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A Notable Spooner to Marlette Lake Hike

After working on some around-the-house chores on a Saturday, my husband asked if I wanted to hike up to Marlette Lake. I looked at my watch and said, "Well, we'd better get going, because we'll run out of daylight quickly."

Following a big snow winter in Tahoe, even on June 24, this would be considered an early-season hike – and our longest hike of the season at this point. Aside from our trip to Zion/Bryce in April and then Grand Canyon in May this past spring, we hadn't gotten an opportunity to hike much around Tahoe yet with high elevation snow still in abundance.

But we wanted to flex our legs a little, get outside, and take in the sights and fresh air, so we packed our packs and headed to Spooner State Park to hit the over 9-mile roundtrip trail up to Marlette Lake.

The early section of the trail had some muddy sections and little creeks flowing alongside. The surrounding vegetation was lush and green with numerous wildflowers in bloom.

It had been a while since I'd done this hike, and we usually do it in the fall for the golden aspen groves, so I had forgotten how much climbing there was (over 1,500 vertical feet in all).

It was getting late in the day, so the air was cool, but I still managed to sweat through my layers, trying to maintain a swift, consistent pace without taking breaks.

When I reached the primary intersection, I paused to remove a layer and break into one of my snacks to refuel while waiting for my husband to join me.

Then we descended for a little bit, down to the creek crossing, which was still covered in snow.

I took a peek at my watch. We were at just over 4.6 miles in. I looked up at the trail ahead of us, fully covered in snow, and I told my husband that I didn't care to fight through that to complete the route to the lake. Plus, it was only going to get darker, and trudging through slippery snow really slows me down. Had this been a "new" hike for us, to a destination we'd never been, I would have forged ahead to the lake, but since we'd hiked to Marlette Lake several times before, I just didn't feel up to the extra challenge after I'd hauled it up for over 4 straight miles.

So, we turned around and headed back. Maybe a mile into our return route, I rounded a slight corner through the woods. And then I stopped dead in my tracks.

My husband was not far behind me.

Me: "Oh, sh*t. Bear."

Now, those of you who know my husband have probably surmised he has little to no fear of the black bears we have around Tahoe. They frequent our yard and our little town fairly regularly, and he is often seen chasing them off. Black bears generally pose very little danger to us humans, as long as you're not stupid and don't try and get between a mama bear and her cubs or their food. They are wild animals, after all. But they are not grizzly bears.

At any rate, neither of us was scared of the bear, but this was our first time crossing paths with one while hiking, so that was kind of cool and momentarily startling. My husband has had numerous bear encounters while out mountain biking in Tahoe, but in all our adventures together, we've never seen one while on a hike.

Although we weren't scared of it, the bear couldn't wait to get away from us. At the same time I saw the bear strolling on the trail, he turned around and saw me. And it did not take him long at all to pivot and haul his big brown butt up the side of the mountain to get away from us. They are impressively fast. Even on steep and uneven terrain littered with thick bushes and downed trees, he bounded up there like it was nothing.

We proceeded on our route and when we looked up at the general area where he escaped, we saw him briefly, at which point he hiked up farther and hid behind a tree.

So, that was fun. Kind of made the repeat hike worth it. And in hindsight, had we hiked all the way to the lake, we probably wouldn't have seen the bear.

The skies proceeded to get darker as we approached the trailhead, with faint hints of sunset colors appearing along the ridge line.

Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of hiking in the dark, plus, my legs were feeling pretty dead at this point, so I was looking forward to reaching the car. But this familiar hike will now hold a notable memory of the first time we saw a bear on the trail.

​Spooner to Marlette Lake

Total Distance

9.24 mi

Total Time


Total Ascent

1,503 ft

Max Elevation

8,129 ft


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