On the drive down Luther Pass outside of Meyers in fall, breaks in roadside stands of yellowing aspen trees provide glimpses of a recreational buffet 800 feet below.
At 7,000 feet, Hope Valley is a classic mountain lowland, partitioned by haphazard sections of gnarled ranch fencing, verdant strips of evergreens, and the west fork of the Carson River — on most days a ribbon of reflected sun. An imposing surround of steep Sierra granite contains it all.
Routes 89 and 88 intersect to make up Picketts Junction, the launch point of any quick trip to Hope Valley. Kit Carson Pass is to the right. Along the way, let adventure win by stopping at one of many parking inlets and trailheads. Each demands an aimless stroll into the valley or a fly-cast into shallow riffles to tempt cunning trout hiding in the undercuts.
In season at the Carson Pass visitor center, volunteers hand out doughnuts and fruit to weary Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers. To day-hikers and leaf-peepers, they dispense smiles and suggest trail destinations. North on the PCT leads to the historic Meiss Family Cabin and namesake meadow, ideal for cool fall picnics. South on the famed path finds Frog Lake and reveals spectacular Sierra backcountry.
Back down at Picketts, a left leads to Hope Valley’s premier all-season lodge, a collection of cabins burrowed into a grove of aspens against a rocky slant of muscular Sierra junipers: Sorensen’s Resort. Floor-to-ceiling shelves in its compact lobby showcase books on Muir, Washoe Indians, and finding bigfoot. There, you can buy mugs and mountain-themed trinkets.
Aspen-shaded paths lead to knotty cabins with names like Silvertip, Water Fir, and Snowshoe Thompson etched into wooden placards. Each chalet reminds you of that time you swore to sell everything and move to the woods. (The Saint Nick’s cabin originated in the long-defunct Santa’s Village theme park near Santa Cruz.)
With kitchenettes and wood stoves, lodging is comfortable but true to cabin-life, all one needs to recover after dropping into deep steeps at nearby Kirkwood. Bench swings and circles of Adirondack chairs invite guests to chat between meals or relax after snowshoeing. Signage nailed into trees educates guests on beavers and snowshoe hares.
Fall crowds are waning now that cold winds have stripped most of the aspens of their color. Winter looms; Hope Valley will soon be in true form, offering solitude, open trails, and a restful night’s sleep.