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Discover a spectacular slice of California on a weekend escape to Alpine County

My husband, Paul, and I discovered marvelous Markleeville thanks to a mudslide in May, which prompted a detour that opened our eyes to a spectacular slice of California. Alpine County — a little-populated, much-forested place — is a delight, west of U.S. 395 near the Nevada border. The tab: $99 for a room with a king sized bed at Creekside Lodge in Markleeville; $75 for dinner, cobbler and wine at Sorensen's Resort; $23 for lunch at Cutthroat Saloon & Restaurant; $13 for breakfast at Alps Haus Cafe; and $7 for a pass to Grover Hot Springs State Park.

(Lou Spirito For The Times)

THE BED

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I made our reservation at the Creekside Lodge by making a phone call (no online bookings, no confirmation numbers). Later, when I needed to make an adjustment, I felt as though the proprietor already knew me. As we chatted, I learned that her co-host can reliably predict good fishing spots because he is in charge of local stocking on the Carson River. My spouse was very pleased. Our cabin-themed room bordered on a burbling creek, and we were steps from good eateries. The town’s historic walking tour passed in front. OK, full disclosure: no TV or speedy internet, but we were not here to stay indoors.

THE MEAL

The excellent dinner on the deck at the rustic Sorensen’s Resort in nearby Hope Valley was a happy surprise. Reservations are recommended, but the staff took pity on two sweaty hikers and found a shaded picnic table for us. Paul ordered a salad, and I had Sorensen’s signature beef bourguignon and berry cobbler. In Markleeville, the arty Alps Haus Cafe served steaming fresh-brewed coffee and breakfast in a friendly setting (local artist works on display here), and there were feel-good vibes and munchies on Taco Tuesday at the Cutthroat Saloon & Restaurant.

THE FIND

Alpine County. Hands’ down. We thought we knew the Sierra, but we had somehow missed this rugged county between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. The hike at Grover’s Falls, recommended by relatives and the local museum curator, won our vote. It was mostly flat and wildflower-filled, capped by a climb to a waterfall that challenged me. The three-mile hike was such a sweet taste of this sparsely populated county (1,200 full-time residents) where most of the land is publicly owned and filled with lakes, hot springs, rushing rivers and towering peaks.

THE LESSON LEARNED

There’s more to discover in this sprawling county. In May, I got a quick taste of pioneer history by following some of the still-visible ruts left by wagon trains of the mid-1800s. Then there’s catch-and-release fishing in September and October (weekends only) at protected Heenan Lake, brilliant fall colors along the main highways and cross-country skiing when the snow falls.

Creekside Lodge, 14820 California 89, Markleeville, Calif.; (530) 694-2511,creekside-lodge.com. One wheelchair-accessible room.

Sorensen’s Resort, 14255 California 88, Hope Valley, Calif.; (800) 423-9949, sorensensresort.com. Wheelchair accessible.

Alps Haus Cafe, 14841 California 89, Markleeville, Calif; (530) 694-9494, alpshauscafe.com. Wheelchair accessible.

Cuthroat Saloon & Restaurant, 14830 California 89, Markleeville, Calif.; (530) 694-2442. Wheelchair accessible.

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