Travelwriter Fraser Bridges reports from fascinating
spots off the beaten track. An inveterate hot springs
fan, he's in the High Sierra, just south of Lake
Tahoe in Markleeville, where the summer temperatures are cool, the water is hot, and life is easy, except for infrequent bear
encounters. Nearby attractions include South Lake Tahoe, Stateline
Nevada (casinos), and Reno.
With California summer temperatures soaring into the
hundreds, and with my patience with
the turgid air getting thin, I suggested a
two-hour drive to the High Sierra, to try out
a hot spring park that I had often wanted to
sample. Having lived in Northern California
for eight years, I was ashamed of myself that
I had never been to Grover Hot Springs. Now,
that wasn't because I don't care about hot
springs. I've soaked in hot spring pools from
Arizona to Alaska, and care more about the benefits of hot
springs than I can express. It's just that
when something is almost in your back yard,
you tend to disregard it.
we took the plunge (literally) after taking
State Route 88, through the California
foothills, then up into the rocky ridges of
the Sierra Nevada. Highway 88 is one of the
great drives in the West, and my favorite in
California. The road climbs slowly through a grey (digger) pine and manzanita woodland, and then
into Ponderosa Pine country, before crossing
the Sierra divide above 8,000 feet, at Carson Pass.
From there, it's a half-hour drive through
the beautiful Hope Valley to the small town of Markleeville and Grover
Hot Springs State Park, through dryer sagebrush country on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.
at Grover Hot Springs State Park
photos by James Hoagland
checked out several campgrounds in the Hope
Valley, so named by immigrant Mormons who had
difficulty getting through the Sierra on
their way to the California Gold Fields.
Faith and Charity valleys are nearby.
Valley Campground (Forest Service) sits
beside the West Fork of the Carson River,
below Carson Pass. Turtle Rock Campground (Alpine County) is along Highway 89, half way
between the 88/89 junction and Markleeville.
We chose a more obscure campground, four
miles off the highway) in a BLM recreation
site on Indian Creek Reservoir. The landscape
was typical of the Eastern Sierra --
sagebrush and quite arid, with pine trees on
the higher slopes surrounding the
here are easy to find, even on weekends.
There's a trailer and RV area, but we had our
tent and chose a fine 2-pad campsite
overlooking the lake. As soon as we had
pitched the tent, we took off for the hot
springs after reaching Markleeville.
is a tiny town, with a hundred or so
residents, and the seat of Alpine County,
the least populated county in the state. It
was a mining area in the early 1900s, and now
devotes itself to tourism -- at least during
the non-snow months. In the winter, most of
the roads to Markleeville are cut off. The
turnoff to the state park is in the center of
town, close to the visitor information
center operated by the county and the Forest
park is at the end of the access road, with a
good campground for RVs and tenters near the
park entrance. Drive through the meadow and
you're at the pools.
For park information on pool openings and closings, call 530-694-2248. the park is open year-round, but is closed Wednesdays during the off-season and also on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day.
entrance fee for the pool is $5 per adult.
There's no other fee to enter the park,
except for the daily fees to use the picnic
area and campgrounds. Hiking trails lead from
beyond the pool area. The hot water flows
down the hillside, into the large hot pool
on top of the Sierra is unpredictable, and
having driven through a small thunderstorm,
we weren't surprised to see the pool closed
when we arrived. We were joined in the wait
by a couple who had driven from Las Vegas --
a full-day's drive -- just to soak in the
pool, only to find it closed. But not for
long. The storm cloud passed quickly, and the
dozen people waiting began their soak. The
water is at 104 degrees, and a cold swimming
pool sits nearby for quick, cooling plunges and kids activities.
The mineral water is devoid of sulphur,
making it a pleasant experience. Regulars
claim curative properties to the water, as
did the native Indians who first discovered
was the first of our two visits to Grover Hot
Springs in July. We repeated the experience
two weeks later. The second trip was made in
much cooler weather, giving the pool area a
nicely-eerie atmosphere as steam rose from
the water and wafted over the meadow.
H.S. State Park is not a place for a quick
in-and-out soak and run.
The creek crosses the lower meadow, fed by
the springs and the pool outlet. The
park is blessed with wonderful scenery, with
pine-clad mountains surrounding the park on
three sides. Hikes lead into the hills,
including one that wanders to a very scenic
waterfall, which has more of a cascade early in
the Summer than in the Fall.
campground in Grover Hot Springs State
Park offers trailer/RV and tent sites, in
a shaded setting. Reservations are avail;able
through Park Net.
also recommend the BLM recreation site at Indian Creek Reservoir, four miles
east of State Route 89. The access route
(Airport Road) is about three miles north of
Markleeville. RV and tenting sites are
available on a first come, first served
basis. Even with the odd bear encounter
during evening hours, Indian Creek Reservoir
is a fine place to stay. Rangers have posted
notices that food should be kept overnight in
your car trunk. That's a fine idea!!
Marshmallows could have been put in the trunk
with the rest of the food.
Valley Campground, operated by the U.S.
Forest Service, is found on State Route 88,
west of the 88/89 junction. Half of the sites
are available on a first come, first served
Rock Campground, operated by Alpine
County, is located just off Highway 89, near
the turnoff to Indian Creek Reservoir. Tent
and RV sites are available, along with a
community building and tennis courts.
Carson River Resort - 530-694-2229
12399 Hwy 89, , Markleeville
A rustic fishing resort, with cabins,
campground, and full hookup RV spaces are
available April thru October. An on-site
store offers groceries, gasoline, fishing
licenses, and supplies.
Creekside Lodge - 866-802-7335 - 14800
Hwy 89, Markleeville
The newly refurbished Creek Side Lodge located next to the creek, close to the excellent Wolf Creek restaurant. The seemingly rustic lodgings contain eleven well-equipped rooms with modern trappings including king and queen beds, and a small suite with kitchenette.
J. Marklee Toll Station - 530-694-2507
14856 Hwy. 89, Markleeville
With a cafe serving very good breakfasts and lunchs, this is a reasonably-priced motel with a few standard rooms and a cabin.
Wolf Creek Restaurant - 530 694-2150
14830 Highway 89, Markleeville
What used to be the historic Alpine Hotel is now Wolf Creek -- in the center of
town, and first built in 1862 in Silver
Mountain City, then dismantled board by board
and reassembled here in 1886. There is a bar (the Cutthroat Saloon) and a large dining room serving very good food.
Deli 530-694-9597, 14811 Hwy. 89, Markleeville
Located across the street from Wolf Creek, the Deli serves fresh sandwiches,
salads, soup, Ice Cream and beverages.
Barbecues are staged during summer
Hoagland, of the University of California
Davis, visited Grover Hot Springs State Park,
photographing the scenery and some of the wildlife in the park. His
website also features links to
other images taken in interesting places.