Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Photo © Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Kirkwood Mountain Resort has a remarkable history. Zachary Kirkwood purchased a land claim of three 160-acre parcels in the 1860s in a remote 7,800-foot mountain valley, surrounded by the crests of a horseshoe–shaped range of the Sierra Nevada. Kirkwood's view was of soaring mountain peaks and forested hillsides and he planned to use the land for summer grazing, raising cattle and sheep. Those plans would soon expand.
Years before Mr. Kirkwood settled on his pristine mountain property, many others had been traversing the mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada. Kit Carson was the scout for the successful exploration party led by Captain John C. Fremont through the Sierra Nevada in January/February of 1844, searching for passable route to Sutter's Fort in the California. Word of their success spread. As more emigrants traveled west, routes over the Sierra Nevada were carved out of the granite. In 1863, one of those routes was improved by blasting out the face of the cliffs at Carson Spur at the Amador and Nevada Wagon Road. It would become the toll road around Carson Spur. Over time, there were more trails for freight wagons, emigrants, and miners going both ways over the Sierras. Evenutally, the current California State Highway 88 was created by bulldozing and blasting many of the difficult sections of the Carson Trail making it more straight and passable. It generally follows the same route as the original Carson Trail.
With the opening of the Amador/Nevada Wagon Toll Road Mr. Kirkwood opened a way station in 1863, called Kirkwood Station. Then, in 1864, Alpine County was formed and the Kirkwood property ended up sitting in three counties – Amador, Alpine and El Dorado. The way station served as a hostelry, post office and stagecoach depot. Kirkwood Station was a legendary stopping-off place and the gem of many three-county stories.
In those days, during the winter, the route over the mountains could only be traversed by snowshoes or snow vehicles. It wasn’t until 1971, that Highway 88 was plowed during the winter. Today, Kirkwood is accessible by driving on three different highways and over two mountain passes. The most well-known is Carson Pass. Carson Pass is the highest year-round pass on the Sierra Nevada crest (8,573 feet). It may be called a year-round pass, but there are times during serious snow storms that the pass again becomes impassable and only accessible by snowshoes, skis or snow vehicles. Be prepared when traveling in winter!
Surrounded by the impressive Sierra Crest, Kirkwood's valley and way station have been expanded into Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Now call the Kirkwood Inn, the way station is still a popular place, located at the entrance to Kirkwood, on Scenic California State Route 88. The Inn sits where Alpine, Amador and El Dorado counties' boundaries meet and the Alpine/El Dorado county line runs through the old bar room. Stepping into the cabin takes you back in time, almost to the 1860’s. There are modern conveniences, to be sure, but you can’t help but look out the windows at the surroundings and try to picture what life must have been like in the mid to late 1800’s for the Kirkwood family and the wayfarers who traversed these rugged mountains.
One hundred nine years after Zachary Kirkwood opened his way station, the Kirkwood Ski Resort opened in 1972 with four chairlifts. Sitting on top of the Sierra Crest as it does, it’s easy to have an annual snowfall of over 600 inches. That snow, plus its geographical position, gives Kirkwood its long-held reputation for deep snow and light powder, with a base elevation of 7,800 feet. You can choose from twelve chair lifts.
Today, Kirkwood Mountain Resort is a year-round adventure “way station.” There is always something for visitors to do at Kirkwood. In the winter you can ski, snowboard, take a snow cat tour, and go snow tubing, or dog sledding. In the summer, try out the bike park, the mountain bike races, or the bike camps that will prepare you for California’s “Death Ride” or the “Tour of the California Alps”. If you enjoy hiking, the trails are plentiful and offer scenic opportunities for the beginning hiker to the experienced high country alpine hiker. There is also the Disc Wood golf course, described as “one of the West Coast’s most challenging disc golf courses.” There are also a ropes course, a climbing wall, and horse-back riding. Kirkwood has family-centered events like the Annual July 4th Fire Department BBQ, the Thin Air Chili Cook-off on Labor Day, and the Kirkwood Wildflower Festival.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort, like Zachary Kirkwood's cabin, hostelry, and stagecoach stop, is a legendary place. Travelers still stop at a modern way-station for recreation, relaxation, and a place to experience nature and rejoice in the magnificent scenery of the rare earth, just like they did when Zachary Kirkwood lived there.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort offers a wide variety of activities throughout the year for differing ages and levels of experience. There is skiing, snowboarding, tubing, disc golf, horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, and a ropes course. Want more? How about swimming, photography, plein air painting, fishing, and mountain biking? Seven zip lines soaring high through the canopies near the Timber Creek base area have been added as well.
Kirkwood rents privately owned condominiums. Each condominium is unique. All, except hotel-style units, feature a fully equipped kitchen, fireplace, color TV, VCR and/or DVD and telephone.
Average Days of Sunshine 255 Skiable Acres/Hectares 2,300 / 930
Designated Trails 65 + Vertical Rise 2,000ft / 610m Base Elevation 7,800ft / 2,377m Top Elevation 9,800ft / 2,987m Lifts 2 high-speed quads, 1 quad, 6 triples, 1 double, 4 surface Uphill Capacity 19,205 skiers / hour Snowmaking 4 lifts, top to bottom Hours of Operation 9am to 4pm
Designated Trails 65 + Longest Run 2.5mi / 4k Terrain 15% Beginner 50% Intermediate 20% Advanced 15% Expert
Approximate Operating Season: November through April