Autumn arrives in the Sacramento area with a gush of wind, cooler temperatures and a torrent of color provided by so many trees in so many different places. From the inner city to the mountains, it’s like someone opened a rainbow and poured it all over. The show starts in the valley and continues in the high country to the east of Sacramento. Get out your camera, get in the car and head east to SR 88 for the chaos of reds, yellows and golds that mark this time of year.
From Sacramento, head to State Highway 16 towards Jackson. When you reach the Highway 49 intersection, veer onto 49 and continue to Jackson, then take SR 88 east. Your route on SR 88 will take you through the small communities of Pine Grove and Pioneer and on up into higher country. As you travel on SR 88, you will steadily gain altitude. Historical places abound on the way. Cook’s Station, Ham’s Station and Tragedy Spring will all roll past. Along the way, the scenery will change to a mountain tableau with cedars, firs, Jeffery Pines and aspens taking over. The color will be spread all along the way. Your route takes you past Silver Lake, Caples Lake, Woods Lake, Kirkwood and Carson Pass. Stop at the pull out at Carson Pass and enjoy the view down into Hope Valley. Once back in the car, drop into Hope Valley. An intense riot of color will make your head spin if you catch it at the right time.
Take time along the way to stop often. Kit Carson Lodge, the Kirkwood Inn and the gem in the crown, Sorensen’s Resort, are waiting and worth it. When you are ready to head home, take US Highway 50 back to Sacramento. The round trip will take around seven hours depending on how enthralled you become with this majestic area.
Where To Eat
34950 Highway 88
Pioneer, CA 95666
Ham’s Station has been here since 1879. Originally a toll station for the road, it’s a great place to stop for a stretch, a good bite to eat and a lot of history. The menu is eclectic, simple and good. The people who work here can answer just about any question you have about the area. Also, fill your gas tank up if you’re getting low. Enjoy the ambiance and history of the place before continuing your adventure.
Kit Carson Lodge
32161 Kit Carson Road
Kit Carson, CA 95644
Kit Carson Lodge is located at gorgeous Silver Lake. While the address says Kit Carson, Silver Lake is the commonly accepted location of this jewel of a place. The lodge is the hub around which cabins are nicely situated and the restaurant offers lunch and dinner except on Mondays. The menu is drool worthy. On Sundays, enjoy a breakfast buffet along with an afternoon barbecue. Artwork hangs in the lodge and is exceptional, adding to the ambiance. Towering firs and cedars, with aspens around the lake, complete the package. Kit Carson Lodge is open from around early June through early October.
1501 Kirkwood Meadows Drive
Kirkwood, CA 95646
Kirkwood Inn has been serving travellers on SR 88 since 1864. Rustic is an understatement here. The building looks much like it originally did, solid and welcoming. Located just across from Kirkwood Meadow and Kirkwood Ski Resort, it is a classic road house. The El Dorado-Alpine County line runs through the old bar and there are lots of stories here about sheriffs, prohibition and wheels. Eat inside or enjoy your meal or snack under the umbrellas outside. The colors in the meadow are worth a click or two on your camera.
Where To Stay
14255 Highway 88
Hope Valley, CA 96120
Price: from $115 per night
After an awe-inspiring drive through Hope Valley, just about a mile past Picketts Junction, Sorensen’s will greet you and make you very happy you’ve taken this route. Sorensen’s sits in a very special little spot, just across from the West Fork of the Carson River, and typically has some of the most intense and colorful aspens you are likely to ever see. A very knowledgeable and attentive staff will take care of you and explain all there is to do here. Plan ahead and spend a few days in one of the cabins or enjoy an idyllic bed-and-breakfast experience.
Hope Valley Resort and Campground
14655 Highway 88
Hope Valley, CA 96120
Price: from $20 per night
Looking for a laid-back, funky spot on the river to relax, eat and go over the day? Maybe you’d like to set up camp. Hope Valley Resort and Campground will fill all of those needs. It is a little over a mile past Sorensen’s and the restaurant and store are open year round. The food is home cooked and the place has a well-deserved reputation for the pies and other goodies baked daily. Enjoy your relaxing meal outside or inside. Open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, breakfast and lunch will fill your need for a good meal. Several campsites are available right along the West Fork of the Carson River. Pitch your tent or park your RV and enjoy the reds and golds of autumn all around you.