Finding Solitude on Hermit Valley Trail
Updated: Aug 1, 2022
After what certainly feels like unending weeks of spwinter in Tahoe, we finally had a beautiful weekend on tap and we didn't want to waste it. Ebbetts Pass is one of our favorites in the area and it just so happened to open this week after its seasonal winter closure. We packed up our gear, jumped in the Jeep, and headed south.
We were looking for a trail below 7,000 ft. to avoid any major snow obstacles, and I'd been recovering from a cold this week, so I was not quite ready to tackle a long hike. Luckily, we found one that was less than 4.5 miles roundtrip, and that sounded pretty good for today.
On our drive down through the Markleeville area, we were quickly reminded of the ravaging Tamarack wildfire – caused by lightning last July – that pummeled through, torching 68,637 acres in its wake. Nothing but charred trees up and down the ridges along the highway as far as you could see in some places. It's pretty devastating to see.
Hwy 4, which takes you over Ebbetts Pass, is a very narrow two-way road with no center striping, lined by giant alpine trees, encroaching rock faces, and sheer drop-offs rather than guardrails. The grade is very steep in some places as it winds through the Sierra Nevada, and this time of year, you are treated to frequent roadside waterfalls cutting through the rocky terrain.
We arrived at the trailhead at 6,900 ft., which had some large patches of snow making it a little difficult to find the actual trail, but we did and off we went. Not long into this hike, we began to hear the raging North Fork Mokelumne River down below and it remained present for the majority of the hike.
Our destination (turnaround point) today was to be a bend in the river with a boulder "jetty" on which we could sit and enjoy the scenery with our trail snacks. To get here, we'd mostly be hiking down to the water, which meant we'd be climbing out on our way back.
This trail had lovely scenery, between large rock formations and large trees, to small creeks, not to mention the river itself.
The closer we got to our destination, the less obvious the trail became. Most of the time, we felt like we were simply hiking on a dried-up creek bed rather than an actual trail. After backtracking a couple of times, we spotted a few key rock cairns that helped build our confidence that we were on the right track.
A little over two miles in, we reached our destination. I was surprised to see sand (like, beach sand) here along the shore. We walked across the boulders, right up to the river's edge and stood in awe at its massive power.
For a few minutes, we sat in the hot sun on the huge boulder jetty to take in the sights and sounds, as well as enjoy our trail snacks before making the climb back out to the trailhead.
On the way up, we stopped for a few minutes to tend to a blister, and I looked up and around and just loved the landscape and the brilliant blue skies surrounding us. Trees growing out of rocks. Snowy peaks in the distance. Just awesome.
Continuing on our trek back up, we came to a point where the river was a little ways below us, but it was just roaring, so we decided to go off trail and hike down to that section to get a closer look. Even though it was a relatively steep off-trail jaunt, it was totally worth it.
This scene looks like a painting to me.
From a little higher up, I loved how the river goes on forever and disappears into the mountainside.
We made it back to the trailhead and agreed that this hike had really great scenery, but later in the season, when the water levels are likely to be much lower, it might not be as interesting of a hike. We were glad to have had timed this one just right today for maximum scenic enjoyment.
Before we headed back north to Tahoe, we drove on the highway a few more miles to Bear Valley, where we stopped for a bite to eat. On our way back over the pass, we made a few sightseeing stops.
The first was Lake Alpine, which was an idyllic scene with the sun getting low.
Then a stop at a rock face overlook that reveals this amazing expanse of snow-capped peaks.
Next, we stopped at a roaring roadside cascade of Pacific Creek.
Our last and final stop was a view of Ebbetts Peak centered behind a half-frozen Kinney Reservoir. Looks pretty wintry, yes?
Apparently, the local deer didn't get the memo that the highway to Ebbetts Pass was open for the summer. We ended up having six separate deer encounters while driving, along with one yellow-bellied marmot. On the hiking trail, we saw numerous lizards, and my husband also caught a glimpse of what he is certain was either an otter or muskrat running across the trail and into the manzanita bushes, so we couldn't confirm. Despite seeing two other vehicles at the trailhead, we did not see a single other person out on the trail today. We had it all to ourselves.
Although, it wasn't our most challenging or notable hike, it was all around very pleasant – the scenery, the terrain, the raging river, the solitude, the beautiful, warm sunny day. Just what I think I needed.