Discover Lake Tahoe on Foot With These Incredible Hikes

A number of hiking trails in North and South Lake Tahoe provide scenic adventures for visitors.

Discover Lake Tahoe on Foot With These Incredible Hikes

Views like these are found round every corner.

Photo by AJ9/Shutterstock

Lake Tahoe is often called the “Jewel of the Sierras,” for good reason. Not only is it a proverbial jewel in the otherwise rugged 250-mile-long Sierra Nevada mountain range, but from above, Tahoe looks like an actual sapphire sparkling in the cradle of snow-capped mountains. That’s especially true when viewed from one of the surrounding peaks nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

Many summer visitors spend their days lounging at the beach or enjoying lakeside hotels, but hikers willing to go the extra mile, pun intended, will find plenty of trails, including sections of the famous Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers will love the cooler temperatures, fields of wildflowers, minimal bugs, and lakes like Aloha and Marlette that dot the region’s high-elevation trails in the summer on these six great Lake Tahoe hikes.

North Lake Tahoe hikes

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The Lake Tahoe region is prone to wildfires, so check conditions before heading out.

Photo by Raimy Roams/Shutterstock

1. Picnic Rock

  • Effort: Easy
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: +/- 738 feet
  • Go for: Max reward, minimal effort
  • Trailhead map

Many visitors to Tahoe are lured by photos of the “Monkey Rock” Trail in Incline Village, Nevada, but the best easy trail is just across the California border in Kings Beach. The Picnic Rock trail leads to a series of massive, mostly flat boulders above the trees, offering a perfect place for a picnic in the sun while looking out on the north shore. On most days, you can see the long, narrow ski runs of Heavenly Mountain Resort, 22 miles away. It’s busy, but far less busy than sandy and dry Monkey Rock.

2. Mount Judah Loop

  • Effort: Moderate
  • Distance: 5.1 miles with offshoot
  • Elevation gain: +/- 1,220 feet
  • Go for: Historic sites and perfect sunsets
  • Trailhead map

Mount Judah Loop is a somewhat rocky hike starting near the highest point of the old Lincoln Highway, the first U.S. transcontinental highway route. The trailhead is marked on Google Maps and on the ground. It climbs Donner Summit, crossing Sugarbowl Resort (home of California’s first ski lift) and looking down on the railway tunnels, carved by hand in the 1860s. The summits of both Judah and Donner have historical signs to mark where westward emigrants crossed during the Gold Rush, and the sunset views over Donner Lake from the Donner Summit offshoot are well worth the extra .3-mile scramble.

3. Donner Summit to Granite Chief

  • Effort: Difficult
  • Distance: 18 miles, point to point
  • Elevation gain: 2,962 feet
  • Go for: All-day mountain views
  • Trailhead map

Palisades Tahoe may be primarily known for skiing, but it’s equally gorgeous in summer. While several hikes start and end near the resort, a hard but beautiful route starts on Donner Summit, traversing the Sierra Crest to Palisades. Descend via the scenic Granite Chief Trail, and plan to have dinner in the Palisades Village before returning to Donner Summit for your car.

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The Angora Lakes trail is fairly easy, and you can jump right into the water to cool off in the summer months.

Photo by Kelsey Fox/Shutterstock

South Lake Tahoe hiking trails

4. Angora Lakes

  • Effort: Easy
  • Distance: 1.2 miles
  • Gain: 226 feet
  • Go for: Wildflowers and cliff jumping
  • Trailhead map

Skip the ridiculously crowded Cave Rock, Emerald Bay, or Eagle Falls hikes and head near the far end of Fallen Leaf Lake to Angora Lakes. The short trail leads to two alpine lakes in a valley dotted with wildflowers well into early July. Bring a swimsuit to jump in the lakes after you’ve finished spotting blooms like bright purple lupines and vivid red snow plants.

5. Meek’s Bay to Crag Lake

  • Effort: Moderate
  • Distance: 9.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,243 feet
  • Go for: Lush forest and a mountain swim
  • Trailhead map

Pack your swimsuit for this long hike from Meek’s Bay to Crag Lake, because your reward at the end are two sunny, gorgeous alpine lakes. The first mile is along a dusty fire road, but don’t be deterred. Once under the towering pines, your route mirrors Meek’s Creek and is one of the most lush trails in Tahoe, even during the peak of summer. It’s a long hike, but the elevation gain is evenly distributed and the trail mostly shaded.

6. Mount Tallac

  • Effort: Difficult
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,274 feet
  • Go for: The best views of Tahoe without a plane
  • Trailhead map

Mount Tallac isn’t the tallest peak in the Tahoe basin—that honor goes to 10,886-foot Freel Peak—but it offers arguably the best unobstructed views of the lake. The long hike starts by curving around Fallen Leaf Lake before twisting into Desolation Wilderness and climbing to the rocky summit more than 3,000 feet above Lake Tahoe. Start early both to beat the afternoon heat and find parking.

Bonus hikes

Though both can be prohibitively crowded on summer weekends, if you’re in Tahoe in the fall or looking for a midweek hike, consider one of these highly rated hikes. The lake-hugging Rubicon Trail passes numerous small coves on its way from DL Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay State Park, and the Lam Watah Nature Trail has interpretive signage detailing the area’s Indigenous, industrial, and tourism history. Both are extremely popular and parking is nearly impossible if you arrive after 8 a.m. on a weekend.

Lake Tahoe hiking need-to-knows

Remember that Lake Tahoe is at risk of wildfires during the hiking season (roughly May to October/November). Several factors, including climate change, rapid development, and the remoteness of Tahoe’s wilderness areas have made the past decade of wildfires especially destructive. To help protect Tahoe’s towns and wildlands, hikers need to do more than just follow campfire regulations. Try to carpool to reduce road congestion in case of evacuation and register at trailheads (when possible) so rescue personnel can quickly locate you in case of nearby fires.

Prepare to be as self-sufficient as possible to reduce the risk of needing medical rescue, which pulls staff and helicopters from fire-fighting efforts. This includes carrying a first-aid kit, a map, and appropriate clothing, as well as accurately gauging your physical abilities to mitigate risk. Monitor the air quality index and consider postponing your hike if it’s over 101.

As with all hikes, it’s OK to turn around at any point. The goal is to enjoy nature, not to move the fastest or travel the furthest. Hiking ratings are relative, so while “easy” hikes are easier than most of the other Lake Tahoe hiking trails, they may not be easy compared to hikes in other regions, especially if you are not used to the higher elevation. Move slowly, carry water or a water filter, and take your time—you won’t be hard-pressed to find scenic stops along any of these hikes.

>>Next: The Ideal Road Trip Through U.S. Canyon Country

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