Five-Star Trails Lake Tahoe 40 Unforgettable Hikes in the Central Sierra Nevada  by Jordan Summers

Five-Star Trails: Lake Tahoe: 40 Unforgettable Hikes in the Central Sierra Nevada Guide Book

by Jordan Summers (Menasha Ridge Press)
Five-Star Trails Lake Tahoe 40 Unforgettable Hikes in the Central Sierra Nevada  by Jordan Summers
The Lake Tahoe Region is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts, who are drawn there by the millions. Despite the abundance of lofty superlatives that inevitably precede a visit, Lake Tahoe’s descriptions do not seem to disappoint anyone. More than 125 trails are in active use around the Tahoe Basin, and several of the 40 hikes described in these pages represent the region’s most popular destinations. Other hikes lead away from the crowds and often take a more difficult route. Trails and destinations are so plentiful in the central Sierra Nevada that these hikes are restricted to an area within 25 miles of the lake’s shore.

© 2016 Jordan Summers/Menasha Ridge Press. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Five-Star Trails: Lake Tahoe: 40 Unforgettable Hikes in the Central Sierra Nevada" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 40.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 40.

Immerse yourself in the Desolation Wilderness, or at least in one of the eight mountain lakes that you visit on this three-day adventure. You will tread on both the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), as they follow the same track on this hike. The first day is the longest, yet is still a moderate hike of 15 miles and about 1,000 up-and-down feet, to placid Middle Velma Lake. Day two starts with a brief climb to Fontanillis and Dicks lakes and then begins a switchbacking climb to cross Dicks Pass. One word: vistas. Descend and pass more liquid gems, dazzlingly bright in the light reflected from the surrounding granite. Camp near Lake Aloha and enjoy an easy day’s hike along Aloha, passing three more lakes on your way downhill to Echo Lakes.
Tahoe Pines, CA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 33
Velma Lakes are popular on summer weekends because they are close to Eagle Falls and the trail from Eagle Lake, but if you have a chance to arrive midweek, you may have the waters to yourself. The trail is a long roller coaster through forest and rock with plenty of streams, springs, lakes, and meadows decorated with wildflowers. You will be hiking and camping overnight in the Desolation Wilderness, so you’ll need a permit, available at the U.S. Forest Service Taylor Creek Visitor Center. Navigation is easy on this southbound trek, as you never leave the Pacific Crest Trail and there are relatively few distracting junctions.
Tahoe City, CA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 30.2
This hike follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) until they diverge near your destination. It has its ups and downs, literally. For about the first 1.5 miles from the trailhead, gain 600 feet, then lose 475 feet of it over an equivalent distance, only to repeat the first process with another zigzagging 750-foot climb over about 2.3 miles to approach the summit. Then another 200 feet of vertical travel over 500 feet will hoist you to the summit, where the views all around are incredible.
Tahoe City, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 11.4
Flat becomes but a memory when you embark from Big Meadow. Gain about 1,500 feet in the first 5 miles. Then the trail turns north and begins to climb up to a high point of about 9,725 feet at the base of 10,881-foot Freel Peak, the highest peak in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Views along the way span from Round Top in the south to the Pyramid Peak and the Crystal Range in the west and Lake Tahoe to the north. Eastern vistas of the Carson Range pop in and out of view as you mostly descend to some degree or other all the way to Heavenly Valley.
Meyers, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 23.8
Day hiking these three classic trails is a ?ve-star scenic experience worth every bit of e?ort. However, it isn’t triple the work—in this case, it’s the pleasure that is multiplied. The Paci?c Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) isn’t called “scenic” for naught. And there just weren’t any shabby trails used when creating either the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) or the Tahoe–Yosemite Trail (TYT).
Hope Valley, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 13.5
Hiking on the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) means an outstanding trail and even better scenery. Begin with Big Meadow itself, a broad, flower-filled meadow where flowers, grasses, and trees are visibly and audibly alive with insects, birds, and small mammals. End with a refreshing dip in a beautiful mountain swimming hole.
Meyers, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.2
Tahoe Meadows is a wonderful trailhead—one of the most pleasant around the lake—from which to embark on a day hike. The route to Diamond Peak is mostly level, gaining the ridge in about 300 feet and then generally following it south through forests of Western white pine, lodgepole pine, red ?r, and Je?rey pine. The high point of the hike is slightly above 8,800 feet, while the destination is at 8,540 feet (and has a chairlift terminus attached to it). For the most solitude, avoid even-numbered days, when mountain bikes have access to this excellent trail.
Incline Village, NV - Hiking - Trail Length: 11
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches from Mexico to Canada for 2,650 miles. The terrain that it covers between Donner Pass and Squaw Valley is among the most beautiful of the journey. Here, where the Sierra begins its slow descent for northbound hikers, southbound day hikers enjoy the reciprocal, an easy ascent into the backcountry. An uphill hike across forested ski slopes leads past Donner and Judah before crossing Roller Pass. Western hemlocks block the wind before you reach the apex of another exposed ridgeline, which you will follow to Anderson and on to Tinker. Descend into the upper reaches of the North Fork of the American River canyon, then traverse beneath Billy’s Peak. Once across the headwaters of the North Fork, a 500- foot climb toward Granite Chief brings you to the trail descending to Squaw Valley, where you emerge next to the fire station.
Soda Springs, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 15
This is a popular trail despite being incredibly rocky, but even that makes it an interesting trip. Glacial action was an evident agent of geologic change here, and every rock reveals it. The initial 2.5 miles are strenuous in that your elevation gain is about 1,550 feet—almost every bit is vertical without letup. With the promise of more lakes like it, once Eagle Lake is seen, more must be better. And they are. Velma, Dicks, and Fontanillis lakes are all amenable getaways for a quiet lunch or an overnight bivy. From Dicks Lake, it is downhill almost all the way back to the trailhead.
South Lake Tahoe, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.8
The Desolation Wilderness is one of the most visited backcountry areas in California. Because of its proximity to the Bay Area and Sacramento and its easily accessible trailheads, this entry to the Desolation Wilderness is always highly tra?cked, so much so that there are daily quotas for overnight camping. Day hikers are asked to register at the trailhead or at a US Forest Service visitor center at no charge; overnight campers must pay to secure a permit. A good place to do that online is here:
Meyers, CA - Backpacking,Hiking,Horseback Riding,Trail Running - Trail Length: 15
This loop is easy enough, because the length of the trail runs along an historic flume that formerly delivered cordwood and timber to the Washoe Valley. The route is described in the way I initially hiked it, but it might be even easier to hike in reverse. You’ll encounter a few steep spots along the described route, but they’re not long, and the total elevation gain is 800 feet over 1.3 miles, or 1.75 miles if done in reverse. The middle 3 miles are essentially flat and shaded.
Incline Village, NV - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.2
Enjoy the massive wildflower displays along the trail to Winnemucca and Round Top lakes, and then leave the crowd behind as you trek to an isolated alpine tarn tucked beneath Fourth of July Peak, almost ready to drop into the Summit City Creek canyon. New trail improvements make this a simple and safe trek downhill.
Hope Valley, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 12.2
Traversing the path of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) from Armstrong Pass to the saddle below Freel Peak is the “moderate” portion of this hike. The ?nal mile to the summit is strenuous—if only moderately so—but the vista is breathtaking. Freel Peak, 10,881 feet above sea level and the highest peak in the Lake Tahoe region, is named for James Freel, who squatted on land at the base of the peak formerly known as Bald Mountain. Freel Peak serves as the easternmost summit of the Sierra. If peak-bagging is your thing, Jobs Sister and Jobs Peak are within easy reach of Freel Peak’s summit and make excellent additions to this hike for hikers with long legs and extra energy.
Meyers, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.2
This gentle trail leading to a string of scenic subalpine lakes is part of the Tahoe– Yosemite Trail. With only 1,200 feet of elevation gain over moderate terrain, you don’t need to exert a lot of energy to enjoy these backcountry vistas in the Desolation Wilderness.
South Lake Tahoe, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 11.4
Ready yourself for varied terrain as you climb away from your trailhead, situated between Angora and Cathedral peaks. Pass historic Glen Alpine Springs Resort while ascending its namesake creek to the west. Linger at lightly treed Susie Lake, where Jacks and Dicks peaks loom in the background. Climb to the outlet stream of rockbound Heather Lake’s azure waters, brightened by the polished snow-clad Crystal Range. Briefly ascend to Lake Aloha, where your viewfinder will be full of Pyramid, Agassiz, and Price looming overhead. Mosey along Aloha’s shore over granite and then take an uphill path away from Lake of the Woods, heading toward Haypress Meadow. Forgo the easy trails down to Echo and view a trio of lakes—Ralston, Cagwin, and Tamarack— from your high route toward Triangle Lake. Return to Lily Lake by descending the steep Tamarack Creek Trail, which is laden with vistas of Tahoe and Fallen Leaf lakes.
South Lake Tahoe, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 13.4
The short hike to these three beautiful lakes rewards hikers of all ages with stunning vistas down onto Wrights Lake and the Crystal Basin from up on the edge of the Crystal Range. Your hike begins in a flower-filled meadow and includes cascading streams, glacier-polished granite, and snowcapped peaks. This trek is most often easy but does have some short, strenuous sections to remind you of the elevation.
Kyburz, CA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 6
The trail follows Glen Alpine Creek past its namesake spring and resort before making a brief ascent to its source at Gilmore Lake via the Paci?c Crest Trail (PCT). The cirque surrounding circular Gilmore certainly is impressive and picturesque, but the crowds that stop here on weekends can be avoided by descending to a massive, deep cirque cradling tiny Alta Morris and aptly named Half Moon Lakes. There, campsites and solitude are generous o?erings.
South Lake Tahoe, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 13.3
This hike is challenging because of its difficult, flower-lined trail, but its destination is well worth the effort. By continuing past Twin Lakes and ascending to a meltwater lake above it, hikers can escape the crowds and gain fantastic vistas of the Crystal Range, where sunset colors paint the sheer granite walls. Your ascent begins on granite at the edge of a buggy meadow, climbs through a lodgepole pine and white fir forest, follows ducks and blazes across open granite slopes, and crosses streams before ascending a final 200 feet to a pristine bivy site sheltered by a small copse of trees. While descending the 150 feet to Island Lake to regain the trail home past Boomerang Lake and Twin Lakes, you will learn everything there is to know about the lifestyle of marmots.
Kyburz, CA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 8
The trail to Lake Aloha presents no navigation challenges, although a compass and a map need to be among your essentials. Although many side trails to lakes intersect your route, this is part of both the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), so the signage is fresh, accurate, and present at (nearly) every junction.
Meyers, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 14.5
“Lake Lois and Lake Schmidell” sounds so friendly and gentle, with a poetic ring to it, but this hike is the opposite of easy. The name of the trail— Rockbound—should be your first clue. Bound on the left, the right, and to the front by granite (more likely, granodiorite), every step is on rock and more rock. Or so it seems. From either trailhead, gain the Rockbound Trail, which raises you from 6,800 feet to 8,600 feet in 6 miles. The shine of the polished granite is interrupted by sluggish erratics, determined conifers, and stealthy wildflowers. Climb to Rockbound Pass and look out over Rockbound Valley from the crest of the Crystal Range. A short descent on the Blakely Trail brings you to beautiful Lake Lois for a peaceful night beneath an open sky.
Kyburz, CA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 18.2