By Tim Hauserman
As winter approaches it’s time to enjoy those last few hikes and mountain bike rides before the glorious white stuff covers the ground. One of my favorite last chance spots is the top of Ward Canyon. Here the views of the surrounding Pacific Crest, contrast beautifully with the deep blue sky. Closer in, you can marvel at the gnarled still standing dead trees, and the live ones laden with sticky pine cones while listening to the gentle rustle of Ward Creek pounding over rocks.
The drive to the top of Ward Canyon begins just south of Sunnyside on Tahoe’s West Shore. Turn off Highway 89 and take Pineland Drive. Roll through Pineland, and then suddenly you escape the houses and begin a several mile journey through undeveloped forest in Ward Canyon. Enjoy glimpses of Ward Creek and Ward Peak and pass a trailhead for the Tahoe Rim Trail, before reentering the civilized world in the residential community of Alpine Peaks. Continue to follow Courchevel Road to it’s end, where you find a small parking lot close to the base of Alpine Meadow’s Sherwood chairlift.
Follow the dirt road which begins here as it winds over ski runs up the slope to the top of the Sherwood chair. It’s a gentle rise with stunning views in every direction. At the first major switchback, a hiking trail heads straight. Follow this a short distance to a grove of humongous western white pines. They sit at a vista above the meeting of two Ward Creek tributaries which are diving swiftly into a deep ravine.
Back on the road, views of Twin Peaks get better and better as you gently climb. Rounding the open slope into a grove of trees you meet a junction. Straight ahead leads to the base of Alpine Meadows, and a left turn continues to the top of Sherwood. A series of switchbacks leads to a rocky precipice, a great place to ponder Lake Tahoe and much of Ward Canyon. You can continue on to the top or meander along this ridge to a panoramic view into Alpine Meadows.
At the top of the Sherwood chair, the road ends, but you could keep going, following use trails along the ridge to eventually reach the top of Ward Peak. Whether you venture all the way to the top or just wander for a bit close to the trailhead, the views are spectacular, and well worth stretching your legs.