An afternoon hike to Marlette Lake
A few years ago, I hiked the Marlette Lake trail in Tahoe's back country to access the Flume Trail where we were filming the production of a television commercial. I was in a different mindset then; I was working after all. But when trying to decide what to do over the long Independence Day holiday weekend, I reflected back on that hike and thought it would be fun to do it again – this time with my oldest sister and brother-in-law who were in town to visit. My husband had to work so my 14-month-old daughter was about to embark on her first hike in one of the world's most beautiful places with her mom and aunt and uncle.
We packed lunch and loaded up the car for the short drive to Spooner Lake. I was worried that the parking lot would be full because we got such a late start – we left Reno around 11 am – but there was plenty of parking available. As a Nevada resident, I got a reduced admission of $8 versus $10 for out-of-state visitors and parked the car in the shade under the towering pine trees. The clean mountain air smelled so good. It reminded me of vacation. It's silly how I live so close to Lake Tahoe, yet rarely go. Life just gets too busy sometimes, but not today. The fresh pine scent invigorated me for the 9.5-mile round trip hike that lay ahead. We strapped my daughter into the jogging stroller and set out for a day of summer fun.
There must be something special about polarized sunglasses because the green of the forest that surrounded me was so vibrant. The sky looked extra blue and the textures of the varied vegetation seemed pronounced. The aspens were shimmering in the light breeze. The purples, reds, yellows and oranges of the wildflowers exploded in the grassy meadows. My sister commented that even the dandelions looked especially beautiful. It was like nature's beauty was magnified. But then the buzzing sound no one wants to hear came into earshot. Mosquitoes were swarming around my head, my arms and my legs. They were relentless. I remembered sunscreen but I didn't even think about bugs. Thank goodness my sister is a Girl Scout and packed individual bug repellent wipes. We stopped along the trail and wiped every exposed inch of flesh. I shouldn't have been surprised that there were bugs. We were in nature after all. And we had a late snow pack this year although only a small patch of snow remained in one section of the trail. It was quickly melting, feeding the creeks with the water mosquitoes love so much. Lucky for me, the bug repellent did its magic and I escaped with only one bite on my ankle.
As we continued on our hike, the bugs diminished and the trail got steeper. There are two trails to Marlette Lake – one for foot and equestrian traffic and one for mountain bikes. We were pushing my daughter in a jogging stroller so we opted for the wider mountain bike route that is actually a dirt road. There were a few other hikers but mostly mountain bikers traversing the soft sandy dirt that challenged the stroller. Although we were on the bike route, we came across two people riding mules. At first I thought they were horses and started clapping in delight but then I recognized the larger ears to be those of a mule. No matter the species, it was still cool to see livestock on the trail.
One foot in front of the other, we moseyed along switching off stroller duty. My sister volunteered to push along the flat portions of the trail. It was so kind of her considering the trail was mostly uphill. Now I've hiked this trail before, but I didn't recall the last part before you climb the hill overlooking Marlette Lake. It was a very steep climb. To lighten the load of the stroller, we took my 25-pound daughter out of the stroller and I carried her while my brother-in-law pushed the childless stroller up the hill. My daughter thought this was quite funny and mimicked my heavy breathing. Occasionally, I'd get a big toothy grin and her bright blue eyes would give me the energy to take another step forward. When the trail flattened out to reveal Marlette Lake glistening in the near distance, it was a glorious site to behold.
I took advantage of the level terrain to rest and catch my breath. I marveled at the magnificent view and listened to the birds chirping in the nearby trees. There was a gentle breeze that felt so refreshing. A few mountain bikers came along and we chatted a bit. They were from Washington State and were visiting Lake Tahoe for a family reunion. A few years ago, they had ridden the Flume Trail and remembered it as one of their best rides. I learned that there's a shuttle that takes riders back to Spooner Lake for a nominal fee. My brother-in-law and sister soon caught up with stroller in tow and after they had a quick sip of water, we strapped my daughter back into the jogging stroller for a downhill ride to the shoreline.
Marlette Lake is the perfect setting for enjoying a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich. No kidding, after a 4.5-mile uphill hike, PB&J is the bomb. And the Milano chocolate and mint cookies weren’t too bad either. We sat on some rocks on a peninsula where the prominent Leonard family once had a summer cabin. A stone chimney remains with a plaque explaining the significance of the site. It is amazing to me that Marlette Lake was the water source for Virginia City. Back then, the family couldn't swim in the lake since it was used for drinking water. Not now though. There were a few brave souls who dove into the frigid lake. After one gal jumped in the water she said her toes were frozen. That didn't sound all that appealing to us so we chose to bask in the sunshine and listen to the water lap against the rocks that dotted the shoreline. Some hikers remarked how they couldn't believe we pushed the jogging stroller all that way. The serenity of Marlette Lake made it worth every bead of sweat.
After lunch, we packed up and began the short uphill climb out of the basin, looking forward to the long downhill stroll back to Spooner Lake and the car.
Marlette Lake Hike
How to get there: From Carson City, take US50 west for 10 miles over Spooner Summit to SR28. Turn right onto SR28 toward Incline Village. Turn right to enter the Nevada State Park – Spooner Lake Recreation Area. The trail begins east of the picnic area near Spooner Lake.
Parking: Spooner Lake parking area – $8 per car for Nevada residents, $10 per car for out-of-state visitors
Trail distance: approx. 9.5 miles round trip
Facilities: Flush toilets, water faucets and picnic tables at Spooner Lake; primitive bathroom along the trail and at Marlette Lake
What to pack: Water, food, sunscreen, bug repellent, hat, polarized sunglasses, sturdy shoes, layered clothing
Caution: When hiking, stay to the right of the trail and be on the lookout for bike riders traveling at fast speeds on the downhill sections of the trail.