Now that the sun has melted the snow at lake level, the soil is moist and healthy for a fabulous season of wildflowers. You’ve probably already seen snow plants, those fluorescent red beacons cheerily alerting us that spring is here and winter is on its way out. Gray’s lupine, arrow-leaf balsamroot, woolly mule ears, mountain peony, blue flax and spreading phlox have popped up around the Tahoe Sierra, their vibrant yellows, purples and blues forming the pride and joy of our neighborhoods. Where can you see more? Where can you, your friends and family discover those colors and scents that on a blue-sky day make you want to breathe in the mountain air and be in the middle of all that alpine beauty?
For easy-to-moderate strolls on the South Shore, try the Taylor Creek Rainbow Trail for gardens of alpine lily, Sierra rein orchid and crimson columbine. Trails off Cathedral Road and around Fallen Leaf Lake are sporting Gray’s lupine, mountain peony, scarlet gilia and lush meadows with blue camas, bistort and death camas; keep your radar tuned for patches of porterella, a small and delicate blue, yellow and white flower in the Bellflower family; in drier areas, velvety stickseed is especially abundant, attracting masses of Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.
In the Angora burn area, accessed from State Route 89 or from North Upper Truckee Road, one can see a variety of composites, including woolly mule ears, nodding microseris and salsify. Swaths of Gray’s lupine, blue-eyed Mary, snow plant, and the lovely spotted coralroot — one of the few orchids endemic to the Basin — add colorful surprises to the recovered landscape.
If you are on the East Shore, near Stateline, Nev., there’s the Lam Watah Nature Trail off Kahle Road where you can find meadow penstemon, graceful cinquefoil, great polemonium, bog mallow and bog saxifrage.
For a short hike with little elevation gain, try Spooner Lake on the Nevada side where State Route 28 intersects with State Route 50. Spooner Lake provides an easy 2.5-mile loop where stretches through the forest reveal Fendler’s meadow rue, Jessica’s stickseed, valerian, alpine breeches and dog violet.
Skylandia Park near Tahoe City on the North Shore is an excellent spot to see rich gardens of blue camas and the rare and elusive scarlet fritillary.
If you prefer to get away from the crowds and enjoy a serene hike in the woods, try Scotts Lake from the Big Meadow Trailhead on State Route 89 toward Markleeville. It is a moderate hike, 6.1 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 950 feet. Three miles in includes an excellent scenery and variety of terrain and wildflower habitats. You’ll strike a wildflower jackpot when you cross a short bridge spanning a lush creek choking with alpine lily, monkshood, ranger buttons, rein orchid, great polemonium, corn lily and towering larkspur — to name a few. If you’d like to search for the rare Sierra Bolandra, walk counterclockwise around Scotts Lake until you get to the rocky streams flowing into the lake. A short scramble up the stream could lead you to your gem.
In California on the West Shore there is Meeks Creek Falls. Park across the highway from the Meeks Bay Resort boat-launch parking lot and head west for delightful encounters with Sierra wallflower, Brewer’s lupine, whisker brush, Nuttall’s larkspur and white-veined mallow.
Wherever you go to enjoy the region’s spectacular wildflowers, remember to leave no trace — pack it in, pack it out — and respect the delicate habitats that produce these special gems.