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Adventure of the week: Tahoe-area hikes with a leisurely air

At least three months remain before the mountain hiking season segues into the snowshoe season, so there's still lots of time for walks in the woods.

Just remember that not every hike has to be challenging. Bruising your feet on the skree (broken pieces of granite) on the Mount Tallac trail is painful, and the altitude of the hikes out of the Carson Pass literally takes your breath away.

If your goal is to treat the children or their grandparents to a bit of gentle exercise in beautiful surroundings, or to simply get outdoors for a leisurely stroll, these two outings are ideal:

 At Lake Tahoe, the half-mile interpretive Rainbow Trail at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center is charming. The trail itself is a mostly asphalt path that meanders through stands of quaking aspen, over bridges and past streams, marshes and meadows. One trail-side vista offers a grand view of Mount Tallac, which rises to 9,735 feet at its summit.

For a mini-education, pause to read the signs that explain the area's ecology. For a moment of respite from the world, sit on a bench and listen to the wind rustle the forest. That knocking sound is a wood- pecker.

Part of the path is along Taylor Creek. It's there in late September and through October that thousands of red-and-green kokanee salmon school up and swim by on their way to spawning grounds at Fallen Leaf Lake.

Perhaps the highlight is the Stream Profile Chamber, a cavelike underground viewing room that lets viewers look directly into a stocked trout pond.

 Across the state line and past Zephyr Cove is Spooner Lake in the Tahoe Nevada State Park. The loop walk around the tranquil lake is two miles; the trail itself is wide and sandy.

A cool breeze perfumed our recent walk with the fragrance of Jeffrey pine and mountain sage. A bald eagle hovered over the lake's surface, waiting for a fish. Two kayakers paddled slowly in the middle of the lake. A grandfather and his three young charges fished the shoreline near a pile of boulders. Birdcalls twittered from the forest. All of this under a blue sky splashed with white clouds that looked like spilled milk.

Spooner Lake was built in the 1850s by a timber company for use as a mill pond. Now it's a tranquil retreat surrounded by rolling hills -- mountaintops, really -- covered in conifer forests.

The trail features shaded park benches and informational signage about birds, plants, lumber flumes and the Washoe people who camped here during their migrations between the seasons. Part of the walk winds through stands of aspens and along meadows dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers. A picnic basket and a bottle of wine are essential gear.

Other, more ambitious hikes also are possible. The most popular is the five-miler to Marlette Lake, though an option is part of the Tahoe Rim Trail, which runs nearby.

The lake is stocked with rainbow and cutthroat trout, and catch-and-release fishing is encouraged. But there's a problem: A stubborn population of Lahontan tui chubs competes for the same food source as the trout, so the trout that are landed usually are no longer than 12 inches, and kind of underweight at that.

A quick dip in the 25-foot-deep lake would be refreshing, we thought, but we changed the plan after reading this sign: "Spooner Lake has leeches."

To Rainbow Trail

Take Highway 50 east to Highway 89; go north on 89, past Camp Richardson. Look for the sign on the right.

For more information, including special ranger-led programs and other nearby walking opportunities: (530) 543-2674 or

www.fs.fed.us/r5/ltbmu/

To Spooner Lake

Take Highway 50 east to the Highway 89 junction; turn right on 50, go well past Cave Rock and look for Nevada Highway 28 on the left. Drive a mile to the park entrance on the right. Entry fee is $6.

For more information:

(775) 831-0494 or

http://parks.nv.gov/lt.htm

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