Beat the Summer Heat with These Hikes to Alpine Lakes
Looking for a short day hike to get the legs moving a bit and maybe take a little dip in an alpine lake to cool off (or attempt to!)? We’ve compiled our top five quick, and moderately easy, hikes around Truckee to get you out of the hustle and bustle of the big lakes! The glory with a lot of these hikes is that you can make them easier or a bit harder depending on what you are looking to get out of your hike! Some are out and backs, some you can loop around the lake, and some you get a couple of lakes out of the whole shebang!
Like many, Summit Lake has a couple of different ways to approach. The difference in distance is only about a mile, but the difference in elevation is about 700 feet. This can make a significant impact for some on effort and timing, so be sure to pack water, snacks, and sunscreen accordingly. For either approach you choose, you will come from interstate 80 west of Truckee. The shorter of the two approaches we have for you is off of the Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge Road exit. This approach is a 4.7-mile lollipop (which means the portion of the trail to the lake is an out & back, but you make a loop around the lake before heading out on the same trail you took in). The elevation gain is just 442 feet making it more accessible, or just a bit quicker if you’re in a time crunch. If you are looking to get more elevation gain you can access Summit Lake from Johnson Canyon via the Donner Lake Rim Trail. Being that this route is over 700’ more in elevation than the previously mentioned approach, make sure you have a bit more supplies in your pack and time on your hands. This is another lollipop-shaped trail (if you choose to circumnavigate the lake). For the detailed trail directions and maps check out the links below!
Lake Angela, Flora Lake, Azalea Lake
If you think 2 for 1’s are good deals, then this 3 for 1 is about to blow your mind. The hike to these lakes is a prime example of doing as much, or little, as you want. You can approach this trail from the Old 40 highway, or off of I-80, depending on which lake you want to start/end with, or again, how long you want to make the trip. The hike can be anywhere between 2.5 – 6.5 miles (round trip) and anywhere from 200 – 780’ elevation gain. Something to note however is that Lake Angela is a reservoir for the Donner Summit PUD, which means it provides drinking water to Norden and Soda Springs so recreation in this lake is not allowed. It is a beautiful view, and we recommend checking it out, but if you want to plan your hike around swimming or even just a dip of the toes, make sure you plan to do that at either Flora Lake or Azalea Lake. This can be an out and back trail to 1 or all of the lakes, you can also hop on the PCT for some amazing views and make a little loop out of it. The distance between each lake is quite minimal, after all, it is possible to reach all 3 lakes in less than 2 miles. Because there are a handful of different ways to reach these lakes, it’s best to do a little research based on what length of hike you are looking for. You can search AllTrails by one or all of the lakes to give you a few different routes and decide which one would work best for you!
This is a favorite of ours. It takes a bit more of a drive down a dirt road to get there than the other lakes, but it’s totally worth it to get away from the highway and a quick walk into a beautiful alpine lake. From Old 40 HWY you turn onto Soda Springs road then take a right onto Pahatsi Rd which turns into Kidd Lakes Rd. Kidd Lakes Rd takes you all the way to the Palisades Creek Trailhead where you begin the less than 100’ elevation gain stroll to Long Lake. Along the way, you’ll pass Cascade Lakes and within less than a mile you’ll reach Long Lake! With such a brisk and easy approach it’s a perfect place to pack a good lunch and saddle up for a few hours. The dirt road in can be rough for some, especially those with low clearance vehicles, or who don’t have much experience driving off of well-maintained roads. It’s a great idea to have a higher clearance vehicle and be comfortable driving on these kinds of backroads.
Loch Leven Lakes
Keeping with our trend, Loch Leven Lakes can be accessed a couple of different ways, and you have the option to stop at one lake or keep going further and higher onto more. The Loch Leven trail itself is rated as a difficult 7.7-mile hike with over 1,550’ of elevation that can be a little tough to navigate, especially for your first time, if you don’t have a map downloaded. This trail takes you all the way up to High Loch Leven Lake so if you want to cut some miles and elevation out you can certainly stop at the lower lakes. To access Loch Leven via Salmon Lake you do have to drive a handful of miles down an unpaved road before getting to the trailhead. This route is a bit less strenuous than the Loch Leven Lakes trail, but you can of course continue on to High Loch Leven Lake if you like. There is dispersed camping available here and this is a great location if you are just getting into overnight backpacking trips!
Alright, to be honest with you the grand finale doesn’t quite fit into all the other categories…such as short and day hike. But it’s so good we couldn’t leave it out! OK, for the overachievers (that we know Tahoe is full of), it could still be considered a day hike. Whether you are stepping up your game and ready to stack some miles and altitude for a day, or you are looking for a steady climb to a serene night’s sleep in Paradise, this could be the hike for you. The hike to Paradise Lake is a significant difference in mileage and elevation from our previous hikes listed. This is a steady climb with over 2,500’ of elevation gain and a grand total of about 15 miles. The views along this whole trail are stunning. Along the way, you’ll pass by the Peter Grubb Hut which requires reservations to stay overnight in, but is a great resting point and you’ll likely meet fellow hikers doing the same. If you are planning to do this in a day, start early so you can beat some heat and have time to enjoy the lake before your descent! The trailhead to get here is off of exit 176 from I-80 and easy to get to, but parking can fill up, so wait to sleep in for when you have your tent pitched at the lake!
But First, Gear Up
Within these five hikes we’ve given you, you have a plethora of options for length and distance. Be it a quick run to a cool-down dip or a lengthy day away from town that you’re after, don’t forget to stop into Tahoe Mountain Sports first and gear up with protective clothing and spray! Many of these lakes can get quite buggy, lucky for you we carry a couple of awesome brands like Ben’s Bug Spray. Also, don’t forget to grab your swimsuit, a packable bottle of Sol Sunguard sunscreen, and chapstick for all the California sun exposure. Safety first! We have everything to gear you up for anything between a speedy day hike or a leisurely overnighter.
Need to get your adventure in before work? Check out these sunrise hikes for all the dawn patrollers.
I’m a personal trainer, yoga teacher, and overall outdoor enthusiast who’s dabbled in a little of everything. I spend winter snowboarding, splitboarding, and more recently, snowmobiling too. In the summer you can find me mountain biking and teaching paddleboard yoga and fitness on Lake Tahoe and Donner lake!