Lonely Planet Writer

Hidden for 100 years, California's secret garden opens for tours

Once a private fishing retreat for a group of wealthy businessmen, including newspaper publisher James McClatchy, a virtual secret garden near Truckee, California is now open to everyday nature enthusiasts.

The Truckee River - the sole outlet of Lake Tahoe
View of the Truckee River in Tahoe National Forest in Northern California

The Truckee Donner Land Trust and Nature Conservancy purchased 1200 acres in the Lower Carpenter Valley from the private owners in a bid to keep the land as pristine and protected as it has been for centuries. While some 637 acres in Crabtree Canyon are available to hikers and mountain bikers, another 600 acres are so fragile that they are only accessible through guided tours.

Surrounded by the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range, this lush valley is home to some 400 different native California Plants. Among them, the carnivorous sundew that traps insects in its sticky dew. An abundance of wildlife, including mountain lions, bears, deer and a number of endangered birds also find respite in the low marshy habitat.

“This valley portion is 600 acres, and this is the scientific masterpiece that was on The Nature Conservancy’s priority list of the last 20 years – and that’s because of the biodiversity,” said Kathy Enlgar, development director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.

The delicate wetlands, called fens, are the perfect environment for willows which provide homes to 40 of the 270 known nesting pairs of willow flycatchers, a small bird once common in the Sierra Nevada.

A restroom, parking lot, trail and viewpoints are planned so that visitors can access the area by foot as early as 2019. The additions will “allow visitors to experience the meadow without tromping through it, said Englar. Dogs, horses and motorized vehicles are banned.

In the meantime, a docent from the Truckee Donner Land Trust is leading guided tours through the Carpenter Valley. The five-mile hike is on mostly flat terrain and somewhat rough ranch roads. Tours are available for the next week by clicking here: eventbrite.com