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Lake Tahoe Wildflower Hikes: Where to Spot the Best Blooms
April 16, 2019
Every year, without fail, when the season’s first string of 60 degree days have Tahoe locals dusting off their mountain bikes, loading their kayaks on the car, and champing at the bit for the warm days of spring, one inevitable phrase starts to permeate conversations around town: “The wildflowers should be good this year.”
Tahoe locals have a certain reverence for wildflower season. It marks the end of the pursuit of powder and the beginning of long days spent chasing sunlight as we transition to one of the best summer climates in the world. Make no mistake: Tahoans have an unhealthy obsession with winter, but we live here to experience the changing seasons and to make the most of the outdoors any time of year. Spring in Tahoe thrills locals for the chance to thaw out, welcome change, and hunt wildflowers.
Here, a few suggestions for some of the best Lake Tahoe wildflower hikes. Use these as inspiration to find your own flower-filled paradise—they represent just a small fraction of the blooming bonanza around the basin.
Carson Pass to Lake Winnemucca
Wildflowers in the Carson Pass region are marked not only by their abundance but also by their stunning backdrop framed by the looming arc of Round Top’s 10,000-foot ridgeline. Stars of the Tahoe wildflower scene like paintbrush and lupine share the stage with mariposa lilies, columbine, wild iris, penstemon, and dozens of other unique flowers.
This is also one of Tahoe’s best wildflower regions for beginning hikers, as the 2.5-mile trail (5 miles roundtrip) to Lake Winnemucca is relatively flat and well-defined. From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 toward Meyers, then turn left on Highway 89, following signs for Kirkwood. Turn right on Highway 88 and continue for 8.7 miles to the Carson Pass trailhead.
Meiss Meadows and the “Miracle Mile”
A good winter in the Miracle Mile can often deliver spring wildflowers literally towering overhead. Even a mild winter can still produce chest-high sections of blooms that hikers must wade through while they walk along the Pacific Crest Trail. Huge bulbs of lupine and paintbrush abound, splashing the hillside with swaths of vibrant purple and orange.
Starting from Carson Pass trailhead, follow the Pacific Crest Trail north toward Showers Lake. Atop Carson Pass at the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River, you can find wild iris surprisingly flourishing in these harsh high alpine conditions. Dropping to Meiss Meadows yields fields of mule’s ear with their signature sun-yellow flower. A preview of the Miracle Mile occurs with a shorter section of head-high wildflowers just before Showers Lake. From Showers Lake, continue briefly on the PCT before entering the large north-facing bowl and basking in the Miracle Mile.
Mount Rose Wilderness
A hike through the Mount Rose Wilderness, especially high on the slopes by Rose Knob, produces a stunning visual contrast rarely found elsewhere in the Tahoe region. Vast expanses of mule’s ear with fuzzy green leaves and yellow flowers blanket the landscape as the hillside plummets to the cobalt-blue water of Lake Tahoe. Farther east in the Mount Rose Wilderness, the lush meadows surrounding Galena Falls soak up the flowing creeks in an otherwise dry climate to feed colorful patches of blooming flowers.
Mount Rose Wilderness can be reached by intermediate to experienced hikers from either the Brockway Summit trailhead on Highway 267 above Kings Beach, CA or from the Mount Rose Summit Trailhead on Highway 431 above Incline Village, NV.
DIY Lake Tahoe Wildflower Hikes
While Carson Pass, Meiss Meadows, and the Mount Rose Wilderness make up three of many terrific wildflower destinations in the Tahoe area, part of the beauty in hunting wildflowers like a Tahoe local comes from discovering your own personal backcountry wildflower gardens. Everyone has their own favorite spots and secret destinations, but the vast majority of the Lake Tahoe basin is covered in brilliant blooms of reds, oranges, pinks, purples, yellows and every color in between.
The Tahoe Institute for Natural Sciences is hosting the Tahoe Big Year Wildflower Challenge for locals and visitors alike to identify and report as many wildflower species as they can find through iNaturalist. The Big Year only began April 1, so you still have plenty of time to brush up on your wildflower skills and plan spring hikes as the snow melts.
The bottom line for wildflower hunting in Lake Tahoe is to simply get out and enjoy Tahoe’s changing seasons. The door for discovery is wide open—all you have to do is hike.
Written by Aaron Hussmann for Knockaround.