No shortage of stunning scenery exists in the Lake Tahoe Basin, but while the majority of sightseers flock to the southwestern portion of the lake to take in the postcard-picture-perfect vistas afforded by Emerald Bay, the northeastern portion of the lake offers a quieter and equally spectacular experience.
Tunnel Creek, just outside of Incline Village, is a popular trail with locals due to the unparalleled look at Crystal Bay as it spans out beneath the ascending trail, along with the swerve of coastline as it winds southward. Couple those views with its relative degree of seclusion, particularly in comparison with much of the easy-to-moderate hiking trails in Lake Tahoe, and any avid hiker can see why the trail is an indispensable part of the basin’s recreation portfolio.
The trailhead is located just south of Ponderosa Ranch roughly one mile from the downtown corridor of Incline Village, Nev., and is effectively marked by the newly minted outdoor shop Tunnel Creek Station.
Park along the shoulder of the highway, but be mindful of parking signs to avoid earning an expensive ticket that would certainly put a cramp in an otherwise quality day of outdoor adventure.
The parking lot at Tunnel Creek Station is not open to the public.
Once parked and on the trail, the first half mile of walking is straightforward enough, as the trail slightly inclines with a gradual gain in elevation that will soon provide a perfect perch from which to see Lake Tahoe’s lambent blue spreading to the west and south.
Ponderosa pines dominate the East Shore, as the Carson Range has a different geology and ecology than the Sierra Nevada Mountains that populate the West Shore.
One of the chief attributes of Tunnel Creek Trail is the great views come early and often, so those with less of an appetite for exercise or on a time crunch don’t have to carve out a huge portion of the day to get the experience.
However, more the more ambitious and fit among us can hike the entire 2.5 miles up to the intersection with the Flume Trail.
The hike is moderate, with about 1,500-foot of elevation gain and a fairly relentless ascent up and into the Carson Range.
As hikers approach the intersection with the Flume Trail, the titular Tunnel Creek will slowly become first audible and then visible as it runs along the trail. The route also winds through a huge Aspen stand, and, in the autumn, the golden hues of the turning leaves make continuing past the initial views of Lake Tahoe an absolute must.
The trail is popular with the mountain-biking community, so keep your heads up as bikers have a tendency to come screaming down the trail with a fair bit of velocity.
Tunnel Creek Trail can also be the launching point of an entire day of hiking, with the picturesque Marlette Lake serving as a great spot for a lunch before heading back down again.
Explore Lake Tahoe’s northeastern nook for the quiet and the quality. Tunnel Creek Trail is as good an introduction as any.