WHAT TO EXPECT Tahoe Meadows is a lush alpine meadow with adjacent montane forest and riparian habitats. At approximately 8,700 feet, this meadow and surrounding areas support a variety of high-elevation bird species. There are two good birding route options: an easy one-hour interpretive trail around the perimeter of the meadow or a three-hour loop which begins in a lodgepole pine forest and follows Ophir Creek along the south side of the Tahoe Meadows.
Best time of year: May through September
Notable species: Hermit Warbler can be seen in the pines at the beginning of the longer Ophir Creek Trail loop. Scan the tree tops for Pine Grosbeak and irruptive species such as Red Crossbill and Evening Grosbeak. Aspen groves occur along Ophir Creek in the lowest portion of the route and attract riparian species such as Wilson's and Yellow Warblers. American Dipper can also be observed along Ophir Creek. Mountain Bluebird is possible.
Precautions: Be aware of the potential effects of high elevation. A hat and sunscreen are recommended. Mosquito repellant is necessary in spring and summer. Snow may remain along portions of the trails until June. Alpine meadow vegetation is extremely fragile, so do not stray from designated trails.
HOW TO GET THERE From the I-80 & US 395 interchange, drive south approximately 11 miles on US 395 to Exit 56 Mount Rose Highway/SR 431. Bear right onto Mount Rose Highway/SR 431 and proceed another 15.6 miles to the Mount Rose Summit. At 0.6 mile beyond the summit, turn left (southeast) into the parking area (restrooms) for the 1.3 mile Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail.
To access the 3.0-mile Ophir Creek Trail loop, continue about another 0.7 mile to a wide paved shoulder near a wide, right-bearing road. The trailhead is on the other side (left, southeast) of the highway, where pullout parking is also permitted. Exercise caution when crossing the highway on foot or making a U-turn. Note that this trailhead can also be accessed on foot from the Tahoe Meadows parking and restroom area. A path begins at the the edge of the lower parking lot and initially follows the highway southwest downhill. This path will add nearly 2 miles to the 3.0-mile Ophir Creek Trail loop.
POPULAR BIRDING ROUTE Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail: At the parking-restroom area, check the kiosks and brochures. This is also the main trailhead for the Tahoe Rim Trail, and parking may be crowded on weekends and holidays. The 1.3-mile trail (handicapped access) encircles the meadow and soon leaves any highway sounds behind. The trail is level and well-marked. It winds among huge granite boulders and tall pines and along mountain creeks.
Ophir Creek Trail loop: From the parking areas along the highway, continue past the beginning of the Tahoe Rim Trail at about 0.3 mile and follow the Ophir Creek Trail. The trail travels gradually downhill through pine forest. Look for Clark's Nutcracker, Cassin's Finch, and the usual montane species such as Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy Nuthatches, and Mountain Chickadee. As the trail nears Ophir Creek at 1.5 miles, stands of aspen blanket the slopes and willow thickets hug the creek banks. Check for riparian species such as MacGillivray's, Wilson's, and Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrow, and Hermit Thrush. Along this stretch the trail also provides superb views of Washoe Valley and Washoe Lake some 4,000 feet below. (Side Trip A)
To return to the trailhead, take the trail to the left heading back uphill, mostly along the creek. Upon reaching the meadow, watch for White-crowned and other sparrow species and Mountain Bluebird. Just before reaching the highway, cross the creek and return to the trailhead. (Side Trip B)
OPTIONAL SIDE TRIPS Side Trip A Ophir Creek Trail: This alpine trail continues downhill from the birding route for a six-mile descent of 4,000 feet to Davis Creek Regional Park in Washoe Valley. A shorter walk down the trail may be worthwhile. The entire trail is very strenuous and requires vehicle shuttling for a one-way hike. Price Lake is at 2.0 miles and a 1,400-foot descent from the birding route. The lower end of the trail may be birded from Davis Creek Regional Park. See Area #20 Washoe Valley Side Trip A.
Side Trip B Connection to Area #14 Spooner Lake: Continue southwest on Mount Rose Highway/SR 431 6.6 miles to its intersection with SR 28. Turn left (south) on SR 28 and drive approximately 12.6 miles along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe to the entrance to Spooner Lake wildlife viewing area on the left (east) side of the highway.