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Grover Hot Springs State Park

in California's High Sierra

Travelwriter Fraser Bridges reports from fascinating spots off the beaten track. An inveterate hot springs fan, he's in the High Sierra, just south of Lake Tahoe in Markleeville, where the summer temperatures are cool, the water is hot, and life is easy, except for infrequent bear encounters. Nearby attractions include South Lake Tahoe, Stateline Nevada (casinos), and Reno.

With California summer temperatures soaring into the hundreds, and with my patience with the turgid air getting thin, I suggested a two-hour drive to the High Sierra, to try out a hot spring park that I had often wanted to sample. Having lived in Northern California for eight years, I was ashamed of myself that I had never been to Grover Hot Springs. Now, that wasn't because I don't care about hot springs. I've soaked in hot spring pools from Arizona to Alaska, and care more about the benefits of hot springs than I can express. It's just that when something is almost in your back yard, you tend to disregard it.

So we took the plunge (literally) after taking State Route 88, through the California foothills, then up into the rocky ridges of the Sierra Nevada. Highway 88 is one of the great drives in the West, and my favorite in California. The road climbs slowly through a grey (digger) pine and manzanita woodland, and then into Ponderosa Pine country, before crossing the Sierra divide above 8,000 feet, at Carson Pass. From there, it's a half-hour drive through the beautiful Hope Valley to the small town of Markleeville and Grover Hot Springs State Park, through dryer sagebrush country on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

Meadow at Grover Hot Springs State Park
photos by James Hoagland

 

We checked out several campgrounds in the Hope Valley, so named by immigrant Mormons who had difficulty getting through the Sierra on their way to the California Gold Fields. Faith and Charity valleys are nearby.

Hope Valley Campground (Forest Service) sits beside the West Fork of the Carson River, below Carson Pass. Turtle Rock Campground (Alpine County) is along Highway 89, half way between the 88/89 junction and Markleeville. We chose a more obscure campground, four miles off the highway) in a BLM recreation site on Indian Creek Reservoir. The landscape was typical of the Eastern Sierra -- sagebrush and quite arid, with pine trees on the higher slopes surrounding the reservoir.

Campsites here are easy to find, even on weekends. There's a trailer and RV area, but we had our tent and chose a fine 2-pad campsite overlooking the lake. As soon as we had pitched the tent, we took off for the hot springs after reaching Markleeville.

This is a tiny town, with a hundred or so residents, and the seat of Alpine County, the least populated county in the state. It was a mining area in the early 1900s, and now devotes itself to tourism -- at least during the non-snow months. In the winter, most of the roads to Markleeville are cut off. The turnoff to the state park is in the center of town, close to the visitor information center operated by the county and the Forest Service.

The park is at the end of the access road, with a good campground for RVs and tenters near the park entrance. Drive through the meadow and you're at the pools.

For park information on pool openings and closings, call 530-694-2248. the park is open year-round, but is closed Wednesdays during the off-season and also on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day.

Hot Pool - Grover Hot SpringsThe Hot Pool

The entrance fee for the pool is $5 per adult. There's no other fee to enter the park, except for the daily fees to use the picnic area and campgrounds. Hiking trails lead from beyond the pool area. The hot water flows down the hillside, into the large hot pool (capacity 50).

Weather on top of the Sierra is unpredictable, and having driven through a small thunderstorm, we weren't surprised to see the pool closed when we arrived. We were joined in the wait by a couple who had driven from Las Vegas -- a full-day's drive -- just to soak in the pool, only to find it closed. But not for long. The storm cloud passed quickly, and the dozen people waiting began their soak. The water is at 104 degrees, and a cold swimming pool sits nearby for quick, cooling plunges and kids activities. The mineral water is devoid of sulphur, making it a pleasant experience. Regulars claim curative properties to the water, as did the native Indians who first discovered the springs.

That was the first of our two visits to Grover Hot Springs in July. We repeated the experience two weeks later. The second trip was made in much cooler weather, giving the pool area a nicely-eerie atmosphere as steam rose from the water and wafted over the meadow.

Grover H.S. State Park is not a place for a quick in-and-out soak and run.

Waterfall-Grover Hot Springs SP

Hot Spring Creek

The creek crosses the lower meadow, fed by the springs and the pool outlet. The park is blessed with wonderful scenery, with pine-clad mountains surrounding the park on three sides. Hikes lead into the hills, including one that wanders to a very scenic waterfall, which has more of a cascade early in the Summer than in the Fall.

Where to Camp

The campground in Grover Hot Springs State Park offers trailer/RV and tent sites, in a shaded setting. Reservations are avail;able through Park Net.

I also recommend the BLM recreation site at Indian Creek Reservoir, four miles east of State Route 89. The access route (Airport Road) is about three miles north of Markleeville. RV and tenting sites are available on a first come, first served basis. Even with the odd bear encounter during evening hours, Indian Creek Reservoir is a fine place to stay. Rangers have posted notices that food should be kept overnight in your car trunk. That's a fine idea!! Marshmallows could have been put in the trunk with the rest of the food.

Hope Valley Campground, operated by the U.S. Forest Service, is found on State Route 88, west of the 88/89 junction. Half of the sites are available on a first come, first served basis.

Turtle Rock Campground, operated by Alpine County, is located just off Highway 89, near the turnoff to Indian Creek Reservoir. Tent and RV sites are available, along with a community building and tennis courts.

Where to Stay

Carson River Resort - 530-694-2229
12399 Hwy 89, , Markleeville
A rustic fishing resort, with cabins, campground, and full hookup RV spaces are available April thru October. An on-site store offers groceries, gasoline, fishing licenses, and supplies.

Creekside Lodge - 866-802-7335 - 14800 Hwy 89, Markleeville
The newly refurbished Creek Side Lodge located next to the creek, close to the excellent Wolf Creek restaurant.
The seemingly rustic lodgings contain eleven well-equipped rooms with modern trappings including king and queen beds, and a small suite with kitchenette.

J. Marklee Toll Station - 530-694-2507
14856 Hwy. 89, Markleeville
With a cafe serving very good breakfasts and lunchs, this is a reasonably-priced motel with a few standard rooms and a cabin.

Where to Eat

Wolf Creek Restaurant - 530 694-2150
14830 Highway 89, Markleeville
What used to be the historic Alpine Hotel is now Wolf Creek -- in the center of town, and first built in 1862 in Silver Mountain City, then dismantled board by board and reassembled here in 1886. There is a bar (the Cutthroat Saloon) and a large dining room serving very good food.

The Deli 530-694-9597, 14811 Hwy. 89, Markleeville
Located across the street from Wolf Creek, the Deli serves fresh sandwiches, salads, soup, Ice Cream and beverages. Barbecues are staged during summer months.

Photos courtesy James Hoagland

James Hoagland, of the University of California Davis, visited Grover Hot Springs State Park, photographing the scenery and some of the wildlife in the park. His website also features links to other images taken in interesting places.

Fraser Bridges

 

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