Turn Last Year’s Lessons Into This Year’s Goals in Carson Valley
Amid lockdowns and distancing, many people picked up new hobbies, often focused on spending time outdoors. Whether it was embarking on a whole new activity like bird watching or exploring their own backyard a little more on foot, the great outdoors became a sanctuary for many; an escape from the confines of home. People learned to appreciate the bounty of activity available nearby and connect with nature. For many, that lesson is something to continue into 2021.
Carson Valley in northern Nevada, just 12 miles east of South Lake Tahoe and its world-class ski resorts, is the perfect destination to do just that. The area has emerged as one of America’s best undercover ski towns, and affords a multitude of outdoor recreation opportunities for all kinds of abilities and interests. It is a scenic Old West region with full-service skiing at its doorstep, that’s also secluded, offering open space for countless physically distanced outdoor adventures.
The valley is situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada with picturesque mountain views and a laid back atmosphere. Heavenly Mountain Resort, the nearest ski resort, offers famous Lake Tahoe views and all-level varied terrain that spans the Nevada-California border. Just a little further away is Kirkwood Mountain Resort, offering large servings of deep snow and challenging terrain for adventurous skiers and snowboarders. Downhill skiing and snowboarding is just a sample of what winter lovers will find in Carson Valley. For those seeking to escape the crowds and soak up nature in these early months of 2021, these cold-weather adventures are safe and full of wonder:
Wildlife Photography and Bird Watching
For those with photography on their “must-do more of in 2021” list, then there’s no better place than Gardnerville, Genoa, Minden and Topaz Lake. The wildlife viewing is spectacular in the winter months where outdoor and physically distanced tours reveal raptors, turtles, lynx and other amazing creatures. Each winter, birds of prey including bald eagles, congregate around valley ranches to feed on the afterbirth provided by the cattle birthing season. The phenomenon has been coined Eagles and Agriculture and is celebrated with an event of the same name, where visitors can easily get up close and personal with wild bald eagles.
River Fork Ranch is a great place for an easy family nature hike with opportunities for spectacular photography and to view bald eagles as well as sandhill cranes, leopard frogs, mule deer and rare western pond turtles. River Fork Ranch is an 800-acre preserve and working cattle ranch owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy. Located where the east and west forks of the Carson River converge near Genoa, the ranch’s riparian corridor and patchwork of pastures, meadows and wetlands support a robust and diverse wildlife population.
Hiking and Trails
For those who realized they have a penchant for hiking, Carson Valley offers many trails that are passable throughout the year. Eastern Carson Valley’s Pinyon Trail is a gorgeous high desert hiking option when higher elevations are covered in snow. The Pinyon Trail can be found seven miles east of Gardnerville and is a moderate five-mile round trip. Situated at the base of the Pine Nut Mountains and in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada, this trail sees modest precipitation and can be enjoyed year-round. Trailgoers feel the sun’s warmth, relish wide-open views and frequent opportunities to see wild horses where family and bachelor bands enjoy their natural habitat. Observers are asked to stay back 100 feet or more when watching the wild horses and to never feed or water them.
Carson Valley is an ideal access point to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the largest national forest in the contiguous U.S. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest spans both the eastern and western slopes of the Sierra Mountains with year-round recreation. In the winter, visitors to the eastern wilderness areas will find less precipitation and milder temperatures due to the weather protection of the Sierra crest. For those with wilderness experience and a penchant for pure nature, dispersed camping and backcountry hiking in the pinon and juniper woodlands is a great way to escape.
Snowshoe and Cross-Country Skiing
A simple desire to step into winter’s natural surroundings is all you need to enjoy Hope Valley, a short drive from Carson Valley on Highway 88. Hope Valley is a mostly flat recreation area that is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, making this an ideal area to snowshoe or cross-country ski. Hope Valley Outdoors in Picket’s Junction maintains a limited number of groomed trails for warming up on. The sustainable, off-the-grid winter resort specializes in preparing guests to make their own tracks into the gentle Hope Valley backcountry on snowshoes or traditional kick-and-glide cross country skis. Hope Valley Outdoors provides information, instruction and rentals for a gorgeous day in the alpine valley.
Top balloon photo by Sam Okamoto Photography.