The Hills Are Alive (in Barker Pass)

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The Barker Pass Trail in the Granite Chief Wilderness is probably my second favorite hike anywhere. Starting at about 7,000’ elevation, it’s a perfect steady rise up to the first peak through forests and across meadows that, in July, are still filled with thousands of yellow skunk cabbage blossoms.

The Barker Pass Trailhead, 20-30 minutes up Blackwood Canyon just north of Tahoe Vista on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, is just past the popular trailhead to Ellis Peak, where the paved road ends and the dirt road begins. The trail is in great condition and well marked; Twin Peaks is out 5 miles on the one-way trail, or if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can hike all the way to Tahoe City, 16 miles away.

We hiked for 2 ¾ hours, an estimated 7 miles round trip (out and back by the same trail), which took us through some of the best terrain in the Tahoe area. The first half hour takes you through the large skunk cabbage meadow. When you reach the top of the incline, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful vista of Lake Tahoe. Proceed along the shady, forested trail. You’ll cross a rock fall – which has been improved into a fairly even, wide trail – just before one of the large peaks along the route.

My favorite part of the hike comes after that peak. The trail down switches back a couple of times but that’s the steepest stretch of the entire hike. On the western side, runoff streams are still flowing and at least a dozen varieties of wildflowers are in lush bloom. After an hour on the trail, you’ll pass several stretches of rock fall that are a little more uneven, but press on. Just after that point are some amazing bunches of columbine and wild lilies. Looking up, the rock peak above you looks like a fortress.

Though it was pretty warm, you’ll keep cool on this hike. At least 50% is in shade, and a cool breeze blows steadily.

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