This was primarily an out-and-back hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail from Spooner Summit to the top of Snow Valley Peak, up a short spur trail from the TRT. I extended the hike by going less than ½ mile past the Snow Valley Peak junction and also by taking the loop trail around Spooner Lake at the end.
I have hiked up to Snow Valley Peak before but was happy to return. I always look forward to an opportunity to view Marlette Lake from above, floating higher than Lake Tahoe. And an October hike holds the possibility of enjoying colorful aspens. On this hike I had a special treat: for the first time ever, I encountered equestrians on the trail!
The trail is mostly in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, with the Spooner Lake loop trail within Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. From Spooner Summit to the Snow Valley Peak junction the trail climbs almost continuously, though with a pretty reasonable grade. The climb to the summit is a little steeper. And the Spooner Lake loop trail is flat, but about 200 feet lower than Spooner Summit.
The trail begins to climb immediately after leaving the parking area on the north side of US-50 just west of Spooner Summit. The trail is easy to walk, with a moderate grade, and passes through pretty forest. About 1.2 miles from the trailhead, I was surprised to come across a row of pine cones that had obviously been consciously placed next to the trail. I couldn’t figure out why they were there, other than to surprise and delight subsequent hikers!
Within the first 3 miles there are three vista points, each marked with a 4×4 inch post, with views either to the Carson Valley to the east or partial views of Lake Tahoe. This is the view from the second vista point, looking across the Carson Valley southeast toward the Pine Nut Mountains, with US-50 below in the foreground. The eastern edge of the Sierras drops off steeply to the valley floor 3500 feet below, at 4500 feet elevation.
Perhaps ¼ mile past the second vista point I was startled to see an equestrian approaching. I have hiked well over 400 miles on the Tahoe Rim Trail, and this was the first time I have encountered an equestrian. As I got my camera out I told the rider I’d never seen a horse on the TRT before, and he was kind enough to stop and pose for me. The trail was pretty flat at that location, so the pass was accomplished easily. (Hikers: stand to the downhill side of the trail, if there is one, and wait for the horse to pass.)
The trail generally follows a local crest of the Carson Range, sometimes a bit to the east and sometimes a bit to the west. About 4.3 miles from the trailhead there is a well-signed side trail that goes to the North Canyon Campground. A short distance farther, there is another nice view to the southeast across the Carson Valley, this time from about 8400 feet elevation, a bit higher than the vista point. Behind and in a gap in the Pine Nut Mountains there was yet another range of peaks, showing the results of early-season snowfall. Based on the direction and snow coverage, I think they are the Sweetwater Mountains, which include East Sister, Middle Sister, South Sister, Mt Patterson, and Wheeler Peak, all of which are between 10,400 and 11,700 feet high. They are about 55 miles away.
The last mile or so of trail up to the Snow Valley Peak junction traverses the west side of the ridge, with great views of Lake Tahoe and, more directly below, North Canyon. The North Canyon Road and colorful aspens are in clear view.
After reaching the junction, I first took the spur trail up to the top of Snow Valley Peak. As usual, I suspect, it was fairly windy up top, so I enjoyed the wonderful views rather briefly and then descended. One of the views that was better than in other locations along the trail was to the south, along the east shore of Lake Tahoe. From this vantage point, the highest peaks should be Job’s Peak, Job’s Sister, and Freel Peak, from left to right.
After returning to the junction, I decided to continue north a little farther, because I had not had the expected view of Marlette Lake from Snow Valley Peak. Perhaps 0.1 mile past the junction, this was the view looking back at Snow Valley Peak, with scattered very light snow cover. The seemingly inevitable communication towers are visible on the peak.
After a very slight rise the trail begins to descend, and soon Marlette Lake came into view. This is one of my favorite views along the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. Marlette Lake’s elevation is about 1600 feet higher than Lake Tahoe (and about 1100 feet below my location). You can see a slight dip in the rim around Marlette Lake, where Marlette Creek exits on its way to Lake Tahoe. On the horizon, behind the dark rim around Lake Tahoe, if you look closely you can see Castle Peak, which is near Donner Summit, about 30 miles away.
I stopped about 0.4 mile past the junction and walked less than 50 yards off-trail to sit down and enjoy a lunch break with a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe. In this view, Marlette Lake peeks through the trees at the lower right.
Farther to the southwest, I could see the mouth of Emerald Bay and, to its left, Fallen Leaf Lake was a shiny sliver of reflected sunlight.
After my break I began the return trip, enjoying all of the sights for a second time. About 1 mile past the Snow Valley Peak junction, while still traversing the side of the ridge, I encountered a whole group of equestrians. There were about 6 riders, plus one additional horse that seemed to be carrying some supplies. The lead rider reminded me what I should do: the only issue was trying to find somewhere that was slightly wider, where I could safely stand to the downhill side of the trail (but not actually down the hill!) and wait while the horses passed. After all the hiking I’ve done on the Tahoe Rim Trail without ever encountering a horse, it was quite exciting to have two encounters on the same day.
I continued without further excitement down toward Spooner Summit. I had decided that, if I wasn’t too tired, I would take the Spooner Lake loop trail around Spooner Lake. The loop itself is 2.1 miles, with a 0.3-mile spur trail from Spooner Summit. This view of Spooner Lake is looking roughly southeast from the northwest side of the lake. On the opposite shore are aspens, some still golden and others having lost many of their leaves. In the foreground are other shrubs, perhaps willows, golden in the sun.
I had noticed on a previous visit that there are quite a few aspens around the lake. In some areas there was quite a carpet of leaves on the trail. In a couple of places there were small sized evergreen trees with aspen leaves decorating the branches. In one case an aspen leaf had landed right on a pine needle, which pierced it.
Along the loop there are a few benches located at pretty places to stop and enjoy the views. One of the benches had a commemorative plaque in honor of Buddy: “our loving and faithful companion; your paws left prints on our hearts”.
After completing the loop I returned along the spur trail and climbed the last 200 feet of elevation gain to my car. This was a perfect hike for a crisp Fall day. While the colors may have been slightly past their peak, it was a wonderful hike with beautiful views and surprise encounters with equestrians.