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Stories from the valley

Skiing or Snowshoeing the Old Luther Pass Road: A Fantastic Winter Outing

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

Travelers heading from South Lake Tahoe to Kirkwood over Luther Pass on Highway 89 enjoy the views of Hope Valley as they whiz along at 55 mph. In so doing, they pass what I think is one of the most enjoyable winter treks for cross country skiers and snowshoers. 

Around 1957, the new route for Highway 89 from Luther Pass to Picketts Junction (Highway 88) was finished. The old route was gated and started a new life as a riding/hiking trail. In the winter, it’s transformed into a wonderful downhill trek from the pass to the junction.

Though I was aware of this trail, I’d never traveled it until recently. A friend and I took two cars. We parked one at the rest area at Picketts Junction and then traveled together in the second to the trailhead at Grass Lake, approximately 6 miles away. The trailhead has limited parking on the south end of the lake, next to the snowplow turnaround, but additional parking is found along the road a short walk to the north. Unless snow covers it, a metal gate is visible, along with a blue diamond trail marker on a nearby tree. 

As you head out, the trail climbs gently a short distance and then turns left. Look for the markers in the trees as well as the generally visible wide swath through the forest created by the old road. About a quarter mile in, the fun begins. The road heads downhill, winding through a mixed forest of firs, pines, and aspens. There are sweeping turns and straight stretches with the trail crossing lots of critter tracks as it makes its way to the valley. 

After enjoying around 1.5 miles of downhill bliss, you’ll burst out of the forest to be greeted by breathtaking views of Hope Valley and Carson Pass. The markers become a bit sporadic at this point, but head for the gate in the old fence line. By continuing over the valley’s gently rolling terrain along the fence line, the path on the old road through the trees becomes visible again. The journey will be over all too soon as you cross the Carson River on the old bridge, but you can always decide to spend more time in beautiful Hope Valley before heading back.

Once across the bridge, my friend and I located several interesting historic markers before hopping into our waiting car to drive back up to the pass to retrieve the other vehicle. Needless to say, this trip can be made with one vehicle, but using two allows you to enjoy the downhill fun without having to trudge uphill for two miles afterward.

This delightful trail can be enjoyed by skiers and snowshoers of all abilities. For more information, follow this link. I hope you have a wonderful time on this historic trail.