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Local Getaways: A Beautiful Mountain Escape in Northern California

By Michelle Baran

Oct 13, 2020

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Nestled into the Sierras is a little-known gem.

Courtesy of Wylder Hotel Hope Valley

Nestled into the Sierras is a little-known gem.

If alpine scenery and beautiful lakes minus the Tahoe crowds sound appealing, hit the road to Hope Valley.

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“I’m thiwsty,” my four-year-old son said with his slight lisp as we rounded what felt like the 27th bend on what was supposed to be a short trek from our cabin to the neighboring campsite to check out the general store.

I had dragged Niko along for a “quick hike” while his baby sister was napping. But the hike—despite its gorgeous rocky, forested backdrop—was starting to feel endless. It was warm out, and we had no water, no snacks, and there was no one around.

When Niko, who is an avid hiker, started complaining, I admittedly started panicking a bit. I found a spot on the trail where I could get one bar of cell reception and called my husband to tell him that he needed to come find us. I said that we’d walk down to the road (yes, the road was in view the entire time; this wasn’t exactly Into the Wild) and that if he drove slowly alongside it, he would see us. When we got down to the road, we spotted the general store, immediately to our right.

I was so relieved, but not just by the sight of the general store. For the first time in months I had gotten truly and completely lost in a quirky travel adventure and finally felt totally removed from the relentless news cycle of 2020. With little to no cell reception or wireless Internet during our stay in Hope Valley, we had to improvise on our nature walks, and play games and read books in the evening. Most importantly, we were forced to truly disconnect and be in the outdoors in a totally immersive way.

Hope Valley is a scenic slice of mountain life just south of Lake Tahoe, where it’s easy to get lost from the world for a bit. It has all the beauty of the Sierras that makes nearby Tahoe such a popular vacation destination—minus the crowds. The region is filled with ample alpine lakes, forests, and peaks to hike to and around, and has access to biking, skiing, and fishing. So, while the Bay Area crowds flock to Tahoe in the summer and winter, this quieter mountain paradise is better suited for those seeking more solitude.

Where to stay in Hope Valley

The recently renovated cabins and cottages at Wylder can sleep anywhere between two and eight guests.

Wylder Hotel Hope Valley

Book now: from $45 per night for tent and RV sites; or from $200 for yurts, cabins, and a vintage Spartan trailer, wylderhotels.com

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Wylder is really the only game in town for the more remote Hope Valley, but you can’t go wrong with a stay at this nearly 100-year-old, 165-acre mountain resort that reopened in summer 2020 after an extensive update.

The property consists of a unique and charming mix of standalone, freshly renovated cabins; newly built yurts; a vintage Spartan trailer; and RV and tent campsites—all nestled into the hillside among the aspen forest and a rolling river. The cabins are outfitted with distinctly cozy and modern Scandinavian decor and full kitchens, and can sleep between one and eight people depending on the layout. Or opt for a luxurious yurt complete with freestanding soaking tub and overbed skylight ideal for stargazing.

All dining (other than cooking you might do at your cabin or campsite, or short trips to Tahoe) happens at Wylder’s in-house restaurant Sorensen’s, which has a sprawling outdoor patio and serves standard American fare alongside delicious cocktails. You can also pick up some basic snacks, meals, and drinks at the nearby general store—but you may want to drive there. (During the coronavirus pandemic, the staff were all wearing masks and masks were worn by patrons when social distancing could not be achieved.)   

Basecamp Hotel, South Lake Tahoe

Book now: from $72 per night, expedia.com

If Wylder is booked up or you want to be in the heart of South Lake Tahoe, Basecamp is a fun and affordable option. This tastefully re-envisioned motel features family rooms with bunk beds, standard king and double queen rooms, as well as the “great indoors,” a room where the bed is under a tent and there’s a faux campfire made to feel like a camping setup. There’s a beer garden and daily happy hour as well as a spa deck with a firepit. There aren’t a lot of frills or additional amenities, but it’s a great place to make your home base while in the area.

Things to do in Hope Valley

Head to the small but charming Kirkwood Lake for a secluded and scenic jaunt.

Mountain and lake hiking

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Hope Valley is truly a hiker’s paradise. With no cell or Internet connectivity at Wylder, you will need to rely on printouts that Wylder provides or old school trail books or pamphlets, or you will need to download trail information in advance. Some options include: Fallen Leaf Lake (an easy 20 minutes in each direction; ends with being able to dip your toes in the crystal clear water ); Echo Lake (a beautiful destination with a wide range of hiking options from easy to more challenging); Snowshoe Thompson’s Cave (a short 1.15-mile hike filled with lore ); Kirkwood Lake (an easy and serene lake loop, great for tackling on the way to or from Hope Valley); and Jobs Peak (a more difficult 4.4-mile trail near South Lake Tahoe that includes a 2,000-foot climb).

Skiing and snowshoeing

In the winter months, you can tackle the trails in showshoes. Wylder offers complimentary showshoes to guests and also has guided snowshoeing experiences. Skiers and snowboarders can head to some of the nearby mountain resorts to get in some runs, including Kirkwood and Heavenly, which are both within a half-hour drive. Afterwards you can warm up in Wylder’s on-site sauna.

Cycling and mountain biking

Whether you want to just tool around on some flatter terrain or catch some speed on the hills, there are plenty of opportunities for two-wheeled adventures. You can bring your own bikes or rent some from the shops in South Tahoe.

Where to eat and drink in Hope Valley and South Lake Tahoe

Head to Sorensen’s for any meal of the day and neither the setting nor the food will disappoint.

Sorensen’s: As mentioned, Wylder’s spot is really the only option in Hope Valley for accommodations and the same goes for dining. The on-site restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner both for dine-in and take out. I can personally atest to the French toast on the breakfast menu and the prime rib carne asada on the fall dinner menu—the menu changes seasonally.

The Naked Fish: If being surrounded by all these beautiful lakes has you craving sushi, head to Naked Fish in South Lake Tahoe about 20 minutes away for super fun rolls like the Maui Wowie (tempura softshell crab, avocado, tuna, and a soy and citrus aioli) or the Tahoe Crunch (tempura garlic albacore, cream cheese, avocado, macadamia nuts, and pesto), alongside plentiful other sushi standards.

Black Cabin Coffee: Third-wave coffee lovers can get their morning (or afternoon) fix at Black Cabin Coffee in South Lake Tahoe, a small batch roaster that serves up espresso drinks, specialty lattes, teas, and belly-filling breakfast sandos and burritos.

Base Camp Pizza: When in the mountains, pizza night is a must. Order take-out from perennial South Tahoe favorite Base Camp Pizza; its gourmet pies include a pear and gorgonzola pizza, a Thai chicken curry pie, and a Mediterranean pizza. 

How to get to Hope Valley from the Bay Area

Take Highway 80 into Sacramento, then highway 50 toward Lake Tahoe. Upon approaching South Lake Tahoe, you will turn right onto Highway 89, and then left onto Highway 88. Wylder Hotel Hope Valley will be on the right on Highway 88. It’s a roughly 3.5-hour drive from the Bay Area.

Take Highway 4 through Antioch, then merge onto Highway 160, and then Highway 12 East. Briefly get onto the 5 North, and then take Highway 88 all the way to Wylder. This southern route is also roughly a 3.5-hour drive from San Francisco and its environs.

>> Next: AFAR’s Lake Tahoe Travel Guide

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