Has anyone ever asked you “What is your favorite tree?” and you didn’t have an answer for them? You respond, “The green ones, I guess…” Well, let me tell you a little bit about how cool Aspen trees are, so next time you are asked this simple, yet complex question that you will surely be judged on, you can confidently scream ASPENS!
Aspen Knowledge Bombs
Up until a recently discovered mushroom organism found in Oregon, Aspens were the largest living organism by area on Earth. Yes, all of Earth! When you see a grove of Aspens, what you don’t see is a complex root system underground connecting every tree sprouted above the soil.
Aspens have been around for a very long time and in newer mountain ranges (think: sunny Colorado Rockies) Aspens will provide shade for the rest of the forest to help it grow to it’s full potential. Talk about teamwork!
We all know the famous color change from a lush green to that beautiful flash of gold. Aspens turn every mountain side to a rainbow of color during the fall season.
Aspen leaves also look magical while blowing in the wind. That isn’t just for show. This is called quaking and Aspens do this to be able to twist and bend in the presence of the wind. The ability of Aspen leaves to “quake” protects them from being pulled off limbs during high elevation strong winds. Because the leaves quake, they also allow maximum sunlight to hit every surface of the leaf as well as the trunk. This is an adaptation created in trees that grow so close together.
The last drop of Aspen knowledge I will hit you with is that their leaves are heart shaped and their bark is white, creating a truly unique tree.
Trails to Catch the Color Change
Where can you find these majestic trees you ask? There are a few runs in the Truckee-Tahoe area that really show off these brilliant fall colors around September-November.
My all time favorite, and quite a popular trail system all year round, is Paige Meadows near Tahoe City and Alpine Meadows. This system of trails are popular in autumn because of the Aspen groves and attracts hikers and photographers as well as trail runners. Since there are so many interconnecting trails you can make your run as a short out and back, or a solid 9-10 miles if you choose that route (pun intended). A popular route that ends up being 5 miles is the TRT and Paige Meadows Loop. It is an easy elevation gain at the very beginning and it is more or less flat throughout the meadows. Overall, this loop only gains about 550 feet of elevation total. The best time to hit this trail for the Aspens color change is mid to late October when the weather has started to cool down. The Aspen leaves only stay golden for a short amount of time before they begin to fall off, so your window to witness the flash of gold is short. Don’t wait! PS. This trail is dog friendly as well.
Another beautiful run, and probably my favorite in Reno, is Hunter Creek Trail. This trail meanders up Hunter Canyon, where the bottom of the canyon is lined with an Aspen Grove. This is a heavy trafficked trail but parking is easy at the Michael D. Thompson Trailhead parking lot. The trail is 6.5 miles round trip and is an out and back. You will gain about 1,200 feet of elevation gain on the way out, but what goes up must come down, right!? Not only do you start your run off at a refreshing creek, but it ends at a 30 foot waterfall. BONUS! Since Reno stays slightly warmer than higher elevations around Tahoe, I would expect the Aspens to start turning around late October, early November. This trail is very dog friendly too (I mostly likely will never write about non dog friendly trails, since I take my dog everywhere). This trail really offers it all for autumn running – an uphill butt kicker, creek, aspens, waterfall, and a view of the city on the way down.
Pro tip: Do not try to run this trail during or after a rainstorm. I learned this the messy way. Reno clay turns to sticky mud and is basically impossible to travel in. Good thing I had my waterproof On Cloudventure running shoes. ;)
My last suggestion for catching some Aspen grove goodness is Sagehen Creek Trail. This is an easy 5.2 miles with only a mere 200 feet of elevation gain. You run along the Sagehen Creek which turns into marsh greenery and loops at Stampede Reservoir. This is one of my favorites, because 1) I am no good at running uphill 2) there is lots of water for the dogs at every turn 3) this is a lightly trafficked trail and 4) ASPENS, duh! This trail starts off Hwy 89 about 3 miles past Hobart Mills. The parking will be on the right, right after a bridge over Sagehen Creek. It is a steep turnout little dirt lot and usually has 1-2 cars. The aspens should start turning around the same time as Paige Meadows, which I am guessing mid to late October.
Some others include Spooner Lake Trail, Fallen Leaf Lake Trail, Sugar Pine Point, Marlette Lake Trail, Alder Creek Trail, Carpenter Valley, and Martis Peak Trail.
I am not sure if it was apparent enough from this scientific, helpful, and hilarious blog that I freaking love Aspens, but man, do I love Aspens! They are not as prevalent in Truckee/Tahoe/Reno area as Colorado but you can find them if you run long enough. Make sure to tag @tahoemountainsports in your “Chasing Aspens” instagram posts! We would love to see where you are finding Aspens too! I hope these runs don’t kick your Aspens too hard 😉.