Fall Colors in Hope Valley

Hope Valley is one of the best places in the Sierra Nevada to see fall colors. It also offers some fantastic motorcycling. The two make a great pair.

Fall colors motorcycling in Hope Valley, California

Fall colors motorcycling in Hope Valley, California; October 4, 2013


California State Route 88 runs through Hope Valley from Carson Pass (8,574 feet; 2,613 meters) 15 miles east to Woodfords (5,617 feet; 1,712 meters). The highway then enters Carson Valley where it ends 14 miles later at the junction with US 395, in Minden, Nevada (4,724 feet; 1,440 meters). The nearly 4,000 feet of elevation change in less than 30 miles is very dramatic. It offers a spectacular 30-minute motorcycle ride. Much of the route is within sight of the West Fork of the Carson River.

Fall color in Hope Valley

Fall color in Hope Valley, West Fork of the Carson River, from California State Route 88


There are some great places to camp in Hope Valley as well. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest has some developed campgrounds along Blue Lakes Road. At the end of the paved road, Pacific Gas and Electric Company operates some developed campgrounds at Upper and Lower Blue Lakes. Primitive camping is allowed in undeveloped areas in much of the surrounding national forest. Check our camping page to help find the perfect camping spot for you.

Fall color in Hope Valley, Blue Lakes Road

Fall color in Hope Valley, Blue Lakes Road, just off California State Route 88


The Blue Lakes area can also be reached from Highway 88 at Red Lake, just below Carson Pass, via Forestdale Divide Road. The approach from Red Lake is fairly gentle and manageable on just about any adventure motorcycle. Further on, the going gets more technical with steep drop-offs and loose surfaces. The final drop down to Upper Blue Lake has some steep downhills with lots of large loose rocks. Big bikes may have difficulties. The road is blocked by snow in the winter and is a popular snowmobile route.

Forestdale Divide Road, a great adventure motorcycle road near Carson Pass

Forestdale Divide Road, a great adventure motorcycle road near Carson Pass


Not interested in dirt trails and camping? No worries. Hope Valley fall colors are easy to see from the pavement. And there’s lots of other great fall scenery in the Sierra, too. Check our fall colors guide for details and some great offers from our local Carson Valley hotels. And see our guide to Sierra winter road closures to learn more about winter routes in the area.

You can also sign up for our email newsletter to stay on top of the seasonal riding conditions in the Sierra and the high desert.


Fall color in Hope Valley, Highway 88

Fall color in Hope Valley, from California State Route 88


Fall Colors in the Sierra Nevada

Fall colors in the Sierra Nevada are beautiful. Our high-elevation mountain passes already offer some of the best motorcycling in the US. And the quaking aspens and other deciduous trees that thrive in the Sierra deliver spectacular shows of autumn colors.


Fall colors on Sonora Pass

Fall colors on Sonora Pass, September 22, 2013


Right now (September 24, 2013) it’s still early for fall colors in most of the Sierra. But conditions and the scenery change quickly. Just when the trees begin to change color and then peak is determined mostly by changes in temperature. And temperatures are affected most by elevation. Fortunately, with Sierra passes ranging from about 7,000 feet to nearly 10,000 above sea level, you should be able to find a great autumn show somewhere from late September through the end of October. And looking for those fall colors on a motorcycle ride is one of the best ways to find them.

Some of the best places to see fall colors also just happen to be some of our favorite motorcycle roads. Sonora, Monitor, and Ebbetts passes offer both beautiful groves of aspens and twisty pavement. Of those three passes, Sonora is the highest and so will usually show its colors earliest in the season. All are within an hour’s riding from Carson Valley on great motorcycle roads.


Early fall colors motorcycling on Monitor Pass

Early fall motorcycling on Monitor Pass, September 20, 2013


The Carson Pass route on Highway 88 has some great autumn scenery, plus beautiful high-elevation lakes such as Caples Lake and Silver Lake. Just after you descend eastbound from the top of Carson Pass you’ll head through a long corridor of aspens and into Hope Valley. This might be one of the best places for fall colors in all of the Sierra. And it is just about a half-hour from Carson Valley.


Fall colors and beaver dam, Hope Valley, California

Late fall colors and beaver dam, Hope Valley, California


Stay tuned for more pictures and updates about the fall colors in the Sierra Nevada this year. And start planning your own fall colors motorcycle trip. Some of our friends who are members of the Carson Valley Visitors Authority are offering accommodations specials to make it easier for you to ride up and visit.

The Carson Valley Inn is offering several room discounts for fall motorcycle travelers. Through October 27, you can stay Sunday through Thursday in a standard room for $79 per night, a deluxe room for $89 per night, or in the Carson Valley Motor Lodge for $69 per night. Friday, Saturday, and holiday night rates are $95 for a standard room, $105 for a deluxe room, and $85 at the Motor Lodge. Tax is additional and the discount is not available September 27 or 28.

From October 28 through November 14, Sunday through Thursday rates are a standard room for $69 per night, a deluxe room for $79 per night, or in the Motor Lodge for $54 per night. Friday, Saturday, and holiday night rates are $79 for a standard room, $89 for a deluxe room, and $65 at the Motor Lodge. Tax is additional.

To take advantage of the special promotion, call the Carson Valley Inn at (775) 783-6629 and ask for the Fall Moto special.

The Holiday Inn Express is offering a one-night stay in a standard room, plus a certificate for dinner at the Tahoe Ridge Winery, for $135, plus tax. The offer is good through November 24 and is not available September 27 or 28. Call the Holiday Inn Express at (775) 782-7500 and ask for the Fall Colors in the Sierra discount.

If you are heading up from the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll have a choice of ride routes over several Sierra Passes. Headed up from Southern California, you’ll probably want to ride US 395 along the edge of the Eastern Sierra. Take the slight detour along the June Lake Loop, State Route 158, for some fantastic fall colors along the way.

And remember that fall weather can change quickly in the high country. Check the Caltrans QuickMap for live data from highways around the state.


Early fall in the Sierra Nevada

Early fall in the Sierra Nevada


Planning a Motorcycle Ride from Carson Valley

What kind of motorcycle ride are you looking for?

Twisty mountain pavement?

A great motorcycle ride in the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe area might be all pavement, or mostly dirt, or a big day of both, depending on what you want. We are very fortunate to be very close to hundreds of miles—thousands, really—of scenic, twisty, uncongested roads. If you are a street rider and new to the area, we suggest heading out for some of the High Sierra passes. Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass, and Monitor Pass are all within about an hour’s ride of the Carson Valley. Sonora Pass, Tioga Pass, and Donner Pass are all within two hours. A motorcycle ride over five of these great mountain passes in a single day is completely feasible. To do it, you’ll ride hard, return tired, and won’t have a lot of time to stop and see the sights. But you will have one of the best days of your life.

_MG_0636Motorcycle ride on Monitor Pass in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Motorcycle ride on Monitor Pass in the Eastern Sierra Nevada


Or scenic backcountry dirt?

If you’re looking for a motorcycle ride on dirt and gravel roads, or technical single-track trails, there’s plenty of that, too. We’re surrounded by vast tracts of public land and huge portions of it are connected with unpaved, off-highway vehicle routes that are legal to ride. (Check with the appropriate land management agency for maps and restrictions.) In the Sierra, most of these areas are managed by the US Forest Service. In western Nevada, you’ll find most of the public land under the control of the US Bureau of Land Management.

The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is the largest national forest in the Lower 48 states. The 368,600 acres of the forest’s Carson Ranger District extend along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada, straddling the Nevada and California state line. The district is about 15 miles wide and near 100 miles long and stretches from northwest of Reno, Nevada, south along the Carson Range between Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley, then south to Sonora Pass. The district office is right nearby in Carson City.

Other national forests in the area are the Eldorado National Forest, the Sierra National Forest, the Tahoe National Forest, the Stanislaus National Forest, and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Opportunities for an off-highway motorcycle ride inside the Tahoe Basin are very restricted. Exceptions, such as the Genoa Peak Trail—one of our favorites—and the eastern portion of the Rubicon Trail, can offer some spectacular riding. Most of the other national forests offer a lot of great dirt roads for backcountry adventure.

The eastern edge of the Carson Valley is defined by the Pine Nut Mountains with fantastic dirt riding. Wide, maintained main roads with firm dirt and loose gravel surfaces can get you into and across the mountains at surprisingly fast speeds. More technical routes will include steep slopes, deep sand, loose rocks, short sight lines, and some water crossings. And all of this backcountry adventure is just a short motorcycle ride on paved rural roads from friendly and affordable Carson Valley hotels and restaurants.

Backcountry dirt adventure motorcycling in western Nevada.

Backcountry dirt adventure motorcycling in western Nevada.


Our area offers a huge variety of great adventure motorcycle rides, however you define that, and whatever type of bike you like to ride. Grab your gear, decide whether you want to ride pavement or dirt, and then ask yourself, “How hard do I want to ride today?” If you need some help figuring all this out, or just want some local advice, sign up for our email newsletter, or c’mon up and ride with us. The 2013 Carson Valley / Lake Tahoe Adventure Moto is August 22-25 and you can register here.


What is Adventure Motorcycle Riding?

The adventure motorcycle segment has been the bright spot in a slow motorcycle economy for the past several years, according to most industry sources. But what, exactly, is an adventure motorcycle? And what is adventure motorcycle riding?

Two adventure motorcycles: A BMW R-100 GS, and a Kawasaki KLR650

Two iconic adventure motorcycles, photographed near Lake Tahoe:
A well-traveled BMW R-100 GS, with a Kawasaki KLR650 in the background.


Adventure motorcycles

There aren’t any exact specifications to define the adventure motorcycle box and determine whether or not a particular bike fits into it. But there are some general characteristics that most adventure motorcycles share. Features like generous fuel range, ample suspension travel, and crash bars are common. Also an upright riding position, comfortable ergonomics, and a seat that works for long days and hundreds of miles. In recent years adventure bikes have also skewed toward more power and more weight. And like most motorcycles, they have become more complicated. This can tend to make them less capable on the dirt and more difficult to repair in remote places. But it does make them more suited for long-distance travel, especially riding two-up with luggage, and great for exploring paved back roads. And if the pavement starts to disappear, it doesn’t mean the ride has to end.

Some bikes will be better suited to particular conditions or styles of riding. A big late-model BMW GS, Triumph Tiger, or something similar will be a great choice for a few thousand miles on pavement of questionable quality with perhaps some gravel and a bit of dirt thrown in to keep it interesting. A lighter, simpler, dual-sport bike such as a Kawasaki KLR650 or Suzuki DR650 will probably be a better choice if the trip has a lot more dirt. The big KTM 990 Adventure has a boot firmly in both camps. And there are many more bikes that are great for exploring out-of-the-way places, even some not typically thought of as adventure motorcycles.

We would go so far as to say that almost any motorcycle can be an adventure motorcycle. Because adventure motorcycling is about riding to new places, seeing new things, meeting new people, and having new experiences.


Adventure motorcycle riding

Adventure motorcycle riding shares at least one trait with pornography: You’ll know what it is when you see it. But defining it ahead of time can be difficult. For some, adventure motorcycling means riding on dirt rather than pavement. And for some of those riders, it’s not really adventure unless the dirt is technical and challenging. The Dakar Rally might be the biggest technical challenge a motorcyclist could face. But unless you are Jimmy Lewis, you probably won’t be riding the Dakar. So there must be more to this adventure motorcycling thing than extreme off-road rally racing.

One of the things that defines adventure is purposefully facing the unknown and dealing with whatever it throws at you. So adventure motorcycling generally means being prepared to ride in lots of different weather conditions, handle mechanical mishaps on the side of the road, and mostly, not allow unexpected challenges to ruin your day. Or your entire trip.

The adventure will depend upon the experience, abilities, and expectations of the individual rider. We’ve met motorcyclists who ride every day in San Francisco, but rarely leave the city. For those folks, riding Highway 4 up over Ebbetts Pass for a weekend in the Sierra could be a very big adventure. For a rider used to uncrowded mountain roads and wide-open deserts, riding in Los Angeles commute traffic could be a definite challenge. Adventure is all around; you just have to go looking for it.

For us, the key word in adventure motorcycle riding is riding. It’s pretty tough to avoid adventure if you actually get out and ride. And the more you ride, the more adventure you will find. Building your experience and skills will set you up to seek out even more. Successful adventures are all about stretching the boundaries of your own comfort zone. If you are doing that on a motorcycle, then you are an adventure rider.


Adventure motorcycle travel

So, what is adventure motorcycle travel? We think it means setting off on your bike, ready for adventure, and riding away from the familiar roads of home for a few days. Or weeks. Or more. Like motorcycling, adventure travel is very much an independent experience. It’s not about packaged tours, cruise ships, fixed itineraries, or gift shops. Certainly, it could be riding your bike to the tip of South America, or across the Sahara. Unfortunately, for most of us in North America the realities of our world make big trips like that a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If we’re lucky. It’s just not feasible to take four months off work for an epic motorcycle trip across a dozen international borders.

But a four-day weekend? That’s doable. And that’s what the Carson / Tahoe Adventure Moto event is all about. We created it to show off some of the best—and most accessible—adventure motorcycle riding in the US. The Carson Valley is just a day’s riding from most of the major population centers in the West, so we are easy to get to. Once here, you’ll find great riding on some of the best roads anywhere, whether pavement or dirt. And if you can stretch your trip out a few days, the roads between our home and yours can turn your long weekend into a truly epic ride.

Look again at the photo at the top of this page. We found that obviously well-traveled BMW R-100-GS parked at Lake Tahoe during our 2012 event. It’s covered in road dirt and the panniers are a little battered, with lots of stickers from lots of exotic places. And the license plate is from a town on the Rhine River, in Germany. It’s most definitely an adventure bike and the rider is most definitely an adventure traveler. Who rode here, to our part of the world, on an epic trip.

We think that says a lot.

adventure motorcycle at Lake Tahoe

License plate from Rüdesheim, in Germany’s Rhine Gorge.
Seen on a BMW R-100 GS, traveling near Lake Tahoe.