Lake Tahoe & Gold Country in fall

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Fall is a delightful season to visit Lake Tahoe and California Gold Country with kids. Gold is everywhere, though not in the ground.

Aspen trees are incandescent yellow, meadows and hills glow with golden grasses, sagebrush saffron flowers blow in the wind. The air is crisp, the sky an endless blue, though fall is a season of change, and clouds could bring snow overnight.

And, it’s time for the Fall Fish Festival (Kokanee Salmon Festival).

 

Taylor Creek Fall Fish Festival

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Taylor Creek on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe is home to the Kokanee salmon. Every autumn, salmon leave the lake, and swim up Taylor Creek to lay their eggs, creating the next generation of salmon.

The yearly Fall Fish Festival at Taylor Creek Visitor Center is a family event. When we arrived, a huge inflatable fish bobbed invitingly amidst the evergreen trees. During the two day festival, kids can learn about the wildlife and marine life of Lake Tahoe (we had no idea there are fresh water mussels in the lake or flying squirrels in the forests).

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Activities vary from year to year, but our favorite was the Gyotaku fish printing. Based on a Japanese tradition, kids could pick an ink color, and print the salmon on a piece of paper.

Tip: Before walking down the Rainbow Trail to the creek and Stream Profile Chamber, pick up a copy of “Rainbow Trail Bingo at Taylor Creek.”

Two years ago when we visited in mid-October, the creek was low, but crowded with brilliant red Kokanee salmon. This visit, spawning Kokanee salmon hadn’t arrived (there was only a small group in one deep pool near the bridge). After talking with the forest ranger, she said Taylor Creek might be too warm, so salmon are waiting in cooler Lake Tahoe.

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Not to worry, even if the salmon are taking their time, kids can see Kokanee salmon in the Stream Profile Chamber. The exhibit also shows seasons at Lake Tahoe, spring, summer, and six months of winter. Tip: See if kids can find a crayfish, frog, and bats inside a log.

On the boardwalk just past the bridge, look for beaver activity. Beavers have created dams on the creek, and also, see the evidence of their very good teeth on tree trunks.

 

Fall foliage – Favorite spots

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In fall at Lake Tahoe, take a hike through the forests or along creeks to see colorful foliage, aspen trees glowing in yellow and orange colors, brilliant against a background of evergreen trees.

Here’s our favorite spots:

Hope Valley – Hope Valley is a short drive south of Lake Tahoe on Hwy 89. At the junction of Hwy 89 and 88, turn left and park along the road. On the north side of the valley, next to the creek are stands of aspen trees. Follow the paths along the creek for a magical walk through the quaking aspens, leaves shimmering like butterflies in the breeze.

Brockway Summit – On the north shore, at Kings Beach, take Hwy 267 to Brockway Summit, look for a meadow with aspen trees on the east side of the road.

Frederick’s Meadow – At Fallen Leaf Lake, past the campground is a large meadow, surrounded with aspen and evergreen trees.

Paige Meadows – Paige Meadows is located near to Tahoe City, west side of the lake. From Hwy 89, follow city streets to Silver Tip Dr. Park at the end of the road, and follow the dirt fire road down the hill. Turn right at the first path and walk a short distance to reach the first meadow. Follow the paths around the meadows, ringed with colorful aspen trees. This is a lovely hike, but the trails through the meadows aren’t well marked, and not as easy to get to as first three spots on our list.

 

Jackson Gold Rush Town

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Leaving Lake Tahoe, we took Hwy 88 south, passing through more colorful fall foliage in Hope Valley, past Kirkwood winter ski area, dropping down into the gold rush town of Jackson.

We had our picnic lunch under the oak trees at Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park.

The Kennedy Mine was one of the deepest and richest gold mines in the California Mother Lode. Although the mine dates back to the 1850’s, it wasn’t until 1898 that new shafts were dug deep in the earth, striking large veins of gold. The mine continued until 1942.

Mining deep down required bringing up lots of ore, which was crushed in the stamp mill, and produced a lot of debris. To remove the debris, or tailings, trestles and four giant wooden wheels were built to transport the crushed rock and slush away from the mine.

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Two of the wheels, Wheel 1 and Wheel 4, are still visible today. The largest wheel, Wheel 4, is beautifully restored and enclosed in a building, but Wheels 2 and 3 are largely collapsed into a pile of bleached wood and iron bolts.

After lunch, it was time for a quick stop at Train Town Candies and Ice Cream Parlor on Main St. in Jackson. Such a selection of candies, it’s hard to choose, from fudges, toffees, jelly beans, “strawberry buttons,” “fruit starlights,” “slo pokes,” “peppermint twists.” And fun to watch the toy train running around a track suspended from the ceiling.

Tips: Weather at Lake Tahoe and Gold Country is changeable at this season. Temperatures can range from sunny and warm, to freezing, so bring layers of clothing.

And for fun places to stay, check out Travel for Kids Lake Tahoe family hotels.

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