson River. You can enjoy lunch with a blend of birdsong, burbling water bouncing over rocks, and a breeze through the trees.

The fall colors are moving towards their peak, so don’t wait! With the nice weather, there might even be time for a hike in this beautiful area while you’re up that way. Have a great time!