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  • Jade Budden

The Best Hikes in Lake Tahoe

Updated: Feb 27

These are some of my favorite hikes in the Tahoe area. If you have more to recommend, leave them in the comments! It's impossible to know them all. There is so much terrain to cover that you could live there for a decade and still barely have scratched the surface.

Tahoe offers a ton of diversity in hiking terrain. From classic high desert terrain with huge round boulders, pine trees, aspens, and dry sandy paths, to giant granite slabs split by crystal clear streams and waterfalls, to grassy meadows and remote lakes.

You can find plenty of hiking near the lake, or if you want to escape the crowds and explore the surrounding areas there is even more. For a full guide to Lake Tahoe check out this post.

In this blog

When to hike

The best hiking seasons are Spring and Fall. The crowds are gone and the weather is not too hot or too cold.

However, if you want to hike at higher elevations, you'll need to consider snowmelt. July - September are your best bet to hike without running into snow. Lower elevation hikes can be hiked starting in May. There is usually snow at lake level in Tahoe through April.

Easy to Moderate Hikes that Feature Lake Views

​​Stateline Fire Lookout. This short hike is overlooking Crystal Bay, the casinos, resorts, and the California-Nevada state line, on the North Shore. The Stateline Fire Lookout is one of the best lake views along the north shore.

  • Where: North Shore, park near the blocked fire road at the end of Lookout Road. Walk half a mile up. Enjoy informational signs along the trail that talk about the history of the area.

  • Distance & Elevation: 1.7 mile loop, 305' elevation gain

  • Other details: Paved path

Lake forest Beach. This is more of a short walk, but there is a beautiful surprise at the end. Each year fields of vibrant lupine, a quintessential alpine wildflower, cover the lowland shore at Lake Forest Beach. Typically the best time to catch them is July and August.

  • Where: Park along the road on Bristlecone Street, take the dirt trail (¼) mile to the shore

  • Distance: less than a mile, flat

Tahoe East Shore trail. This newly formed, paved, family-friendly trail was opened in the summer of 2019 and follows along a section of the east shore of Lake Tahoe from the Tunnel Creek Café in Incline Village to Sand Harbor.

  • Where: East Shore, begins in north shore. There is a parking lot off of Tunnel Creek Road at the north end of the trail near Tunnel Creek Cafe.

  • Distance: 2.6 miles one way

Secret Cove Parking to Whale Beach. If you want to take a dip or two on your hike, this is the place to do it. Some of the clearest and bluest waters, cove beaches, and giant boulders scattered about the water for jumping or relaxing on are along this path. Many of the quintessential Tahoe photos are taken here. If you are just there for hiking, arrive early because parking fills up very quickly.

  • Where: East shore

  • Distance: 4-5 miles roundtrip from the Secret Harbor Parking area.

  • Other details: If the lot is full you can park alongside the road but it also fills up quickly. Some of the beaches you pass are nude beaches so don’t be surprised when you see everyone in their birthday suits.

Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail (North lake Tahoe). This is a short and easy hike on Mount Rose. It loops through granite boulders, pine forests and mountain streams.

  • Where: North shore

  • Distance: 1.2 miles roundtrip

  • Other Details: The elevation is 8,740’ but the trail is flat. Drive up Mount Rose Highway until you come to the summit. There will be signs and a parking area that you can’t miss. There are restrooms in the parking lot.

Rubicon Trail (West Shore). This is one of the few hikes that follows Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. It’s located on the south shore between D.L. Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay. The trail is long but mostly flat and the views are unbeatable. You’ll walk along the shoreline - going in and out of trees, and through campgrounds. Some of the hike feels remote and some feels like you’re in town. Some portions of it allow access to the water in little private coves and some of it is up higher with more of a drop off down to the lake.

  • Where: West shore. The trailhead can be accessed from the Emerald Bay Boat-In campground on the south end or from Lester Beach at D.L. Bliss on the north end.

  • Distance: About 16 miles total but it’s out and back so you can choose to stop and turn around at any point.

  • Other details: Best May-October, popular with runners

Eagle Falls to Eagle Lake. This is one of my favorite shorter hikes. It is a little steep with a lot of stairs. You’ll cross a creek and you’ll have incredible views of the lake. The lake area and surrounding features are beautiful. This is great taste of what Desolation wilderness is like.

  • Where: West shore, parking lot right off of 89

  • Distance: 2.5 miles round trip to eagle lake or you can continue onward.

  • Details: If you continue on passed the lake you’ll need to make sure you fill out a permit at the beginning of the trail because beyond Eagle Lake is Desolation Wilderness. This hike is very busy so get there early - like before 9am if you want to get a spot in the parking lot in the summertime.

Granite Lake Trail. This is a short hike but fairly steep. This hike is on the edge of Desolation Wilderness, just a little South of the Eagle Falls trail. The views of the lake are absolutely stunning. If you want a longer hike, with even more spectacular views, you can continue on to Maggie’s Peak.

  • Where: South Shore, park at the Bayview Trailhead just south of Emerald Bay.

  • Distance: 1.8 miles roundtrip

  • Elevation gain: ~ 1000 feet

Moderate to Challenging Hikes

Rifle Peak. This is a fairly heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Incline Village, Nevada. The trail is rated as difficult because of the elevation gain in a short period of time, and it is steep but I think it is more moderate, but it depends what kind of shape you're in at the time. This hike is known for the beautiful yellow and purple wild flowers that you will see everywhere.

  • Where: North lake, Mount Rose Wilderness

  • Distance & Elevation: 3.7 miles roundtrip, 1,800 feet elevation gain, 10,324 feet.

  • Other details: The best time to hike this trail is May through October. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. You can hike from Relay Peak to Rifle Peak to make this much longer and more challenging, but you’ll need to park a car at each end (or hitchhike back to your car which is what we've done).

Flume Trail. This is a moderate to heavily trafficked (depending how far you go) point-to-point trail that weaves in and out of the trees and features many lake views. You can choose to do the whole thing or turn around at any point. You'll begin to see amazing lake views about a mile or so in. This hike is one of my favorite hikes because the terrain is quintessential high desert terrain - sandy/dusty trail, big rounded boulders, alpine trees and vegetation, and amazing views. You can start in a few places but I like to start at Tunnel Creek Cafe - the trailhead is at the end of the road above the cafe.

  • Where: Tunnel Creek Cafe - the trailhead is at the end of the road above the cafe. There is now a parking lot that you have to pay to park in and is $27 on the weekend - this wasn’t there when I lived there.

  • Distance: 12.8 miles point to point

  • Other details: Best used May until October, dogs allowed.

Lake Aloha. This is a long but fairly flat hike. You can hike this trail year-round, but in the winter you'll want your snowshoes. If you want to miss the snow the best time to hike this trail is June through October. You will probably run into a few people but this will be much less trafficked than hikes closer to the lake. It is very peaceful, lots of meadows and streams.

  • Where: Desolation Wilderness, South Lake. Park in Echo Lake Trailhead parking lot.

  • Distance: 13 miles, 1,800' elevation gain

  • Other details: You’ll need to fill out a day permit at the trailhead, which is free. Dogs allowed.

Relay Peak. This is a nice, moderate hike that winds in and out of the forest and provides some nice views once you get higher up. The view from the peak is beautiful and you'll see lots of wildflowers it the Spring and Summer.

  • Where: North lake, near Incline Village.

  • Distance: 9.5 miles out and back, 1,500' elevation gain.

  • Other details: This is accessible year round because you can snowshoe this trail. If you want to skip the snow the best time to hike this is June - October. Microspikes might be a good idea if you hike in early spring.

Challenging to Difficult Hikes

Mount Rose. Mount Rose is one of the tallest peaks in the Tahoe basin. The trailhead is located at the highest year-round pass in the country (8,900 feet) on Highway 431 and climbs to 10,776 feet. The beginning section meanders through forest and meadows and then turns into more vertical, rocky terrain as you hit the switchbacks near the top. You can see the whole Tahoe Basin from the top on a clear day.

  • Where: North Lake, the trailhead begins at the top of the Mount Rose Summit on Highway 431.

  • Distance: 10 miles roundtrip (All Trails says 7.6 but it's definitely 10), 3,500' elevation gain. If you are not acclimated or struggle with elevation make sure to consider the starting elevation and the elevation gain when doing this hike!

  • Other details: best time to hike this trail is June - October

Mount Tallac - South Lake Tahoe. Mount Tallac is THE tallest peak in the Tahoe area. The views are rewarding along the whole trail and eventually leads to a stunning panoramic view of Lake Tahoe. You can also look down on Fallen Leaf Lake, Cathedral Lake, and out at the Carson Range.

  • Where: Desolation Wilderness, the trailhead is off Highway 89, on the road towards Camp Shelly.

  • Distance: 10 miles out and back, 3,200' elevation gain

  • Other details: You will need to obtain a permit at the trailhead. The trail is open year round because it can be snowshoed in the winter but if you want to skip the snow the best time to hike Mount Tallac is June/July - October.

Maggie’s Peak. Remember Granite Lake from earlier? Well there is an option to continue on to summit Maggie’s Peak if you want to make the hike a little more challenging. It is steep and demanding but not as challenging as Mount Tallac.

  • Where: South Shore, park at the Bayview Trailhead just south of Emerald Bay. Parking lot is small and fills up early.

  • Distance: 4 miles roundtrip with 2000' elevation gain

  • Other details: Fill out a free Desolation Wilderness permit located at the trailhead

Tahoe Rim Trail. You can hike this as a multi-day backpacking trip or hike sections at a time. The Tahoe Rim Trail goes around the entire lake and offers amazing views, and lots of options for different hiking abilities. Most of the hike is at higher elevations so the best time to do this is July through September.

  • Where: Multiple entry points all around the lake but two popular ones are Spooner Lake and Tahoe City

  • Distance: 170 miles total

Tips and Things to Know Before Hiking in the Tahoe Area

1) Lions and tigers and bears! Okay, no tigers. But you will run into wildlife on the trail and while actually seeing mountain lions and bears is kind of rare, it is possible. Brush up on how to respond if you run into these animals on the trail. Remember you are in their territory. Stay calm and don't harm them.

2) Early bird gets the worm! If you're hiking some of the more popular hikes you will want to get there early because parking lots fill up very quickly. The mornings are so beautiful and peaceful in Tahoe - getting up early is really a win win.

3) Consider elevation. The lake sits at 6,220' so most hikes will be at higher elevations. People who are sensitive to elevation should stick to easy or more moderate hikes if you don't have any time to acclimate.

4) Sunscreen. Again, since you are at a higher elevation the sun is more powerful - make sure you lather up!

5) Stay hydrated. Your body loses water through respiration twice as fast at higher elevations than it does at sea level. So drink twice as much water as you normally would and make sure to pack enough water accordingly. Bring electrolyte chews or tablets for your water.

6) BREATHE DEEP AND ENJOY all the beauty and fresh air you are wrapped up in!

Lake Tahoe Sunset

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