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7 Top Hikes at Lake Tahoe

Jun 4th 2014

Hiking at Squaw Valley | Matt Palmer

It’s normal to assume that the ski resorts shut down once the winter is over. That’s not the case at Lake Tahoe. Northstar, Squaw Valley, Heavenly and Kirkwood turn into summer playgrounds, as trails once buried under the snow surface, providing ample opportunities for exploration and adventure. 

In honor of National Trails Day this Saturday, June 7th, it seemed appropriate to talk about the best hikes at Lake Tahoe. Hiking is one of my favorite ways to explore the topography and terrain surrounding the lake.  Think wildflowers, alpine lakes, and the 360 views that you can only get while standing on top of a mountain. That it keeps me in shape for winter is an added bonus. Below are a variety of notable hikes for all abilities. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

Sunset Trail – This great introduction to Northstar California is a short, relatively flat loop hike from the top of Zephyr Express. It traverses the west ridge of Mt. Pluto, with views of the Pacific Crest, and features informational vista points on native birds, forests and wildlife areas. No bikes are allowed on this trail. Approximately 0.6 miles roundtrip.

Skyline Trail – Another lift-accessed hike can be found at Heavenly. From the top of the Gondola, take the Tamarack Express chairlift for expansive views of Lake Tahoe. Once at the top hike along Skyline Trail for more unique views of the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe (Nevada desert on one side of the mountains, big blue lake on the other side). Approximately 2 miles roundtrip.

East Meadow Trail – This gentle hike at Kirkwood takes you through Kirkwood Meadows, just past the Red Cliffs Lodge. Do it as an out and back or hike back along the Red Cliffs Trail, a more challenging trail that takes you just under the Red Cliffs rock band.

Shirley Canyon Trail – A scenic half-day hike through one of Squaw Valley’s mountain canyons that passes by waterfalls, big granite boulders and Shirley Lake. The hike stretches from the base area all the way to High Camp, allowing hikers to begin at either end of the trail, depending on whether they want to hike up or down. Those who choose to hike up the canyon from the base area can ride the tram down for free. Approximately 2.5 miles one-way, 5 miles roundtrip, with an elevation change of 1,329 feet.

Rubicon Trail – This moderate trail along the shores of Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe’s west shore boasts terrific panoramas of the lake along a moderate, undulating trail that takes you past cliffs, coves, wildflowers, waterfalls and even an old lighthouse. Park at either D.L. Bliss State Park or Emerald Bay, or both if you wish to hike it point to point. Approximately 6.6 miles one way, 13.2 miles roundtrip.

Five Lakes Trail – Located in North Lake Tahoe near Alpine Meadows, this popular trail climbs up into the Granite Chief Wilderness and gives great bang for the buck (err, climb), accessing five pristine alpine lakes in a very short distance. Approximately 2.5 miles one way, 5 miles roundtrip with an elevation change of approximately 1,000 feet.

Mt. Tallac – One of the most challenging hikes at Lake Tahoe, this trail takes you to the summit of the tallest mountain in the Tahoe basin (9,735’), passing two small lakes along the way. While it takes effort (admittedly a LOT of effort), the views from the top are well worth it.  Definitely bring your camera.  And extra water.  Approximately 10 miles roundtrip, with an elevation change of 3,255 feet. Note: a day hiking permit is required for this trail, and can be obtained at the trailhead.

PC: Squaw Valley  

Posted by Jenn Gleckman  





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