Going for a hike is a great way to experience Lake Tahoe. From family hikes and half-day or full day adventures, there are many options for people seeking trails with beautiful scenery, picturesque mountain lakes and spectacular views. Spend a Tahoe summer day hiking to an alpine lake, have lunch, go for a swim, then hike back to your car! The Tahoe region has an endless amount of awesome hiking trails, but here are highlights from some of the best Tahoe hikes that are not to be missed!
Best Day Hikes – Lake Tahoe
This trail offers a beautiful hike with stunning views of alpine mountains and lakes. The trailhead begins at the Echo Lakes Resort and is one of the most popular entry points to Desolation Wilderness. Hikers can follow the trail out and back for a total distance of five miles, or can cut off about 2.5 miles by utilizing the water taxi service ($10 per person, $5 per dog) for a fun and scenic boat ride through the granite basin of Echo Lakes. Both Upper and Lower Echo Lake (which connect at a narrow channel) provide awe-inspiring views and relative solitude as well as great swimming in the summer! If hikers are feeling adventurous, they can continue further into the Desolation Wilderness to Lake Aloha and Rockbound Valley, both popular destinations.
Accessing Skunk Harbor requires a short hike down to a secluded bay on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore. Hikers journey 1.5 miles down from the trailhead to the beach at Skunk Harbor where they can explore the remains of the Newell House, a summer home built in 1922. The view of Lake Tahoe from the tiny harbor is the main attraction of this hike, and huge boulders and the remains of an old pier add to the scenery. Skunk Harbor is the perfect place for a summer swim or picnic, especially as a detour during a bike ride on the Flume Trail or around the perimeter of the lake.
This easily accessible trail nestled in the foothills of the Granite Chief Wilderness brings hikers through the north side of the Alpine Meadows valleys to the gorgeous Five Lakes Basin. This hike is roughly 4-5 miles out-and-back to the five beautiful lakes between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. This hike is very popular, however the lakes provide many areas of solitude and serenity. Adventurous hikers can continue beyond Five Lakes and into the Granite Chief Wilderness, picking up the Pacific Crest Trail shortly past the lakes.
The Tahoe Rim Trail between Tahoe Meadows and Spooner Summit is one of the most beautiful hikes in Tahoe. At 23 miles long, hikers are unlikely to complete the whole section, and the hike is usually done as an out and back turning around at any point. The trail traverses along both sides of a ridge, providing breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe as well as the Carson Valley. This section is a popular mountain biking trail, however is only open to bikers on even days. Odd days allow hikers a chance to experience the trail without seeing many mountain bikes. The paths through Tahoe Meadows are a wonderful place to view birds and other wildlife. Traveling through the meadows, a pine forest, and along a ridgeline with postcard views, this trail offers an amazing experience for hikers and is not to be missed.
This South Lake Tahoe Trail takes hikers to the shores of Emerald Bay and the historic Vikingsholm estate, two of the most popular sights of Lake Tahoe in the summer. Because of its popularity, hikers can definitely expect company on the trail midsummer. The Vikingsholm Castle is a magnificent site and is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the Western Hemisphere. Wandering through the estate is a highlight of the trip to Emerald Bay. Most visitors remain on the grounds of the castle, so hikers seeking to avoid the crowds should continue their journey past the estate. The Rubicon Trail is a great option as it heads north along the lakeshore and provides beautiful views of the bay before culminating at D.L. Bliss State Park. Hike this 4.5-mile section of the Rubicon Trail by walking north to the car you left at D.L. Bliss (after paying to park) and shuttling Hwy 89 back to Vikingsholm, or make it a 9-mile out-and-back if you’re feeling more ambitious.
Across the highway from Emerald Bay is the Eagle Falls trailhead. A lovely and easy hike brings visitors past Eagle Falls (1/4-mile) and to the beautiful Eagle Lake (1-mile), surrounded by pines and the Desolation Wilderness. Eagle Lake is the perfect spot for a summer swim and a picnic. An out-and-back makes for a nice and easy day hike, but hikers also have the option of continuing on deeper into the stunning Desolation Wilderness toward Dick’s Pass and more secluded alpine lakes.
With a trailhead at an elevation of 8,500 feet, this beautiful hike takes visitors through high Sierra scenery without the difficulty of a large amount of elevation gain and is a great introduction to high-country hiking. The trail first meanders through a pine forest before coming upon Frog Lake, a beautiful detour and a great spot for pictures. The trail continues into a meadow, full of wildflowers at the right time of year. Hikers then reach Lake Winnemucca at 9,000 feet. On the south side of the lake is the 10,380-foot Round Top Peak, the tallest mountain in the area, and to the west sit the twin peaks of The Sisters. There are plenty of rocks and areas to relax and take a swim before heading back downhill to the trailhead, so pack a lunch in your hiking daypack and plan to spend some time enjoying the area. This great Tahoe day hike offers some of the most breathtaking views and easily accessible high-country experiences around the lake.
Just above King’s Beach, the Tahoe Rim Trail crosses over Highway 267, giving hikers easy access to this beautiful section of trail. Picnic Rock is a great destination for stunning views over Lake Tahoe and is a short hike from the road. The route is an easy 3.6-mile out-and-back starting at the Highway 267 trailhead. Many hikers’ goal is finding a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe, and this section of trail provides an easily accessible route to a gorgeous vista point. Hike the Tahoe Rim Trail just over 1.5 miles before turning left at a small but well-marked junction. Head uphill a short distance to stunning lake views and numerous boulders that double as terrific picnic tables – hence the name, Picnic Rock.
For the hiker looking for an amazing day trip, Tahoe sure has lots to offer! Be sure to check out these classic Tahoe hikes and stop by Tahoe Mountain Sports for suggestions about even more great day hikes. They have all the gear you need to make sure you are completely prepared for your adventures, from Tahoe trail maps to hiking boots, hydration packs to trekking poles, and anything else to make your day hike more safe and enjoyable. See you out on the best trails in Tahoe!
Adam Broderick manages the web content at Tahoe Mountain Sports. When he is not in the office, he tries his best to be in the field doing something awesome.