Exploring historic Markleeville

Pat Russell enjoys Walking tour book

On a hilltop above the quaint town of Markleeville, a century-old schoolhouse stands proud. Preserved in white, the structure appears timeless under a sapphire sky. In the distance, most of Raymond Peak is covered in thunderheads. A heavy iron door creaked, drawing me back in time and into the old Alpine County jailhouse. A blue-eyed mannequin startled me from behind his cell door. His grin seemed to sharpen. I left to meander around the back of the jailhouse and discovered a graveyard of rusted farm equipment resting in a lush meadow. Neighboring the meadow is a silver ore stamp mill, a six-ton Basque bread oven and the Alpine County Museum with exhibits that highlight a bygone era. This is just a taste of the history and recreation waiting in Markleeville.


In the first blue light of morning, I woke at the Turtle Rock Campground. The night in my camper was mostly quiet except for the bear who bounced the tailgate I left down. The campground sports 26 RV sites and 12 tent sites. There are no reservations or hookups, but water and bathrooms are available as is an 18-hole, disc-golf course. The treed course offers long technical shots, as well as a few birdie holes and is enhanced with emerging red snow plants. Late spring and early summer is typically the best time of year to enjoy a variety of dazzling wildflowers native to the area.

“Two people per square mile,” the free postcard in the Alps Haus Cafe advertised, but failed to mention the ghosts that allegedly haunt every establishment in town. Reading “Markleeville Ghost Tales” by Karen Dustman conjures my curiosity and flavors breakfast with a lively discussion.

The old jail in Markleeville.

“I was down in the basement last week and the door slammed shut. I opened it and it slammed shut again. There’s no breeze or airflow down there,” said John Baker, owner of Alps Haus Cafe.

Sandy Matlock, owner of the J. Marklee Toll Station, sipped her gourmet coffee and added, “When we bought the hotel, I’d hear what sounded like crowds of people chattering and I’d wonder who was having a party in my yard. I’d look and no one was there.”

The hotel was originally called the Exchange Saloon and served as a bordello. These days Matlock is cool with her mischievous ghosts, which include an old miner named Jake and a young girl who seems to appear more often when the menfolk are around. Once Matlock informed Jake that she intended to remodel the hotel and that was how she would support her family, Jake’s spirit seemed to improve and he quit leaving the toilet seat up.

Clouds threaten rain as I shook the chill of apparitions from my mind and walked from Heritage Park to nearby Markleeville Creek. Fishing here is easily accessible; the creek receives heavy amounts of stocked trout making it the perfect place for children and beginners. Continually casting a flawless fly is a skill I’ve yet to perfect, so I practiced a few roll casts before moving on.

South of Markleeville on State Route 89, Hangman’s Bridge crosses the East Fork of the Carson River. Hiking and fishing this section of the river offers not only scenic solitude, but rainbow, cutthroat, browns and brook trout. Fishing regulations on the river are mixed — please know before you go. With more than 60 lakes and streams, Alpine County allows anglers access to world-class fishing; many of these spots are within a short driving distance of Markleeville.

The century-old Markleeville schoolhouse.

Exploring nearby hiking or biking trails can consume a day, a month or even years. This portion of the Mokelumne Wilderness is seldom visited. Waterfalls spill over granite boulders, pristine alpine lakes entice swimmers and vistas of a valley sculpted first by ice then by water are a few of nature’s gifts here. Whether you choose a difficult back-county journey or a less strenuous day hike, odds are good that the experience will enhance your character. It could be one of the reasons Jacob Markley, for whom the town is named, staked his 160-acre claim here in 1861.

If rock climbing is your thing, nearby Woodfords Canyon offers a variety of year-round opportunities. If dangling from granite walls is not your thing, I suggest you grab a copy of “A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Markleeville” by Karen and Rick Dustman, then end the day at Grover Hot Springs. Bathe in the healing thermal waters and spend the night under the stars at one of several campgrounds. Lodging is available in town at J. Marklee Toll Station, Creekside Lodge or several vacation rentals. Other nearby options include Carson River Resort or Woodfords Inn.

The General Store is a great place for information, snacks, a good book or forgotten supplies. Markleeville is on State Route 89, 30 miles from South Lake Tahoe via Luther Pass. | (530) 694-2317, alpinecounty.com