California Route 89 Scenic Drive, Markleeville


There are several great roads that take you into the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. While California Route 89 takes a mostly north-south route, it also allows you to connect with three other routes across the mountains.  Spectacular scenery abounds, and as a bonus, you can visit the town of Markleeville, California, before ending up in Lake Tahoe.


California Route 89 connects the South Lake Tahoe area with US 395 near the Nevada/California border.  From the state line, travel south on US 395 to the southern end of Route 89 (about 3 miles).  From South Lake Tahoe, take US 50 south out of town, then stay on Route 89 when the two roads split.  Markleeville is located 30 miles south of South Lake Tahoe, California, on Route 89.

My Visit

I drove down from Topaz Lake to connect with California Route 89 at its southern starting point, at US 395. The road wastes no time becoming interesting, as it plunges into the hills.

You’ll gain altitude quickly.  After a couple of switchbacks, there are several places to pull over and look back to the east at Topaz Lake and the Antelope Valley.

For me, the highlight of California Route 89 was a side-trip up a dirt road to the fire lookout tower on Leviathan Peak.  The turnoff is just below Monitor Pass.

You can drive up this road about 1.4 miles to the fire tower — when the facility is open to the public.  When I drove up the road, a gate was closed at the last turn before the tower.

The Leviathan Peak Fire Tower dates back to about 1958.  It stands at an elevation of 8,942 feet.

It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t go any further.  The view was already spectacular.  Down below, looking southwest, that’s California Route 89, with an arrangement of Sierra peaks positioned perfectly as a backdrop.

Back on the pavement, California Route 89 heads west until it reaches Route 4 — which I’ve covered on a separate page.  Then, it turns northwest towards… 0

Markleeville, California – on California Route 89

Markleeville’s downtown is just a couple of blocks long, but it provides a good excuse to get out of the car for a few minutes.  There’s a general store, a few restaurants, and a couple of places to stay.

Turn onto Montgomery Street (the only intersection in town) and then head up the hill, and you’ll find the Alpine County Museum.  I didn’t take the time to go into the museum, but from the parking lot you can see the town’s old log jailhouse, which was built in 1872, and moved here in 1969.

Markleeville’s old schoolhouse is on the other side of the parking lot.  It dates back to 1882.

Markleeville is the county seat of Alpine County, California. Alpine County has the smallest population of any California county — less than 1,200 people as of 2010.

After Markleeville, California Route 89 meets up with Route 88 for a while, then joins US 50 for the drive into South Lake Tahoe, California. You can see the entire drive in the Drivelapse video below.  On the way into Lake Tahoe…

… you’ll be treated with a good view of the southern end of the lake, from the side of the road.  After that, it flattens out, and you hit the South Lake Tahoe traffic.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the drive north on Route 89 through Markleeville and on into South Lake Tahoe:

The Bottom Line

California Route 89 is a beautiful drive through the Sierra Nevada mountains.  You’ll find plenty of great viewpoints for photos, and the town of Markleeville provides a nice stop around the halfway-point.

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