Kalmia Lake Loop – 9 mile trail run
by Tahoe Mountain Sports Ambassador, Cooper Honeywell
There are many amazing points on this loop including multiple views of Tahoe and many small lakes in Desolation. If you hit it during the right time of year, you are sure to find wildflowers in small meadows and mountain streams.
Nestled up in the granite of Desolation Wilderness lays Kalmia Lake. Kalmia is a secret alpine lake located above Azure Lake. This adventure is best to go on during the warmer months as a hike or run. This loop does require strong endurance and the occasional small rock climbing move. This trip up to Kalmia Lake is approximately 9 miles start to finish, starting at the Bayview Trailhead which is around 6900’. The highest point of the loop is at the lake which rests at 8,543’. This is a strenuous trek involving miles of wilderness trail, over a thousand feet in elevation gain and off trail travel. The trail consists of packed and loose dirt, sand and granite slabs.
Park at Bayview trailhead, located on the southwest side of the lake as you’re going around Emerald Bay. There is no parking fee but the lot can fill up pretty fast, and there is additional parking on the highway. There are signs leading up to it on highway 89; it is across from the Vista Point overlook. There are restrooms at the trailhead and you have to fill out a day use permit that does not require a fee.
At the beginning you go right up the Bayview trail. It starts with some switchbacks to get you into the wilderness and you soon get to Granite Lake. As you continue on the trail, you’ll start to make your way towards Maggie’s Peak and traverse around it. Once you have passed the peak you want to start looking for the cut off to go down to Azure Lake. The trail isn’t too obvious; it’s sort of a sandy slope down to your left that has a small trail.
Once you reach Azure Lake the way up to Kalmia is off trail and one of the more physically taxing parts of the loop. There is a granite ridge on the south side of Azure. If you circle the lake going clockwise, you will reach the base of the ridge. You can either go up this and then drop slightly down towards the northwest to Kalmia or if you keep going around Azure, you will find Cascade Creek that runs from Kalmia Lake down to Azure, and you can follow this up for a sure way to get to Kalmia.
Once you reach the lake it’s a good time to sit down, eat some food, enjoy the views, and maybe even go for a swim. Once you’re ready, you want to head down to Snow Lake, which is to the northeast if you are looking out towards Tahoe. Since there aren’t any trails from Kalmia to Snow Lake, you have to be careful, this is the most technical part of the adventure on your way down, scrambling down a rocky slope, but the lake is visible most of the way.
Head to the north side of Snow Lake and you will meet up with the normal trail or just follow the creek until you start seeing more people and reach Cascade falls. Stop here enjoy the views and water. From there you just continue on the heavily used Cascade falls trail that traverses above Cascade lake. About one and a half miles after the falls you will be back at the trailhead.
Map of the route created with Cooper’s GPS watch is below for reference:
Our youngest ambassador, Cooper gets after it as a year round mountain athlete based in North Lake Tahoe. He’s a trail runner, paddle boarder, and surfer. Once the snow flies, you can find him nordic or backcountry skiing.
Follow him @coophoneywell