Blackwood Canyon offers some of the best backcountry access in the Tahoe Basin. The upper gate is finally open, after one of the latest openings in recent years, and the wildflowers are in full effect. Access to the Tahoe Rim Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Ellis Peak Trail are all available at the end of the road. There’s even a few turns to be had in the 4th of July Bowl if you’re jones’n for a little snow sliding.
Blackwood Canyon is another gem on Tahoe’s West Shore. In the winter months there’s an active snowpark right across the street from the Lake, and snowmobilers have it almost all to themselves. The access road is about 7 miles long, starting from the snowpark. It passes two USFS gates, and finally crests atop Barker Pass. When the upper gate opens, usually by the end of June, sometimes as late as early July, there’s great summer skiing to be had in the 4th of July Bowl. It’s short, but the hike is easy, the views are breathtaking, and for the small amount of vert you ascend and descend, the terrain is super enjoyable.
Your best bet to take advantage of this prime summer access is to either join the road bikers who’ve been lapping the paved road for weeks, or head out on one of the several hiking options available from Barker Pass. Minimally, it’s more than worth the 20-30 minutes you’ll burn hiking up towards Ellis Peak for the ridge views you’ll get as reward. Lake Tahoe on the left, Desolation Wilderness on the right, a sweet trail out in front, and tons of blooming wildflowers all around you. It’s a perfect summer stroll in the Tahoe-Sierra.
If you feel like bringing up skis or a board, there are still a few couple-hundred-foot patches of snow to slide down in the 4th of July Bowl. Unfortunately, its too late to link turns in one of the many sweet chutes the drop off the palisades-like plateau that forms the top of the bowl. There were a few turns to be had in two of the chutes, but nothing too attractive. Although I bet some Squaw ripper would’ve sent this little interesting looking swath (a few turns into an air over the rock, skip off a small pad, stomp and run it out).
I opted for the scenic route, and linked up the three most obvious runs that were available. Actually, I wasn’t the only one up there checking in on the snow. On lap 2, I dropped in as a few hoots and hollers came out of nowhere. When I looked back I saw a crew of three, with at least one of them carrying a snowboard.
I didn’t get to see where they rode, but it was cool to see another group, in the later afternoon at this point, looking for a little snow time in late August.
It’s fully worth the trip up Blackwood Canyon to go for a sweet hike, and gawk at some truly amazing views and wildflowers right now. There are a bunch of hikers and road bikers up there taking advantage, and if you haven’t been up Blackwood Canyon in a while, or ever, now is as good a time as any for a visit.