Swimming with the wildflowers at Sagehen Meadows


Three-year-old Anikin Allen enjoys “swimming with the wildflowers” among camas lilies and American Bistort on a recent evening hike to Sagehen Meadows. | Katherine Hill

Longer, warmer days each spring are the harbinger of wildflowers and hiking season in Tahoe and Truckee. As the plants begin to push up through the ground, and oftentimes pockets of snow, I yearn for those first flowers of spring.

READ MORE: Favorite wildflower hikes

Hiking above Tahoe City on a regular basis with my sister, Michelle Allen, and my 3-year-old nephew, Anikin, we train our “binoculars” (cup our hands around our eyes, as any toddler will instruct) and try to spy those early blooms. Snowplants pushing up in lone stalks or clusters (I spotted one with 14 plants this spring), squaw carpet creeping across the forest floor and bell-shaped manzanita blossoms becoming flush in pinks and whites before they produce their berries (or, the bear food as we call them).

It also marks the time for one of the best early-season wildflower hikes to Sagehen Meadows outside Truckee. The hike is an easy, relatively flat 5-mile loop along a wooded trail.

Lower Sagehen Creek is flowing along the trail to the delight of our dogs. | Katherine Hill

The trail is easy to follow from the dirt parking lot off Highway 89. Instant gratification abounds as you’re rewarded with a bounty of early-season flowers and swiftly flowing Lower Sagehen Creek. Our dogs, Sierra and Copper, headed for the creek while Anikin marveled at the blooms (and Michelle expertly maneuvered the all-terrain stroller “The Bob” over the rocks at the trailhead).

READ MORE: Wildflowers & waterfalls in Ward Canyon

We ambled slowly along the trail, and I do mean slowly, with a 3-year-old stopping often to marvel at tiny flowers, manzanita blossoms and the raging creek complete with a number of small waterfalls. We emerged from the forest into Sagehen Meadows after 2.5 miles and were rewarded with camas lilies and American bistort in full bloom, with views of Stampede Reservoir in the distance. Anikin immediately began romping through the fields of wildflowers. “I’m swimming with the wildflowers, Kat,” he exclaimed.

The trail emerges into Sagehen Meadows with Stampede Reservoir in the distance. | Katherine Hill

The boggy meadows pocked with thousands of burrows were a delight to the dogs, as well, as they raced through the meadows trying to find the elusive critters already safe inside their homes. We leisurely meandered through the meadows marveling at wildflowers and streams cutting across the meadows, crossed downed trees and climbed on rocks before dusk beckoned us to begin the hike back to the car.

READ MORE: High-country wildflowers

To reach the trailhead, head to Highway 89 north about 7 miles from the Prosser Dam Road roundabout. You’ll want to watch the odometer the first time you head here since there are no signs marking the trail. The dirt parking lot will be on the right immediately after the Sagehen Creek bridge (also not marked). Traffic moves quickly on Highway 89, so don’t worry if you pass it the first time.

Tahoe Wildflower Big Year
Tahoe Institute for Natural Science has named 2016 the Tahoe Wildflower Big Year to celebrate the hundreds of plant species in the region with events, guided wildflower outings, workshops and more. Since the launch of the Wildflower Big Year in April, there have been more than 573 observations and more than 214 species recorded as of press time for this issue. And, TINS will offer a guided wildflower hike along Lower Sagehen Creek trail on June 5 at 9 a.m.

TINS wildflower outings & events

June 5 | Sagehen Creek
June 8 | Wildflowers 101 talk
June 19 | Outing with Hannah Sullivan & Cliff Lambson
June 22 | Wildflowers 101 talk
June 21 | Tahoe Donner Wildflower Walk
June 26 | Tahoe Mountain Fest Wildflower Outing
July 3 | High Camp Wildflowers
July 9 | Wildflowers, Views and Falls at Mount Rose
July 10 | Bob Anderson Memorial Hike
July 16 | Echo Summit Wildflower Hike
July 20 | Wildflowers 101 talk

For upcoming events, visit tinsweb.org and read Events in each issue of Tahoe Weekly.