The Best Of: Lake Tahoe Hikes

Hiking in Lake Tahoe above Emerald Bay

No one will be shocked to hear that there’s a lot of epic hikes in Lake Tahoe. I mean, just look around. Lake Tahoe has more peaks and valleys and rivers and alpine lakes than you could explore in a lifetime.

And while not all the Lake Tahoe hiking trails are created equal, each one has something to be proud of. Day hike, short hike, peak baggers, views—there’s a hike for everything on your wish list.

Best Hike For Views Of Lake Tahoe: Mt. Tallac Trail

Image by Jonathan Cook-Fisher on Flickr
  • 10.5 miles out-and-back
  • 6-8 hours

This is a massive title to carry. Everyone’s after those panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, so being keeper to the best of them? It’s big time.

But, the Mount Tallac trail earns it. This 10.5 mile out-and-back trail winds above Fallen Leaf Lake and into Desolation Wilderness, up and around to nearly 10,000 feet elevation.

Whew. It’s a whopper. But once you get the top, you’ll be rewarded with epic views of the entire Lake Tahoe basin. It’s a challenging hike, covering nearly 3,300 ft in elevation gain and taking 6-8 hours round trip on average.

You’ll pass two alpine lakes along the way—perfect for filling up your water bottle, so bring a filter—plus boulder fields and meadows full of wildflowers. Plan for snowpack in the shoulder seasons and blazing heat in the summer.

If you really want to do Mount Tallac right, hike it in the afternoon, camp out overnight, then watch the sunrise from the peak. You’ll have no questions as to why this one’s known as one of the best hikes in Lake Tahoe.

Note: you need a permit to enter Desolation Wilderness. For day hikes, purchase one at the trailhead. Purchase one online for overnight trips.

Best Bang For Your Buck: Eagle Lake Trail

Image by Joe Parks on Flickr
  • 2 miles out-and-back
  • 1 hour

Little time, little kids or little motivation? The Eagle Lake trail is the one for you. Clocking in at just 2-miles and less than 500 feet elevation gain, this ever popular trail is the perfect quick hitter with big rewards.

Perched above Emerald Bay, this South Lake Tahoe favorite is one of the best kid-friendly hiking trails in the basin. The Eagle Lake trail offers views of Emerald Bay, an up-close look at Eagle Falls and the pristine Eagle Lake as your final reward.

For a short, easily accessible and family-friendly hike, that’s a pretty good lineup.

Of course, there’s one catch—it’s one of the most trafficked hiking trails in Lake Tahoe. In the summer, the parking area fills up fast. Like, 9am fast. And the trail itself tends to be crowded.

But if you can snag a spot, the Emerald Bay views alone are worth it.

Looking for more epic stuff to do around Lake Tahoe?

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Best Wildflower Hike: Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes

  • 7-miles out-and-back
  • 3-4 hours

Looking for wildflower hikes? Lake Tahoe has ’em. And one of the very best of its kind can be found at the Winnemucca and Round Top Lakes trail.

A hidden gem out by Kirkwood, this 7-mile out-and-back trail packs a real Sound of Music moment with its’ rolling meadows of multicolored wildflowers. At the end of the trail, you’ll find Winnemucca Lake; a stunning alpine lake framed by stark granite peaks and lasting snow pack.

From there, continue on towards Round Top Lake, yet another alpine lake to explore. You’ve got options at this point. Continue down to the trail to turn this out-and-back into a loop, or head back towards Winnemucca Lake and descend to where you started.

Both options are great. But most hikers prefer the out-and-back scenery better than what you find on the loop.

As for the wildflowers, it’s best to visit during early summer when the blooms tend to be at their peak. We suggest bringing a field guide or at the very least, learning about some of Lake Tahoe’s wildflowers so you know what you’re looking at!

Best Desolation Wilderness Hike: Lake Aloha via Glen Alpine

Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness Tahoe
  • 11 miles out-and-back
  • 5-7 hours

Sometimes, nothing but the backcountry will do. And thankfully Lake Tahoe has a lot of it. From the Tahoe Rim Trail to Desolation Wilderness, there’s so many backcountry hiking trails it can feel a little overwhelming.

But the journey from the Glen Alpine trailhead to Lake Aloha is one one of the best Lake Tahoe has to offer.

Why? To start, Lake Aloha is the indisputable gem of Desolation Wilderness. A granite lake bed dotted with rock islands and ringed by pine forests, it’s the postcard image of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You can tuck into your own private cove, swim out to a sun-soaked boulder or drop a line and pray for trout to bite.

In other words—it’s a must-see. Getting there, however, requires some oomph. There’s a few routes, but starting at Glen Alpine trailhead is a favorite for a few reasons.

Even without the end destination being supremely beautiful, the hiking trail you follow up from Glen Alpine Springs is one of the best in the Lake Tahoe basin. Plus, it’s only a few minutes from South Lake Tahoe. You pass streams and ponds, meadows and forests, waterfalls and multiple clear, mountain lakes.

It’s definitely one of those journey as the destination types of moments. And make no mistake. It is a journey.

Clocking in at 11 miles out-and-back, plus nearly 2,000 feet in elevation gain, making the round trip journey as a day hike can be pretty intense.

But if you leave at sunrise, pack plenty of water, a water filter, a swim suit and lakeside lunch, you’ll be happy you did it.

Best For Peak Baggers: Mt. Rose

Mt. Rose SUmmit hiking trail
Image by Mitch Barrie on Flickr
  • 10.7 mile loop
  • 5-7 hours

It may be the Lake Tahoe basins’ third highest peak, but with a monstrous 10,776 foot summit, the Mt. Rose trail deserves every peak bagger’s attention.

One of those must-do Lake Tahoe hikes, the Mount Rose trail packs some serious elevation gain—nearly 2,500 feet—in the final 3 miles ascent, plus two waterfalls, wildflower fields and gorgeous lake views.

Some people opt to hike just to the Mt. Rose waterfall, along a route that’s relatively flat, easy and full of wildflowers in the late summer. If you choose to summit (c’mon, you have to), the trail gets steeper, the winds get stronger, but the view gets better. Be prepared with plenty of water and light layers.

Like Nevada’s version of the Mt. Tallac route, we love this iconic Lake Tahoe hiking trail for delivering a little bit of everything. Especially a good sweat.

Best Sunset Spot: Cave Rock Trail

Cave Rock Sunset Hike Lake Tahoe
  • 0.8 miles out-and-back
  • 15-30 minutes

You wouldn’t be wrong in arguing that Cave Rock hardly deserves a spot on list of Lake Tahoe hiking trails. But, like we said, every trail has its merits and that holds true for the short but satisfying hike.

Technically just a path onto the top of a highway tunnel, Cave Rock clocks in at less than a mile long round trip with under 200 feet elevation gain. But it still gets a spot on our list because at the end of that little trail are some of the best views in the entire Lake Tahoe area.

We mean it. It’s awesome. And as one of the few east shore hikes in Lake Tahoe, it easily earns its title as the coolest spot to watch the sun set over the lake.

Most Instagrammable Hike: Monkey Rock

Monkey Rock hike in north lake tahoe
  • 2.6 miles out-and-back
  • 1-2 hours

Listen, before we dish the goods, you have to promise to tag us in your photo when it’s all said and done. Deal?

Then without further ado, our favorite photo-op in all of the Lake Tahoe basin: Monkey Rock. Famous for the cheeky, ape-shaped boulder at the top of the trail, this short, 2.6 mile route is one of our all-time favorite Lake Tahoe hikes.

Yes, we’re very into the monkey. He’s cute. But even if he wasn’t a part of the package, we’d love this hike for the panoramic views of North Lake Tahoe and beyond.

Covering only about 500 feet in elevation gain and located just outside of Incline Village, this is one of the best family-friendly hikes in the area.

As a bonus—there’s bathrooms and a paid parking lot (and free parking in the surrounding area) at the trailhead. It also doubles as the launch point for the East Shore Trail which leads to Sand Harbor. If you have the stamina, they make the perfect one-two punch!

Local’s Favorite: Granite Lake and Maggie’s Peak

View from Maggie's Peak hike in Lake Tahoe
  • 4.1 miles out-and-back
  • 2-4 hours

We contemplated calling this one the leg burner, since the nearly 2,000 foot elevation gain will make sure you get exactly that. But ultimately, the Maggie’s Peak hike earned the title of local’s favorite for being a combination of short, challenging, just minutes from South Lake Tahoe and of course, generous with the epic views.

This well-loved trail begins at the Bayview Trailhead—a busy little corner of the woods, since it’s also the starting point for the Cascade Falls trail. There’s not a ton of parking. So arrive early, or maybe avoid it all together on the weekends.

From there, you head up. Like, straight up until you reach Maggie’s Peak. Along the way, you’ll pass Granite Lake. Take advantage of the resting point to swim, picnic or just enjoy the quiet lakeside before heading up the trail.

When you get to the top, a quick little boulder scramble will lead you to the summit and that’s where Maggie’s Peak earns her rank as one of the best Lake Tahoe hikes we know. The view!

You get unreal views of the Lake Tahoe basin from the peak, with Cascade Lake, Fallen Leaf Lake, Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe all spread out beneath you.

On the way back, you get to enjoy the views, cruise downhill and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. No wonder it’s one of our favorite day hikes.

Most Iconic Lake Tahoe Hike: Rubicon Trail

Rubicon Trail views in Lake Tahoe
Image by ray_explores on Flickr
  • 16.4 miles out-and-back
  • 7-9 hours

Wow, guys. This is a big deal. We’ve officially handed out the title of most iconic Lake Tahoe hike, and honestly, it feels pretty good because the Rubicon Trail really does deserve it.

It runs along the shore of Lake Tahoe, from D.L. Bliss State Park, around Emerald Bay, past Vikingsholm Castle, finally coming to an end at Eagle Point Campground.

It’s gorgeous—with views of the lake at nearly every step. In terms of difficulty, it’s really not that bad. Despite the long distance, there isn’t a ton of elevation gain. We’d call it easy to moderate at best. Plus, you’re able to shave miles off the distance if you want, hiking to Vikingsholm before turning around or parking a second car near Eagle Falls.

If you go all the way to the end of the end, it’s worth the extra time to journey out to the Eagle Point Scenic Overlook. But, no matter how far you choose to go, big rewards await on this one.

You’ll hike along the shoreline, stopping at scenic turquoise coves. Meander beneath eagle nests and fishing ospreys. Watch boats cruise across the lake, and get an up close look at the iconic Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss State Park. What more could you want?

In any case, the Rubicon Trail is squarely a must-do while in South Lake Tahoe.

The scary thing (or maybe, glorious thing?) is that this list barely even scratches the surfaces. There are so many unreal hikes—Five Lakes Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Shirley Canyon, High Meadows—that’s it hard to pick the best or coolest or most worth your time.

The only way you can ever really know which Lake Tahoe hike is your favorite is lace up those boots, baby.

But this list will at least get you started, covering some of the basin’s favorite views and must-see meadows, rivers and lakes. It covers every distance, from 1 mile to 16 miles, with a little taste of all the magic of Lake Tahoe found on each and every one of them.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about dogs—almost all Lake Tahoe hikes are dog-friendly. Well-behaved dogs on a six foot leash are welcome across the basin’s public forest lands. So while we do suggest double checking before inviting your pet, it’s usually all good.

A final note? Be prepared on your hikes! Check the weather. It can change quickly. Bring along energizing snacks and plenty of water. Pack a water filter for refilling at clean water sources. Bring light layers and wear good trekking shoes. Tell someone where you’re going and get the necessary permits.

All of it just makes for a better experience, and trust us. We want you to have a good one!

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