The Hawley Grade Trail is a National Scenic Trail in South Lake Tahoe, California, that offers both gorgeous natural scenery and a rich sense of history. The Hawley Grade was first developed as a toll road in the 1850s—what is now a dirt single track was originally wider to accommodate wagon traffic. Miners used it as a gentle route to take their wagons over the Sierra Mountains to Hangtown, a central hub town of the Gold Rush era. It was also briefly used by the Pony Express.
The trailhead is located right off of South Upper Truckee Road. You'll briefly turn off onto a paved section of road where your GPS will indicate that the Hawley Grade begins, then will proceed into a dirt parking lot. The green Forest Service gate may be closed during the snow season, indicating that the trail is impassable. There are no amenities beyond parking at the trailhead.
This scenic trail winds along the Truckee River and ascends to Echo Summit, where it provides expansive views of the Tahoe Basin. You'll start the trail in a relatively flat area, then slowly climb through aromatic incense cedars. You and your dog will both enjoy sniffing the air here. To see the river, you'll need to wander a short distance off the trail. It's a lovely sight, watching the rolling water flow through the shade of tall pines and stands of red-tipped brush.
Soon after you return to the trail, it crosses a rocky creek. At times, the water is a trickle, while in spring and early summer, it's a full waterfall, making the crossing a little tricky. You'll have to navigate from one rock to another to get across. The trail continues through aspen groves and meadows where wildflowers bloom. Early in the season, the unusual red mycotrophic snow plant grows here. On open mountain slopes, Lake Tahoe comes into view.
This short trail is a perfect place to spend an afternoon with your pup when you're in Lake Tahoe. You'll likely want to linger in this beautiful spot, so be sure to pack a lunch and some treats!