Elizabethtown Meadows is a very easy trail that leads to a wonderful meadow full of wildflowers. It is easy to reach, near Truckee, CA, and it is just a 1.2 mile round trip to the meadow (you can go much further if you wish). We visited this trail in early June 2019, and I’m sure we will come back to visit many more times to see how things change in the meadow over the wildflower season.
Here’s a sample of a few of my favorites from this hike (click on the image to see a larger view).
The trail leading to the meadow is dry and dusty, perfect habitat for a number of interesting flowers. Here’s Alpine breeches, growing low to the ground.
Also found along the trail was a nice group of Spotted fritillary. This is only found at higher elevations, and differs from other more common brown fritillaries that you find at lower elevations.
After a short hike you come to a wet meadow that is full of a variety of wildflowers. There was a mass of Lemmon’s onion, but just a few were open at this time. LOTS of them in bud, though, so in a week or two there will be a massive swath of pink.
The star of this hike was the Small camas. Brilliant color, and there was quite a good stand of them.
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The trail through Elizabethtown Meadows is 2.2 miles long from the trailhead out to the larger meadow of Waddle Ranch Preserve. We didn’t hike the full trail, we just walked a short way in to the first, smaller meadow. This was just 0.6 miles in from the parking area (see directions below). When you cross the highway from the parking area, the trail dips down to a stream and crosses a bridge. On the other side the trail splits, you want to take the trail to the left. There were wildflowers all along this dry section, before the meadow. In a very short time you will reach the west edge of the meadow, where there is a small bridge over a trickle of water, and a picnic bench. This is a wet meadow, with LOTS of wildflowers, a different set than what you see on the trail leading in.
This trail is a popular mountain bike route, so don’t block the trail when enjoying the flowers, and keep an eye open for bikes. On this visit we didn’t see a lot of bike traffic because the majority of bikes were coming from another trail that comes in from the south, joining this trail just at the first bridge.
Here’s the track that we followed:
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Elizabethtown Meadows is a unit of the Truckee Donner Land Trust. The trailhead is on Highway 267 near Truckee, about 5.5 miles south from exit 188 on Highway 80. There isn’t any parking at the trailhead itself. From Highway 267 turn west onto Northstar Drive, the entrance to Northstar California resort. Take the first right at the traffic circle to the Castle Peak parking area and pull into Red Lot #1. At the back of the parking lot you will find a small trail that will take you down the hill to the Northstar realtor parking lot (do not park at the realtor’s lot). From there continue downhill to the traffic light on Highway 80 and cross the street. The trailhead is at the crosswalk on the other side of Highway 80.
See this map of Waddle Ranch-Elizabethtown Meadows.
If you are hiking in the Sierras, you need lunch! I highly recommend Full Belly Deli, in Truckee. It is very close to the intersection of Highway 80 and Highway 267, so it is very convenient to stop off there on your way to Elizabethtown Meadows. We grabbed a pesto chicken salad sandwich to take with us on our hikes this day, and it was big enough for two people (along with a giant chocolate chip cookie). Great food!
Another interesting hike in this area is Sagehen Creek, north of Truckee. We didn’t visit it on this trip, but I’m told that the Camas were out in full force there. It is a longer hike, and sometimes you may have to wade across the creek.
Timing is Everything
This was our first visit to this area. It was early June in a high-snowfall year. I was a bit worried about conditions because there was still a lot of snow as we drove into the area over Donner Pass. Fortunately, this trailhead is about 6100′ elevation and the snow was gone. We hit the early part of the wildflower season here, and I expect there to be great wildflowers along this trail well into early July. In some years I would expect the wildflower season to start in mid May? If you want to see Camas lilies you will want to hit the beginning of the wildflower season, as we did.
Elizabethtown Meadows Wildflowers
Here’s a listing of the native plants that we found on this visit.
- Alpine breeches, Hydrophyllum alpestre
- Alpine shooting star, Primula tetrandra
- American bistort, Bistorta bistortoides
- Antelope bitterbrush, Purshia tridentata
- Arrow leaved balsam root, Balsamorhiza sagittata
- Few flowered blue eyed mary, Collinsia parviflora
- Goosefoot violet, Viola purpurea
- Green leaf manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
- Lemmon’s onion, Allium lemmonii
- Lupine spp., possibly Lupinus argenteus
- Mahala mats, Ceanothus prostratus
- Meadow larkspur, Delphinium nuttallianum
- Mountain butterweed, Senecio integerrimus
- Small camas, Camassia quamash
- Spotted fritillary, Fritillaria atropurpurea
- Toad lily, Montia chamissoi
- Water plantain buttercup, Ranunculus alismifolius
- Woolly mule ears, Wyethia mollis
In addition to wildflowers:
- Morrill Lace Bug, Corythucha morrilli