Wildlife & wildflowers at Martis Creek


Large expanses of purple blooms caught my eye on the western side of Martis Valley as I drove along the highway connecting Truckee to Kings Beach late one afternoon. Struck by the beauty of the blooms in the distance, I knew I had to return to explore.

A few days later, I invited Priya Hutner to meet me for an afternoon stroll through the Martis Creek Wildlife Area to explore the wildflowers. Sagebrush was blooming in the distance from the parking area and the trail was still moist from recent snowmelt as we started along the Tompkins Nature Trail, a short meadow loop on the northern end of the valley.

No purple blooms in sight yet, but shrubs bursting in yellow lined the trail, flowing as far as we could see. “It’s like the yellow brick road,” Priya remarked.

The trail meanders from the valley along the wooded edges of a private golf course. As we followed the trail along Martis Creek, we soon came to a flooded boardwalk to cross the creek. With several inches in front of us we opted to take of our shoes for a brisk, barefoot jaunt through the ice-cold water on the boardwalk. With chilly, yet invigorated toes from the noonday heat, we were ready to move on as the trail turned south to skirt the western edge of Martis Valley.

READ MORE: Explore the trail system at Martis Creek & Northstar

Birds could be heard all around, giant butterflies danced around us on the trail, and wildflowers were on full display. We marveled at the downed trees and moist ground, which made Hutner start the hunt for morels. No luck on this trip. Conditions weren’t quite right. We pondered if one could pick morels from a wildlife area if we came across any and decided probably not.

We chatted about dandelions for a story that Priya has working on, remarking that it would be nice to find a crop of them for a photo for the story. A few minutes later, we were crossing Jake’s Bridge when we came across just such a gathering of dandelions. Hutner got to work on photos while I dragged Sierra, my 13-year-old girl, into the creek to cool off (she never has liked getting wet).

READ MORE: Try Priya Hutner’s recipe for dandelion pesto

Hutner continued her task at hand, while I snapped pictures of the creek and Sierra paced on the trail waiting impatiently. One of the many things I’ve learned about old dogs is that they don’t like waiting. When they are ready to go, they think everyone should move along. That, and she thinks dinner should now be promptly served at 5 p.m.

We crossed a few more bridges along the edge of the valley before deciding to head back across the meadow. We marveled at the marsh teeming with wildflowers and wildlife, listening to the chatter of frogs and birds all around. Martis Creek was deep, cold and moving swiftly from the melting snow.

As we walked through still-wet areas on the trail, Hutner remarked that neither of us would be anywhere near a marsh this thick in the Deep South where we both have lived. While alligators, water moccasins, eels and other dangerous wildlife make marshes a place to avoid in the Deep South, Martis Valley offers a more welcoming habitat filled with wildflowers dancing in the breeze, the songs of nesting birds and views of surrounding mountain peaks.

READ MORE: Explore trails to wildflowers at Sagehen Meadows & Ward Creek State Park

Martis Creek Wildlife Area offers two trails – a 4-mile loop that encircles the edge of the valley and the 1.6-mile loop along the Tompkins Nature Trail. Both are relatively flat and are great for all ages. The trails also connect to the Northstar trail system.

There is no shade in Martis Valley, so plan on exploring in the early morning or in the early evening.

The parking area for Martis Creek Wildlife Area is off Highway 267 about 1 mile past Schaffer Mill Road on the right coming from Truckee.

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Katherine Hill
Katherine first moved to Tahoe in 1998 and has been in love with the Tahoe Sierra region since. She has been in the journalism field for more than 25 years and has worked for daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, as well as online publications and Web sites, as an award-winning writer and editor. In the fall of 2013, Katherine became only the third owner of the Tahoe Weekly magazine, and today serves as its Publisher and Editor In Chief. She also volunteers as a board member on of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, a commissioner on the North Tahoe Regional Advisory Council and is a member of the TBID Advisory Committee for the North Tahoe Community Alliance. She is also a past commissioner of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Federal Advisory Commission.