An Expert Guide to the 7 Best Hikes in TahoePublished on 04/14/2023 · 11 min readGet ready to hit the trails this summer with this full guide to all the best hikes in the Lake Tahoe area from Camping and Hiking Expert Octavio Rivas!
Sunrise Mt. Tallac. Photo by Octavio Rivas
Lake Tahoe is more than a beautiful expanse of water located between California and Nevada. It also has several state parks, including Emerald Bay State Park, which has some of the area's most stunning scenery, and on the Nevada side, you have the famous Sand Harbor. Hiking, camping, and investigating the shorelines are just a few of the outdoor activities available at the park. Hiking trails in the Sand Harbor and nearby, allow visitors to admire the wildflowers that bloom in excess during the summer months, adding a splash of color to the already breathtaking scenery.
Emerald Bay State Park visitors can also meet creeks that trickle through the forest, providing a serene and calming environment. These creeks are excellent places to relax and listen to the noises of nature.
There are several campgrounds located throughout the Lake Tahoe area for those wanting to stay overnight. Such campgrounds provide a variety of facilities, such as picnic areas, fire pits, and bathrooms. As a result, visitors can appreciate the great outdoors while still having access to essentials.
During peak season, parking can be difficult to find, but several parking lots are located throughout the region, making it simpler to access hiking trails and campgrounds. Visitors can also avoid the hassle of locating parking by using shuttle services.
In conclusion, Lake Tahoe is a breathtaking location with something for everyone. Visitors can immerse themselves in nature's grandeur, from its state parks and emerald bays to its wildflowers and creeks. Lake Tahoe is an outdoor enthusiast's dream, whether you're wandering the shorelines or camping in one of the many campgrounds. Just make sure to plan ahead of time during peak season and take advantage of the available parking choices. Below we will discuss the 7 best Lake Tahoe hikes.
Hiking Spots: 1. Chickadee Ridge: Best for families and beginner hikers 2. Shirley Canyon Trail: Best for intermediate hikers 3. Mount Tallac: Best for experienced hikers 4. Desolation Wilderness: Best for backpacking 5. Eagle Lake Trail: Best for a day trip 6. Mount Rose: Best for stunning views 7. Marlette Lake and Spooner Lake: Best autumn views
1. Chickadee Ridge: Best for Families and Beginner Hikers
- Location: Incline Village, Lake Tahoe
- Distance: 2.4 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 272 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
Chickadee Ridge is a popular hiking trail located in Incline Village, Lake Tahoe. The trail is known for its stunning views of the lake and its unique bird-watching opportunities. The short and easy trail makes it perfect for families and beginners.
Chickadee Ridge is a great option for those looking for a short and easy hike with stunning views of Lake Tahoe. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, ideal for families with children or beginner hikers. One of the highlights of this trail is the opportunity to feed the chickadees, who are known to be friendly and unafraid of humans. Overall, Chickadee Ridge is a fun and unique hiking experience that should not be missed when visiting Lake Tahoe.
2. Shirley Canyon Trail: Best for Intermediate Hikers
- Location: Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley, CA 96146
- Trail length: 5.8 miles round trip or 2.4 miles if taking the Tram
- Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The Shirley Canyon Trail is a popular hike that begins at the foot of the Palisades Tahoe and ascends to Shirley Lake, a picturesque alpine lake nestled in a scenic canyon. The path is well-kept and provides plenty of shade from the surrounding trees, making it an excellent choice for first-time hikers or families with children. Hikers will pass by several waterfalls and experience breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains along the way.
The Shirley Canyon Trail is an excellent choice for beginner hikers or anyone seeking a more leisurely hike, depending if you want to make the whole trail or just the first section. The path is well-marked and has plenty of shade at the start, making it an excellent choice on hot summer days. Plenty of swimming holes are located at the bottom if you don’t wish to hike all the way to the top. The terrain will be granite rock as you climb past the waterfalls and get quite warm throughout the day due to the granite absorbing the heat; remember to keep cool during the summer months.
Shirley Lake, a beautiful location to pause for a picnic or just to take in the views, is undoubtedly the highlight of the hike. Those who reach the top can hike down or head to the Tram and get a free ride down to the base. You can also visit the Olympic Museum and grab a snack on top. Overall, it's a fantastic hike for anyone exploring Palisades Tahoe during the summer.
3. Mount Tallac: Best for Experienced Hikers
- Location: South Lake Tahoe
- Distance: 10.5 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 3,255 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous
Mount Tallac is one of the most famous and difficult hikes in Tahoe. The Mount Tallac Trail is off Highway 89 and provides breathtaking views of the lake and nearby mountains. As you hike, you will pass Fallen Leaf Lake, Floating Island, and your last place to get water, Cathedral Lake. The hike is difficult, with a steep climb to the summit, but the views are well worth it. Hikers should bring sturdy shoes, plenty of drinks, and sunscreen.
Mount Tallac is a must-do hike in the Tahoe area for experienced hikers. The path is well-maintained, but the ascent is steep and can be difficult, so be prepared. Don't give up when you reach the rocky section, as this is a false summit and still has a bit to go. Make sure to apply ample sunscreen and drink water at this point, as there will be no shade going forward. Once you reach the summit, you will be greeted with some of the best views in the region, with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and surrounding mountains. At the top, take your time to take plenty of photos, rest, and have a picnic lunch.
4. Desolation Wilderness: Best for Backpacking
- Location: West of Lake Tahoe
- Distance: Varies
- Elevation Gain: Varies
- Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
The Desolation Wilderness is a wilderness region west of Lake Tahoe. Over 63,000 acres of pristine wilderness are available, including alpine lakes, big boulders, granite summits, and meadows. Backpackers can experience the area on trails varying from short walks to strenuous climbs. To camp overnight in the region, you must have a wilderness permit. It’s some of the most beautiful land in the Lake Tahoe Basin, with beautiful alpine lakes throughout likeLake Aloha.
The Desolation Wilderness is an excellent backpacking location in the Tahoe region. The region has a variety of trails to discover, ranging from easy walks to difficult climbs. The landscape is spectacular, with vistas of alpine lakes, granite peaks, and meadows.
My favorite entry to Desolation is out of Echo Lakes Trail, which allows you to take a water taxi, saving you roughly a mile of hiking plus the experience. You will also find several hikers making the Tahoe Rim Trail who are easily spotted by their big backpacks as it also overlaps with the Pacific Crest Trail. Lastly, before you leave, make sure you have a wilderness pass if you are staying overnight in Desolation Wilderness.
5. Eagle Lake Trail: Best for a Day Trip
- Location: South Lake Tahoe
- Distance: 2.6 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 470 feet
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Eagle Lake Trail is a short but rewarding hike in the Tahoe region. The trailhead is located off Highway 89 and offers views of Lower and Upper Eagle Falls. The trail continues up to Eagle Lake, surrounded by towering peaks and offers a serene setting for a picnic or swim.
Eagle Lake Trail is an excellent choice for a day excursion in the Tahoe area. The well-kept trail provides breathtaking views of the falls and nearby areas. Quite popular for its ease of access and plenty of parking spots. You can also walk towards Vikingsholm trail and, at the bottom, rent a Kayak and visit Fannette Island.
6. Mount Rose: Best for Stunning Views
- Location: Mount Rose Highway, Reno, NV 89511
- Elevation: 10,776 feet
- Trail length: 10.6 miles round trip
- Elevation gain: 2,300 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Mount Rose is the third highest point in the Lake Tahoe neighborhood and provides some of the most breathtaking views in the area. The path begins at the Mount Rose Summit Trailhead and winds its way up the mountain through pine and aspen forests, providing panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe below. This hike is best done in the summer when the snow has melted and the path is open.
Mount Rose is a difficult but extremely rewarding hike that provides some of the best views of Lake Tahoe, the nearby mountains, and the city of Reno. The trail is well-kept and simple to follow, but expect a steep climb to the summit. The views from the summit are breathtaking, making an effort worthwhile. It's a must-do hike for anyone exploring the area who enjoys a good challenge. If you can hike this for a sunset, you will have one of the most beautiful views of the Lake Tahoe Basin.
7. Marlette Lake and Spooner Lake: Best Autumn Views
- Location: Near Incline Village, NV
- Marlette Lake Distance: 10.5 miles roundtrip
- Spooner Lake Distance: 2.2 miles loop
- Elevation Gain: Marlette Lake - 1,800 feet, Spooner Lake - Minimal
- Difficulty: Marlette Lake - Moderate, Spooner Lake - Easy
The Marlette Lake and Spooner Lake trails provide a variety of hiking opportunities for hikers of all ability levels. A moderate hike to Marlette Lake provides breathtaking views of the lake and nearby mountains. The trail is well-kept and provides numerous chances for photography and exploration. Spooner Lake is a 2.2-mile loop ideal for families or those seeking a short hike. The path provides stunning views of the lake and nearby pine trees.
Marlette Lake and Spooner Lake are two of my favorite hiking trails near Incline Village. Marlette Lake provides a moderate hike that is tough enough to get your heart rate up but not too difficult for most hikers. The views from the summit are spectacular, and the lake is ideal for a swim or a picnic. Spooner Lake is a short hike ideal for children or those looking for a quick trip through the woods. The lake is peaceful and serene on a hot summer day, and the nearby trees provide plenty of shade. Both paths are well-kept and provide an enjoyable hiking experience for hikers of all abilities.
Summer hiking choices abound in Lake Tahoe and its surrounding areas for all skill levels. With its breathtaking views and easy trails, Chickadee Ridge is an excellent choice for families and inexperienced hikers. Shirley Canyon Trail, which features a stunning waterfall and challenging topography, is recommended for intermediate hikers. With a steep ascent to the summit and panoramic views of the lake and nearby mountains, Mount Tallac is a must-do hike for experienced hikers.
Desolation Wilderness offers a variety of trails and stunning scenery for those looking for a backpacking experience. With its moderate hike and breathtaking views of Eagle Falls, Eagle Falls Trail is ideal for a day excursion. Mount Rose is a top option for the best lake views, with challenging terrain but a rewarding summit perspective. Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area have something to offer hikers of all levels and preferences.
Some honorable mentions are Five Lakes Trail in North Shore, Cascade Falls Trail in South Shore, and Hope Valley to the northeast of Carson Pass. So put on your hiking boots, bring some water and snacks, and head out for a summer adventure you won't soon forget!
If you are looking for equipment such as hiking boots, poles, or apparel, reach out to a Camping & Hiking Expert here on Curated, and we’ll be happy to set you up for some hiking adventurers. If you want to join my adventure group, Tahoe Adventurers, you can find us on Meetup or on our website. Always be prepared with appropriate snowshoeing equipment and supplies, and be mindful of current weather and trail conditions. Above all, have fun and take in the breathtaking majesty of Lake Tahoe's winter wonderland. Have fun adventuring!