Unforgettable high-elevation adventures

Hot Shot Zip Line at Heavenly | Heavenly Mountain Resort

The Tram emerges from its concrete confines and begins to gently climb over the valley lush with late-blooming wildflowers. As we pass the craggy Tram Face, glimpses of the still snow-covered peaks emerge. Views of Lake Tahoe are soon visible as we ascend.

My friend Laurie Climenhaga and I chat with the tram operator who helps to calm our dogs who are nervous from the motion of the Tram. Our destination is Emigrant Peak high above Olympic Valley. While Laurie’s dog Finn and my hiking buddy Copper (my sister’s dog) are excited to be going on another hike, neither of them enjoys the Tram ride.

The Tram is packed with visitors and locals this August morning; some equipped for their own hiking adventures while others are heading to the roller skating rink and to enjoy other activities at Palisade Tahoe’s High Camp at 8,200’.

Palisades Tahoe is among the only ski resorts in the Tahoe Sierra that offer high-elevation adventures with lift access during the summer months.

I’ve long wanted to hike to Emigrant Peak at 8,774’ and to visit the Pioneer Monument situated near Emigrant Pass. The pass was once among the most heavily travelled routes for pioneers heading to the foothills of the Sierra. Today, it’s mostly visited by skiers and snowboarders who take the Emigrant Chair in the winter or by competitors on the 100-mile Tevis Cup or Western States Endurance Run in the summer.

As we emerge from the Tram, we’re greeted by waves of wildflowers washing over the meadows so often buried deep in snow at High Camp. A few patches of snow remain in the shadow of Washeshu and Emigrant peaks.

The trail is part of the road system for maintenance and the wildflowers are seemingly unending. We marvel with each new patch of flowers throughout the nearly 3-mile roundtrip hike. While the views are spectacular, there is no shade or water (we packed several extra bottles just for the dogs). When we come to our first snow patch at the Shirley Lake Express chairlift both dogs head for it to cool down.

We continue our climb, bemoaning that we both forget our hiking poles, especially since we know better as seasoned hikers.

On the last switchback, I glimpse a tattered American flag waving wildly at the top of the pass. Soon we arrive at the Pioneer Monument commemorating the Emigrant Road and take in the panoramic views of Lake Tahoe on one side and Granite Chief Wilderness on the other. We hike up the last slope to reach Emigrant Peak and see Shirley Lake below.

By this point, a summer storm is coming in and I receive a notification of lightening in the area. We turn to head back to High Camp marveling at the wildflowers with every step and the views in every direction.

Plan your own high elevation outing at Palisades Tahoe or visit Heavenly, Northstar or Boreal, which also offer lift access in the summer. Check operating schedules before visiting.

Palisades Tahoe
Palisades offers a network of hiking and mountain trails at High Camp and visitors can pick up a self-guided trail map or join a guided hike. Visitors can also enjoy a 9-hole disc golf course, geocaching, roller skating, Olympic Museum, a Washo display at High Camp and dining options at High Camp. The Tram is open daily through Sept. 4, and Friday to Sunday until Sept. 30. In October, it runs Oct. 1 and Oct. 6 to 8. | palisadestahoe.com

Heavenly Mountain
Heavenly Mountain operates its Gondola from the Village at Heavenly to Tamarack Lodge with a bevy of activities. Along with the spectacular scenery to enjoy on the roundtrip ride, visitors can enjoy Gem Panning, the Granite Peak Climbing Wall, the Red Tail Flyer Kid’s Zip Line, the Hot Shot Zip Line, Summer Tubing, rides on Tamarack Chair and a number of hiking trails.

You can grab a bite at Tamarack Lodge, which also hosts live music on Friday and Saturday.

Don’t forget to stop at the Gondola’s mid-station to enjoy one of the best views of the Lake Tahoe Basin. And there’s a Yoga Class on Sundays at mid-station. The last day of operations for the Gondola is Sept. 3, so make plans to visit immediately. | skiheavenly.com

Ride the Big Springs Gondola from the Village at Northstar to mid-mountain to enjoy sightseeing or hiking trails. But the real excitement at Northstar in the summer is the phenomenal mountain biking trail network at its Downhill Bike Park, which offers lift access using the Gondola. Once at mid-mountain, riders can explore the trails or climb higher to other trail networks on the Tahoe Zephyr or Vista Express lifts. On-mountain activities are open until Oct. 1. | northstarcalifornia.com

Ski runs to trails
Woodward Tahoe at Boreal also offers lift-accessed mountain biking on the Castle Peak chair with access to trail systems and parks. Kirkwood, Sky Tavern and Tahoe XC open their winter trail networks to mountain biking in the summer without the benefit of lifts, however.

Kirkwood also allows horseback riding and hiking on its trails. All are typically open until the snow starts to accumulate on the trails. | rideboreal.com, kirkwood.com, skytavern.org, tahoexc.org

Read our story on local downhill mountain bike parks