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  • Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee file

    A visitor, above, is surrounded by color as fall foliage descends on the Hope Valley near Sorensen’s Resort. At right, another visitor pans for gold near Sorensen’s Resort, finding mostly golden leaves in early October 2006. Leaves will turn colors first at higher elevations before trees in the valley. Sorensen’s Resort takes up to 100 calls a day asking when fall foliage is at its peak.

  • Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

  • Sacramento

  • Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee file

    Aspen trees in full color near Sorensen’s Resort on Highway 88 in Hope Valley. The peak of fall foliage varies each year.

  • Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee file

    Fall colors in Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe, reach their peak in October 2011, as aspen tree leaves – predominate in the area – turn from summer green to yellow.

  • Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee file

    Aspen trees in full color along Highway 88 in the Hope Valley in October 2006.

  • Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee file

    A visitor relaxes with a book near Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley, surrounded by fall colors. The valley offers some of the best fall foliage beauty in Northern California.

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  • Fall foliage photograph tips
  • FALL LEAVES HIKE

    Trail from Highway 88 to Sorensen’s Cliffs in Hope Valley

    Trail length: About six miles round-trip

    Elevation: About a 1,000-foot ascent from the trailhead, which is at an elevation of 7,000 feet

    Directions to trailhead: From Sacramento, take Highway 50 east and look for sign to Highway 89 south/Luther Pass Road toward Meyers. Turn right onto Highway 89 and follow about 11 miles. Turn left at the junction of Highways 88 and 89, onto 88. Follow for four-tenths of a mile to Sorensen’s resort and trailhead on the right.

    Difficulty: Moderate

    Trailhead facilities: None, but hikers can eat or stay at Sorensen’s Resort

    Parking: There is room for three or four cars to park at the trailhead. Look for additional parking at turnouts on the opposite side of the highway.

    Helpful hints: The trail is well beaten. Trees along the trail are marked with blue diamonds.

A top view of changing colors

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 2, 2014 - 9:33 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2014 - 10:50 pm

Editor’s note: Here’s one of our favorite fall foliage hikes in Northern California, written by The Bee’s Matt Kawahara in a story first published in September 2010.

It is truly a bird’s view.

About a thousand feet above Hope Valley, Sorensen’s Cliffs protrude gray and rocky from the forests around them. In fall, they peer out over a sloping, golden valley, its sweeping aspen groves touched with warm shades of red and yellow.

The silence at that altitude is total, broken only when breezes passes through the trees with a deep roar. Sierra peaks are across from you – not above.

Green conifers smother hillsides that slope downward into the valley. Windshields glitter in the distance, but the engines are too far away to hear. The vastness is startling.

And the hike to these cliffs – uphill and lively, but not too strenuous – takes you through fall foliage before letting you admire it from afar.

Begin at the rusty gate just to the west of Sorensen’s Resort, right off Highway 88. The trail is easy to follow, rocky at times and soft underfoot from dirt and wood shavings in most places. It once was used for logging, but the area has remained largely untouched for years.

The trail takes you through groves of quaking aspens. Light breezes make their teardrop leaves shimmer in the sunlight. By late September, some trees near the bottom of the trail will have started to turn, splashing orange and yellow against a background of green conifers.

Aside from the grove in which Sorensen’s lies, these are some of the best, most dense aspen groves in the valley. So during fall foliage you’ll be surrounded by color as the sunlight catches it streaming through the leaves. At times, the trees overhead are thick enough to hide the sky.

About two miles on, you’ll keep slightly to the right at a Y junction marked “31053” by U.S. Forest Service signs. Shortly after, you’ll veer right at another fork. Rock arrows in the ground will point you to the edge of the cliffs – also known as the Hope Valley Overlook – and the view that awaits.

Don’t lean out too far.

But when fall color is at its most brilliant, the valley below will be bursting with it.

Back at the front desk at Sorensen’s, owner John Brissenden says the route is about six miles round-trip and climbs nearly 1,000 feet.

“Not bad for somebody from Sacramento,” he says, joking, I think.

Brissenden is an amiable guy who gets a kick out of telling callers on the Sorensen’s line to sing a song when he puts them on hold, since he doesn’t have any music.

Starting in mid-September, the calls come in a lot. Sorensen’s is a year-round resort, offering rustic lodging in one of the largest alpine valleys at its altitude in the entire Sierra Nevada. During fall, Sorensen’s is an information center for people who want to see the color, Brissenden says. People call wanting to know where the colors are brightest. In the peak of fall, he gets about 100 calls a day.

Brissenden has run the resort with his wife, Patty, since 1982. He says he used to do the hike leading up to Sorensen’s Cliffs almost every morning.

“It takes you through a variety of plant species and terrain, and it’s a good workout,” he says. “And there’s not a lot of people.”

That much is true. Aside from one guy who thunders past on an ATV, I see nobody on the trail in the course of four hours. It’s perfect if you’re feeling particularly introspective.

To see color, Brissenden says, many people are content with climbing the 400 or 500 yards from the trailhead that take them to the hillside’s first rock outcropping. Those rocks give a great view of the meadow across from Sorensen’s, which is already showing reds and purples from the willow trees.

For a longer hike, you can continue on the trail – FS 053 – past Sorensen’s Cliffs to Burnside Lake Road, which you can follow back to Highway 88. As close as Brissenden can estimate it, that brings the total hike to about 12 miles.

Jerry Sprout, who wrote the guidebook “Alpine Sierra Trailblazer” with his wife, Janine, lists the hike to Sorensen’s Cliffs as one of the best in Hope Valley for fall color.

The trail “gets good western sunlight,” which illuminates the red and yellow leaves overhead, Sprout said. From the cliffs, he said, the view of the valley is “spectacular.”

For more color, the Sprouts’ book suggests hikes to Scotts Lake, Charity Valley and Willow Creek.

Brissenden mentions that, just a few hundred yards west of the Highway 88-89 junction, there’s a flatter trail conducive to mopeds and wheelchairs that takes you across the valley and through more aspen groves.

It’s the “old road to Tahoe,” Brissenden says, and by “old” he means the 1800s.

But it’s difficult to imagine a better view of Hope Valley than the one from Sorensen’s Cliffs. At the peak of fall foliage, when the colors have turned, it is the place to watch from as fall sets the valley aglow.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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