In my travels this is the most extensive display of aspen and cottonwoods here in our backyard. Probably nothing can top our Central Sierra displays in Hope Valley along Highways 89 and 88, but this drive is much closer here in the Donner Summit area and at its optimum, great.
The historic stage and freight route was used to carry passengers and supplies from the Central Valley of California to Virginia City, NV. Much of the route has been replaced by modern highways, but this segment that crosses the Sierra Crest still carries the rustic flavor of the remote mountains. For additional discussion see our brief description at Henness Pass Road.
I don't recommend travel the at-times-rocky road in sedans, but SUVs and pickups with moderate clearance are ideal. At no point are the gradients steep enough to warrant 4WDs. But occasionally you'll want to dodge some rocks sticking up enough to drag under lower vehicles. Over the 107 mile total length, roughly 7 miles is definitely rocky and slow.
If it occurs in the next few days, one more brisk cold break should allow the remaining trees to change also. If the spell doesn't occur soon, the dry weather that has continued since early spring will dry the leaves even more. Many have turned brown and dropped off the limbs.
The weather forecast predicts we might get a small cold snap Tuesday October 28th. But this weekend or probably next one should be pretty good--unless we get pounding rain or heavy winds that knock the leaves off.
To receive the full experience of the available historic route, I recommend driving the total segment from Camponville, CA to Verdi, NV. The follow "shortcut" version captures most of the fall color displays and will reduce the driving time by more than an hour.
Option: Shortcuts by using more paved roads:
1. Off of Highway 49 between Nevada City and Downieville, turn left (east) onto the paved county Pike & Alleghany Road S180. 2. Continue past the two-way turnoffs to Alleghany and Forest City by staying straight easterly on the blacktopped road. In an estimated 2-3 miles the Henness Pass Road from Camptonville comes in from the left (north). Continue east. The pavement ends soon, but keep heading east on the main road that probably says something about going to Jackson Meadows Reservoir or Hwy 89. 3. The road gets rougher, but higher clearance such as SUVs do it easily. Stop at Keystone Gap to enjoy the view of Sierra Buttes. The road begins a long drop into the Middle Yuba River bottoms. 4. Continue by small Milton Reservoir. Should have some trees in nice colors spotted around the lake. Pit toilet there, and I think, a picnic table. The road gradually climbs up to the top of Jackson Meadows Reservoir Dam. Now you are on blacktopped road again. 5. Continue east (left) by the reservoir, picnic and campgrounds. You're now on the "Fiberboard (logging company that built it) Road" often referred to as the Jackson Meadow Reservoir Road. You're also still on the original Henness Pass Road alignment but now modernized as a blacktopped road. Continue over the signed pass (Sierra Crest). Some nice aspens and a huge private home with helicopter landing for the snowmobile resort it was built for lie around the meadows on the left. • In a few miles, turn right (south) onto the well-signed Webber Lake Road. • Within a 100+/- feet turn left (east) onto Sierra County Road 301. This puts you back on the original Henness Pass road alignment, but it's upgraded to gravel. Before you drop down to the river crossing, you'll go by the unsigned turnoff (right) south to the parking area for the Little Truckee River Falls (aka Webber Falls). It's only a couple hundred feet on level, dirt road to the parking area over the small canyon. No real trails to the top or viewpoints down canyon but lots of user trails. Earmark this destination for next June once the snow is gone from the access road. Again, in my opinion, it's one of our top three waterfalls. With lousy water flows in the fall. • Continue by Webber Lake turnoff and the bridge across the Little Truckee River. It takes you through Perazzo Meadows. Very distinctive, but I don't believe signed. The hillsides have nice stands of aspen, and once you leave the meadows you'll drive through numerous great aspens alongside. • If you need a walk to stretch your legs, turn right (south) into the signed parking area for the trailhead for the Mount Lola Trail up Cold Stream. For the first mile the climb is moderate with several nice aspens. • Continue driving east on the Henness Pass Road to the 4-way intersection. Right road goes south to Independence Lake. Straight ahead (east) is the Henness Pass Road, but it peters out since it has no river crossing. Instead turn left (north), soon crossing the Little Truckee River and climbing back to the blacktopped Fiberboard Road. • Turn right (east) and follow it to the paved parking at Little Truckee Summit (snowmobile parking area with a vault toilet). At Hwy 89 turn right (south). • Follow 89 towards Truckee about a mile south to a large meadow. • Turn left onto Sierra County Road 450 to Kyburz Meadows. • Continue east through Kyburz Meadows and drop a small slope down to large Stampede Meadows. I don't remember any signs, but the road hits the meadows in a T-intersection. Turn right (south) and circle around the meadows. Continue through the small-pines forest. • In 2-3 miles, for viewing fall colors, I prefer to turn right (south) onto the Stampede Reservoir Road that continues to I-80 east of Truckee. Nice drive along portions of the Little Truckee River. You could also elect to continue on the graveled Henness Pass Road east to Verdi, Nevada. • Go by Boca Reservoir. Walk the little interpretive Boca Townsite trail suitable for kids? Once you hit I-80 turn, if you are returning to Nevada City, Grass Valley or the Central Valley of California, right (west) to Truckee. By now I'd be ready for a nice supper. • To continue looking at fall colors, and if it's a nice day, I take Old Highway 40 / Donner Summit Road and tie into I-80 further west. • On October 21st, the cottonwood in Cisco Grove Gould Park on the north (right) side of the I-80 exit was almost in good color. Parking area with picnic tables and vault toilets. Nice walk though trees alongside the South Yuba. • Take the driving map for the Henness Pass Road if you can. These free maps and driving brochure describing several stops at historic sites are available at the Tahoe National Forest Headquarters, 631 Coyote St. Nevada City CA 95959. Phones: 530.265.4531 (voice) and 530.478.6118 (TDD).