A walk in the woods: Tahoe’s trails have something for every hiker
Special to the Bonanza
The Lake Tahoe Basin features hundreds — if not thousands — of miles of trails, winding through some of the most pristine mountain country in world.
If you’re looking for a place to take life one step at a time, here’s a few of the many paths worth wandering:
Tahoe Rim Trail
The grandaddy of the region’s hikes, the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail is more of a multi-day excursion than a walk in the park. Winding around the rim of peaks that surrounds Lake Tahoe, the 165-mile loop rises and falls thousands of vertical feet and can take weeks to complete. It can be divided into sections for those who aren’t inclined to spend large chunk of their summer on the trail. About 49 miles of the trail overlap with the Pacific Crest Trail. Thru hikers who’ve completed the entire loop can join the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s 165-mile club. There is a an official thru-hike sponsored by the TRTA, but it fills up quickly.
Location: The Tahoe Rim Trail can be accessed from a variety of points, including near Tahoe City, Brockway Summit, Mt. Rose, Spooner Summit, Big Meadow, and Echo Lakes. For more information, see visit, TahoeRimTrail.org.
Distance: Up to 165 miles
Type: Loop or segment
Fallen Leaf Lake
Miles of trails surround the South Shore’s Fallen Leak Lake. Most are fairly flat and meander through aspen groves and alongside Taylor Creek. In the fall, it’s a great place to watch the red and green Kokanee salmon spawn.
Location: From Highway 89, turn onto Fallen Leaf Lake Road. Hikers can park in any of the numerous pullouts or head to Glen Alpine Falls at the end of the road for more challenging hikes.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Van Sickle Bi-State Park
Just a few minutes from South Lake Tahoe’s casino core, Van Sickle Bi-State Park straddles the California-Nevada border. Dozens of miles of trails wind through the pine forest. Views of Carson Valley and a cool waterfall are rewards for hikers who take the time to reach the top of the ridge.
Location: To get there, turn off Highway 50 in Stateline onto Lake Parkway and follow it to the end. There’s parking at the top of the road.
Type: Loop or peak trails
Difficulty: Easy lower trails to more difficult peak trails
Length: 0.5-5 miles
In the shadow of Pyramid Peak, the sprawling shallow high-mountain reservoir is dotted with hundreds of tiny granite islands. Various trails converge on the Aloha’s shores, the perfect end to a hot hike up from the basin floor. To camp at the lake, make sure you get a Desolation Wilderness permit from the U.S. Forest Service offices in South Lake Tahoe.
Location: Lake Aloha can be accessed from trails beginning at Echo Lakes or near Glen Alpine Falls. The easiest route is to take a boat across Echo Lake to begin the hike.
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
Length: 6-7 miles
Ward Canyon to Paige Meadows
Once you start the trail up Ward Canyon, which has a smooth climb and the best single-track, you can enjoy the peace, quiet and simplicity of this mountain meadow with a unique variety of wildflowers from June through August. The second trail loops around the meadow and is a great place for dogs.
Location: To get to Ward Canyon, drive south on Highway 89 to just past Sunnyside, turn right on Pineland Drive, then left at the “Wye” where it says Ward Valley. Follow the trail 2 miles to the Tahoe Rim Trail trailhead on the left at the sign to Paige Meadows. You can also turn left at Silver Tip Drive in the Talmont subdivision and follow the road until it ends to get closer to the meadows.
Type: Loop/Single track
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Length: 1.4 miles round trip (starting from Ward Canyon)
The 10,778-foot high Mt. Rose is one of the highest peaks near Lake Tahoe and offers breathtaking views of the lake, Reno and Nevada desert. A three-mile-long dirt road leads to a lodgepole cloaked forest. If you take the right-hand route from the trailhead you take the most direct route to the summit. Weathered pillars of volcanic rock rising on both sides of you, a waterfall and a creek crossing are just some of the highlights on the trail. A log book is located at the summit.
Location: Take Highway 431 north of Incline Village. Park at the trailhead, which is located one mile south of the summit. You’ll find the trailhead behind the restrooms at the Mt. Rose Pass.
Type: Semi loop
Elevation gain: 2,100 ft (from 8,900 – 10,776 ft)
Length: 6-10 miles
Shirley Canyon to Shirley Lake
The trail follows Squaw Creek about 2.5 miles each way to Shirley Lake, passing gorgeous waterfalls and canyon boulders. A good hint to keep in mind is to stay to the left of Squaw Creek as you are going uphill. Going downhill, stay to the right. A massive granite slab where the route is roughly marked by a series of rock cairns will arise and the lake will only be a few minutes away.
Location: Located in Squaw Valley, the trail starts at the end of Squaw Peak Road. From the Squaw Valley parking lot, walk down the road and find the trailhead on the left as the road curves to the right.
Type: Loop trail
Difficulty: Medium to Difficult
Length: 5 miles round trip
Stateline Fire Lookout
Offering an iconic view of Lake Tahoe directly above the casinos on the North Shore in Crystal Bay, this paved trail is a simple hike and one for the entire family to enjoy. A self-guided tour on a short nature trail is also here and explains Tahoe’s history.
Location: From Highway 28 on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, turn north on Reservoir Drive, east of the old Tahoe Biltmore Casino. Turn right on Lakeshore Avenue and left on Forest Service Road 1601. Park just below the lookout, and make sure to talk to one of the knowledgeable volunteers who give visitors advice during the summer months.
Elevation: 7,017 ft
Length: 0.5 miles minimum
If you don’t want to share the trail with bikes and horses, use the new upper single track trail is just for hikers. The uphill hike leads you through the beautiful North Canyon, lined with aspens, and a meadow of wildflowers until you get to Marlette Lake. The route provides also access to the Flume Trail, a popular mountain biking trail, which starts at Marlette Lake Dam.
Location: Park at the Spooner Lake parking lot for a small fee. Plan on having a full day off for this hike.
Type: Mountain trail
Elevation gain: 1,200 ft
Length: 9.5 mile round-trip
Brockway Summit/Martis Peak Lookout
Watson Lake, a very picturesque lake, is located 6.5 miles from the trailhead and invites hikers for a short break on the way to the top. Wide panoramic views of the High Sierra, the Truckee River Canyon and Lake Tahoe can be seen from the trail and the lookout.
Location: Park off Highway 267, near Brockway Summit, just above Kings Beach.
Elevation: 1,745 ft
Length: 6-8 miles