July was quite exciting with tight gardens of balsamroot and mule ears quickly taking over exposed slopes. Once the temperatures warmed, lupine and paintbrush soon joined the yellow sunflowers, adding hints of blue and vivid splashes of red. However, with the snow pack still melting and keeping sunny meadows moist, don’t be surprised if many of our July favorites persist into August.
Guided wildflower hikes with Lisa Berry
Aug. 7, 9 & 11 | Carson Pass Area
The upper elevations, which peaked in mid-July last year, will likely peak in mid-August this year. Though south-facing slopes are exposed and ready to explore, there might still be some snow patches here and there on north-facing slopes and in shady forest stretches. Just know your route, be prepared with mosquito repellent, hat, water and sunscreen — and don’t forget to stop and absorb the many wildflower species vying for your attention.
Carson Pass, southwest of the lake, is approximately 35 minutes from South Shore and well worth the drive; there are a variety of hikes on both sides of the pass. Meiss Trail, which will be best earlier in the month, begins at Meiss Meadow parking lot and ends at Meiss Lake, 4 miles in.
The trail meanders through intermittent forest and aspen groves, with currants and gooseberries, Sierra stickseed, bitter cherry, California valerian and spreading phlox leading the way. Mountain pride, showy penstemon, scarlet gilia and Sierra wallflower, which deserves a good sniff, will try to grab your attention before the trail opens to exposed slopes with treasures of their own.
Mariposa lily, lance-leaf stonecrop, wavy-leaved paintbrush in a variety of colors and owl’s clover line the trail as it makes its way to a saddle where a tarn and a vibrant meadow of wild iris (western blue flag) await. Look for shooting stars, bistort and bog mallow around the tarn’s edge. If you’d like to continue on the descent to Meiss Lake, be sure to explore creeks thick with crimson columbine, large-leaf lupine, giant red paintbrush and soft arnica.
Later in the month, the hike to Winnemucca Lake, which can be accessed from Carson Pass or Woods Lake, will not disappoint. From Carson Pass, the hike is 5.1 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 629 feet. From Woods Lake to Winnemucca Lake, the hike is slightly shorter but with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. From Carson Pass, look for Jacob’s ladder, wandering fleabane, red elderberry, mountain pride, mariposa lily and alpine prickly currant within the first mile.
Consider taking a jaunt around Frog Lake (2.2 miles in), for a peek at the western blue flags and prairie smoke on the east side of the lake. Continuing on the Carson Pass trail you’ll switchback through gardens of crimson columbine, Nuttall’s larkspur, mountain flax and monument plant. Closer to Winnemucca Lake, creek crossings are choking with large-leaf lupine and giant red paintbrush. In between look for little elephant heads, seep-spring monkeyflower, corn lily and streamside bluebells, to name a few. The same flowers can be found on the trail from Woods Lake, but the open slopes on this trail are renowned for their thick swaths of lupine, paintbrush and balsamroot.
On the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, Barker Pass in Blackwood Canyon and Page Meadows are also excellent for wildflower viewing. The drive on Blackwood Canyon Road to the Barker Pass trailhead is a treat in itself with gardens of lupine, Lewis’ monkeyflower, paintbrush, pearly everlasting and Sierra Nevada currant becoming more and more lush the higher you go. Though the Barker Pass Trail eventually leads to Tahoe City, one can turn around at the saddle or the volcanic plugs (less than 2 miles in), both of which provide outstanding views of Lake Tahoe. Look for gems like spotted coralroot, false-Solomon’s seal, white-veined mallow and showy penstemon along the way.
Page Meadows, renowned for its meadows of blue camas and meadow penstemon, can be accessed from Ward Creek Boulevard off of West Lake Boulevard or State Route 89. Though the mosquitoes can be pesky as you stroll through carpets of porterella, woolly marbles and Bridge’s gilia, this colorful excursion is worth its weight in bug spray.
Wherever you go to enjoy August wildflowers, remember to leave no trace, aka pack it in, pack it out, and respect the delicate habitats that produce these special gems.