The Highway 88 corridor is not only supremely beautiful, it’s also easily reached from El Dorado County. All along its path are places to fish, hike, ride and paddle your canoe or kayak. The views from the ridgetops are world-class eye poppers.
Choosing a hike along here is relatively easy. For anyone looking for a short hike, the trek from the Martin Meadow campground to Carson Spur and the Thunder Mountain trail head fits the bill.
The Martin Meadow campground, on the north side of Highway 88, is the start point for the 1.6 mile hike. The trail head is right at the Forest Service information sign.
Just to the right of the sign you’ll see a faint path, the beginning of the trail. Follow this trail which curves around a campsite in the trees.
Shortly, you will cross an old Jeep road. Keep following the trail through the forest, crossing a stream bed where some very good wildflowers — shooting stars, snow plants, paintbrush and others will greet you.
Keep your camera at the ready. Along the trail are some double-take worthy old twisted, bent and intertwined Juniper trees.
When you exit the forest cover, the trail will come to a “duck” on a large rock. To the left and upward is a trail that takes you to Castle Point. It’s worth taking this short diversion just to see the lava rocks, the view down into the canyon, and farther out, Sacramento.
If you aren’t interested in Castle Point, continue on. You will find yourself walking along a fine ridge with views down into the canyon, featuring large granite rocks and right along the cliff, lava towers. Stay away from the edge of the cliff, as it’s a long way down should you slip.
As you hike you will find many places to go just off the trail to see the sights. There are some small lakes that will come into view. Continue until you come to a “Y” in the trail. One of those large, old Juniper trees is here.
Take the trail to the right and you’ll find yourself descending through the forest on a gently sloping trail on a soft forest floor. Taking the trail to the left will put you into a short climb to another captivating view into the canyon. To the east, looking carefully, you will see two lakes. The nearest one is Kirkwood Lake and out in the distance is Caples Lake.
Continue on this trail until you drop to the highway at Carson Spur. You will be just to the east of the Thunder Mountain trail head.
It could take about two hours to get to the Thunder Mountain trail head. It’s just 1.6 miles, 3.2 round trip, but your trek will be interrupted frequently by the need to give your camera a work out, or to stop and look at the amazing lava columns and seemingly delicately balanced rocks embedded in them.
Take plenty of water, snacks or a lunch with you. Sunscreen, and a good hat, should be part of your hike.
If you have small children with you, take care with them when the trail gets close to the edge of the cliffs. Exercise the same caution if your dog hikes with you.
Remember to leave no trace that you were out there. Once again, you are on your own out in the forest.