I was content tromping around on snowshoes until I was introduced to dog-walking skis. I may resemble a fawn learning to walk at times, but we can still cover more distance, which means more fun for our powder hound.
After cross-country skiing once last year, we decided to make the investment, purchased our own gear, and explored the Sierra! The places we visited are all dog-friendly and listed from south to north.
Rock Creek SNO-Park – The dramatic Eastern Sierra mountains and powdery snow made for a great early-season trip. This gem is between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop. From the parking area, we followed ski tracks along Rock Creek all the way to Pine Grove Campground where we snacked sitting on top of a picnic table peeking out of the snow. Then we cruised along the groomed road all the way back down to the truck. Next time we’ll have to venture farther to Rock Creek Lake for some gorgeous views. A SNO-Park pass is required, but can be purchased from a kiosk onsite.
Robinson Creek – We’ve been to this trail twice in winter now and while this place is staggeringly busy in the summer, we’ve had the area almost to ourselves in the winter. Just out of Bridgeport, we made our way through Mono Village Resort’s hibernating campground and up the canyon to sweeping views of towering canyon walls. Our sites were on Barney Lake, about an 8-mile round trip, but the inclement weather was not inspiring me up the hill to the lake. Still a beautiful day.
Silver Lake – Kirkwood Cross-country area is just up the road and may explain why we had the lake to ourselves until lunch. I typically drive past Silver Lake in the summer as water laps at the dam along Highway 88, so I was a bit confused by the ribbon of water through the field of snow. Turns out, Silver Lake is drained to its natural level each winter. For this trip, we ventured out across the open expanse that is normally submerged in water, then in search of shelter from the blazing sun, we roughly followed Kit Carson Road back. It was somewhere under the six plus feet of snow. The parking area is east of the dam at the turn for Kit Carson Road.
Hope Valley Outdoor Center – Also along Highway 88, but on the eastern slopes of Carson Pass is Hope Valley. There is a SNO-Park at Blue Lake Road, but we parked at Hope Valley Outdoor Center at the junction with Highway 89. From the sound of it the Center is working with California Department of Fish and Wildlife to figuring out a parking fee, but when we went it was donation based. We did a lap around the meadow just by the parking area since it was actually only my second time on skis. Then we headed up Burnside Lake Road for a bit. This area wasn’t my favorite since it is a popular destination.
Echo Lake SNO-Park – This option is best saved for the coldest temperatures of winter as it’s primarily across frozen lakes. From the SNO-Park off Highway 50, we skied past cabins buried under snow and down a reasonably steep hill. Route, who is a two-planker, took it on with grace, where I’m a snowboarder and proceeded to crash my way down to the shore. From there we stayed close to the southern shore and skied to Upper Echo Lake. As we were about to turn around a couple of groups descended from the backcountry and skied straight across Lower Echo Lake. We read blog posts about sticking closer to the south shore since the north shore bakes in the sun and is more prone to avalanche, but with the conditions at the time apparently we didn’t need to hug the south shore and took off across the lake in their tracks. Come prepared with your SNO-Park pass as there is no way to purchase one onsite.
Loon Lake – This area was a delightful snowy moonscape to ski through. From Highway 50, it is a bit of a drive up the winding Ice House Road, but that helps thin the crowds. There are a number of trail options of different difficulty-levels and distances. We skied the Polaris Trail along the lake’s north-western shore. This trail is really just the road and while this area is closed to snowmobiling, it is still open to vehicles. I don’t mind sharing trails, but will explore other options next visit.
North Tahoe Regional Park – Groomed trails without dog restrictions right in Kings Beach, all for only a $5 parking fee. There’s also a sledding hill to enjoy!
Tahoe Meadows – This is a popular area, but there’s plenty of room to roam. If you want to put in some miles, you can find views of Lake Tahoe or Carson Valley. Or enjoy meandering in the trees as far as you’d like. Be sure to keep your bearings though as this is considered backcountry and there aren’t groomed trails. Park along Mount Rose Highway for free.
Bowman Lake Road – Full disclosure, we actually snowshoed here, but there’s cross-country skiing to be had. This area is also popular with snowmobiling. However, we detoured off the main road fairly quickly and only saw one or two snowmobiles on our hike to Blue Lake.
Thoughts – Per usual with dog adventures, the most important thing it to know your dog and their capabilities. Aspen can go all day, but doesn’t like to take breaks for long because she gets cold. To help keep warm, she typically wears an insulated jacket. For her paws, I’ve never been able to find a booty that works well for her, so before she gets out of the car I slather Musher’s Secret on her paws to help keep the snow from building up between her pads.
During our trip to Echo Lake we saw another couple out with their dogs taking a break on a tarp. I thought that was genius and tried it on our next outing. However, Aspen was reluctant to lay down on it and ended up just impatiently staring at me while I ate a snack. Maybe it just takes some getting used to…
I am the first to admit my lack of knowledge in regards to skis. However, I do love the our Fischer Traverse 78s for two reasons – they are wide for cross-country skis which is good for off-trail travel and they have edges to help stay upright when conditions get icy.
The season is wrapping up, but there’s still time to fit in a trip. It’s also a great time to watch for end-of-season deals!