The Kokanee Salmon of Lake Tahoe

Plan now to see one of the aquatic wonders of the autumn.

Alysia Gray Painter

LEAVES, YES, BUT FISH, TOO: The northern Gold Rush country, Donner Pass, and Lake Tahoe attract a good share of leaf peepers each fall, but people visiting the area for a bit of brilliant foliage and fall autumn color might be directed to Taylor Creek for another colorful sight. This sight does not come on a tree, however, but in the form of a fish. A Kokanee salmon, to be specific. The red fish -- "red" doesn't quite describe all of the salmon's many hues, some of which run to grey and black, but let's call crimson its dominant look -- spawns each fall near the southern end of Lake Tahoe, in Taylor Creek. Thousands upon thousands of salmon participate -- "participate" sounds so fusty and scholarly, but, goodness, participation is what's going down -- and seeing this wonder makes one second guess many of the things they've labeled "a wonder" in their lives before that moment. It is truly astonishing, and as you wend along the Rainbow Trail from the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, you can't half believe you're watching what you're watching.

BUT YOU ARE: It's mysterious and interesting, yes, but don't let your questions go unanswered. Forest Service biologists can often be found around the trail, so bring your spawning-salmon-seasons questions with you. There's a fairly short window on the fall migration of the salmon at Taylor Creek, but October is the main month; we'd aim for the first or second week, but you'll want to keep an eye on the Visitors Center site for optimal times. There is, in fact, a Fall Fish Fest on Saturday, Oct. 5 and Sunday, Oct. 6. Kid activities, an ice cream truck, and an interactive play detailing "The Drama of the Kokanee" are all part of the festival. (The Kokanee, which are described as "cousins" to the Sockeye on the Forest Service site, were introduced to Lake Tahoe in 1944.)

The only issue with attending the festival? You'll have to take your eyes off the thousands of shimmery red forms in the creek, at least for an hour or two. Hard to do. And, yes, definitely go see the area trees, all of the leafy yellows and golds, but if you're headed near Lake Tahoe in early autumn, a memorable trip to see the salmon of Taylor Creek is in order.

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