Trail Reports : Barker Pass / Blackwood CanyonTahoe National Forest, CA
By: Mike Serpe
Blackwood Canyon / Kaspian is one of many entry points to the backcountry from the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. However, few realize the extent of the access possible off this route. Blackwood Canyon Road opens once the snow thaws, and closes once there is about 6-8 inches of snow accumulation. Basically, there is one way into the canyon, and then two ways from the canyon floor up to Barker Pass which is at the top of the canyon on the western end. Entering from Lake Tahoe, Rte. 89 on the West Shore will bring you onto Blackwood Canyon Road, which is well paved. Once you reach about the 3 mile point, you will notice an OHV area and trailhead on the right side of the road. This is the Blackwood Canyon Trail.
Continuing up the paved road will bring you to Barker Pass without going into the canyon, about another 5 miles up. See Barker Pass specifics below….
The canyon trail basically winds it way through the bottom of the canyon for the additional 4 miles of it’s length. Nearing the end, there is a NFS road to the left that will take you up to Barker Pass “the hard way”, or as I would rather phrase it, “the fun way”. If you continue straight on the Canyon trail, you will find it dead ending in about 1 mile at the bottom of the canyon’s end. This is a great area to camp at when the winds are high, due to the blocking walls to the North, South, and West where winds usually come from.
Rarely do winds come into the canyon from the East (Lake Tahoe).
The trail up the side of the canyon from the Blackwood Canyon Trail to Barker Pass is decently graded, but 4WD is required. Usually, conditions are very dry, so traction is not much of a worry. However, attempting this trail when still wet after the thaw, or upon first snows in the fall is going to be a great deal different due to the gradient.
Barker Pass Base Camp Area
At the top of Blackwood Canyon, on the Western end, is Barker Pass. Barker Pass has a couple of “park prepared” camp sites, and are available on a first come first serve basis. There’s really no need for this however because you can really camp anywhere you want. Fires and Stoves do require getting permit from the NFS office or Ranger Station. This is easy, and there is no cost. Many, however, do squeek away without permits, however, one is advisable. There is a very nice plateau at the top of the canyon wall trail which makes a great base camp. Beware of high winds in this exposed area, however the views to the East bring you Lake Tahoe, and to the West you can see 80+ miles of Granite wilderness exposed, and actually the far end of the Rubicon trail and Loon Lake can also be seen (about 17 miles away).
At the Barker Pass park campsite there is a sign map that details most of the major trails that go off Blackwood Canyon Rd. The first drops down directly across the road from the sign, called “Barker Meadows trail” Continnuing straight will allow you to access a wealth of lakes and camps for some 40 miles of graded roadway into the backcountry. Even cars can make this trip so long as they don’t leave the graded surfaces. I for one, have done it a few years back with a 1981 MB 240D sedan.
Barker Meadows Trail
The Barker Meadows trail is one of those "locals-only" trails that are certainly worth knowing about. This trail cuts to the West from Barker Pass down into the forest lands. You will need low range, but mostly for controlling your speed on tricky downhill terrain. It is all downhill from Barker, or all uphill if you are heading to it! The trail, goes through some beautiful rocky terrain, with many rock formations, and then lands at a lower elevation in Barker Meadows, once a top spot for Deer hunting. There is still a great deal of wildlife which depends on this mountain meadow and stream area to live. It’s an oasis of sorts for wildlife in this rough country. At the end of Barker Meadows, you’ll meet up with a graded NFS road. To the right, you can return to Barker Pass the easy way, to the left you will head south through about 5 miles of canyons until you reach take off trails for Bear Lake and the McKinney trail on the left. Continnuing south on the graded road will bring you to the McKinney’s Eastern end, and the Western trailhead for the Rubicon. The lakes back on this area of terrain offer some of the best backcountry free camping in the country.
Blackwood Canyon Trail:
G Accessable: always, low clearance OK
Terrain: dry, rocky, loose dirt
4WD? Yes on Canyon Trail, no on Blackwood Canyon Road/Barker Pass Access
Body Damage: 1
Open: Early Summer Thaw to 8” snow accum.
Blackwood Canyon Road:
G Accessible: as stated, even 240D accessible!
Terrain: Graded, smooth
Barker Meadows Trail:
G Accessible: Yes
Terrain: rocky, rutted, dry, some steeps in beginning
4WD: low range for descending
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