Special Places

[Photo: Meadow of spring flowers]

The Tahoe National Forest has an abundance of wonderful places to explore including:

  • scenic vistas
  • hidden waterfalls
  • deeply incised canyons
  • wildflower laden meadows
  • rough and tumble rivers and
  • serene lakes and reservoirs

We invite you to explore these special places, keeping in mind that this is a popular forest.  Interstate 80 enables easy access from San Francisco, Sacramento, and Reno in just an hour or two.  With this access, comes responsibility – please do your part to help keep the Forest clean and healthy. 

Granite Chief Wilderness straddles the Sierra Nevada crest and is especially scenic with rugged granite cliffs, alpine meadows, and dense pockets of fir.  It includes the headwaters of the North Fork American Wild River.  Snow is often found year round with elevations ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 ft.   The Pacific Crest Trails bisects the Wilderness. 

North Fork American Wild River was Congressionally designated in 1978 as a Wild river.  Many non-motorized trails extend into the steep canyon from both the north and south rims.   Often the western most trails are accessible during late fall or spring when much of the Forest is snow covered.  This is a beautiful river to explore. 

Placer Big Trees grove is the most northerly stand of naturally occurring Giant Sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum, and is found 22 miles east of Foresthill overlooking the Middle Fork American River.  This area has been designated as a Botanical Special Interest Area by the Forest Service.  The trees have been a popular tourist attraction since the 1800’s and each bears the name of a prominent American.  A nature trail and picnic area offer visitors a nice lunch or rest stop.

Historical Sites throughout the Forest provide a window into the past.  Due to the early pioneer and mining endeavors, a wealth of historic townsites, encampments, trails, wayside stations, and mines can be found.  Some of these unique sites include:

  • The Boca Townsite Trail located east of Truckee recreates images of the historic town of Boca first built as a construction camp for the Central Pacific Railroad and later provided ice and timber for the Boca Mill and Ice Company.  
  • The Donner Camp Trail north of Truckee explains the history of the George and Jacob Donner families, trapped at Alder Creek while emigrating to California. 
  • The Kentucky Mine, near Sierra City was opened in 1850 and was in continuous operation for almost a century.  Now a museum, it depicts the gold rush and later mining developments and is open for public tours.
  • Kyburz Flat Interpretive Area, off Hwy 89 north of Truckee, explores three historic sites covering Native American petroglyph rock art called cupules, an early stage stop on Henness Pass Road and the historic Wheeler Sheep Camp with picnic area and reconstructed brick oven.

Historic Fire Lookouts throughout the forest can be visited and in some cases rented for overnight stays.       

Calpine Lookout  (northwest of Sierraville) was restored and now is available for rent at $45 per night.  This lookout was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934.  It was an active lookout every summer until 1975.  The structure consists of a ground floor room, a middle storeroom and the observation cab/sleeping are on top.  This site can be reserved by calling Toll Free 1-877-444-6777 (International 518-885-3639 or TDD 877-833-6777) or on-line at www.recreation.gov/      More information is available from the Sierraville Ranger Station,  530-994-3401.

Sardine Lookout (southeast of Sierraville) is currently undergoing renovation as a future rental.  This lookout was also built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Volunteers and the Forest Service are joining forces to restore this site.  More information is available from the Sierraville Ranger Station, 530-994-3401

Grouse Ridge Lookout (northeast of Nevada City) is also being renovated for future rental.  This lookout is one of the earliest lookouts on the forest and was built in 1923.  Volunteers and the Forest Service are working to raise funds and to restore this facility.  More information is available at www.grouseridgelookout.com or from the Forest Headquarters 530-265-4531. 

Highlighted Areas

Boca Historic Townsite InterpretiveTrail

Boca Townsite Trail showcases the boom and bust of the historic town of Boca as it transitioned from a construction camp for the Central Pacific Railroad to the Boca Mill and Ice Company and later to the Boca Brewery.  Interpretive signs illustrate the many faces of the Boca Townsite as the trail winds uphill through what once was the historic town. A small cemetery is at the top of the hill.

This trail has accessible vault toilet, gravel parking lot and paved 0.5 mile loop. Persons with walking impairments may require assistance as portions of the trail exceed 5% slope.

No trash services. Pack it in, pack it out.

Directions: From Truckee take Interstate 80 east for six miles to the Hirschdale exit. Go north under I-80 for approximately 0.3 miles. Cross railroad tracks and take road immediately to the right for trailhead parking. Trail begins near the restroom.


Donner Camp Picnic Site and Interpretive Trail

This easy 1/3 mile interpretive trail offers a glimpse of what the Donner Party went through here in the winter of 1846-47. Six trailside signs are personalized with excerpts from Donner Party member’s letters and diaries. What started out as a hopeful journey towards prosperity ended tragically for the 89 member Donner Party. During the winter of 1846-47, snow trapped the George and Jacob Donner families here in Alder Creek Valley. Others were stranded six miles to the southwest at Donner Lake. Nearly half of the Donner Party died in these mountains. The rest survived the ordeal with bitter memories of cold, hunger and death.

Accessible vault toilet and picnic tables.

No trash services. Pack it in, pack it out.

Directions: From Truckee take Highway 89 North approximately three miles north of I-80.  Look for Donner Camp Picnic Site on the right.