The Lake Tahoe basin and surrounding mountains are flush with trails, creeks, coves, shores and alpine lakes. Studding the horizon are the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and the depths of Lake Tahoe (which doesn’t have a bad angle) sparkle in pristine shimmers of blue below it. Whether you’re wrangling toddlers for a spot to play on the lake or strapping on overnight gear for a few days in the backcountry, we’ve got all the best tips to help you hit the trails.
Stateline Lookout - Crystal Bay, Nevada
Best hike in North Lake Tahoe
1.7 mile loop, 1-2 hrs, easy
This paved loop (which some might consider a stroll rather than a hike) is popular due to its short distance to amazing views on Lake Tahoe’s northern shores. It qualifies as family-friendly, though there is a rather steep 400ft in elevation gain. With this one, you can say you began your walk in Nevada and ended in California. The end of the trail is a former fire lookout location strategically placed for its panoramic views of Crystal Bay. The lookout no longer stands having been replaced with bathrooms and picnic tables for visitors.
Informational placards along the way include history about Incline Village and Crystal Bay, their inhabitants and significant industries. Though the trail begins at a gated federal Forest Service road off Lakeshore Avenue, cars must park along the street. On weekends, this will be more difficult than during the weekdays.
Rubicon Trail - South Lake Tahoe, California
Best hike in South Lake Tahoe
16.4 miles point-to-point, full day, moderate
You can make this lakeside hike as long or short as you like, and the views will be stunning regardless of your choice. The most popular place to park (for a fee) and start is DL Bliss State Park and then head south to Emerald Bay State Park. One fee will allow access to both state parks. Some people like to bring two cars and set up a shuttle, but you’ll need to be an early bird to pull this off. Families with older kids will especially enjoy exploring the granite outcroppings, sandy coves and opportunities to swim. Emerald Bay Beach is noisy with boats and beach-goers who are drawn to its beauty. If you bring some extra money, you can tour Vikingsholm Castle. Bring plenty of water and snacks since there will be many miles between amenities.
Upper Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail - South Lake Tahoe, California
Best hike for a waterfall
1.9 miles roundtrip, 2-3 hrs, moderate
This well-trodden path close to Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe is suitable for all levels and rewards hikers with some of the region’s best natural features: granite boulders and mountaintops, a creek, a lake, a waterfall, an evergreen forest and an eagle-eye views into South Lake Tahoe and beyond. After a short, gentle ascent, a set of steep stairs built into the granite wall brings hikers to the top of Eagle Falls. This portion of the trail is about a half-mile. Eagle Lake is another half-mile ascent beyond that - and worth the extra effort.
Plan to arrive by 8am during peak summer months to snag a parking spot so you won’t have to hassle with overflow parking along Highway 89, and bring cash for the $5 parking fee. Pack a thermos of coffee and breakfast to enjoy by Eagle Lake. Not a shabby way to start the day. Throw a suit and towel into your bag as well if you’re in a mood to swim.
The Flume Trail - Incline Village, Nevada
Best for mountain biking
12.8 miles point-to-point, half-day, moderate
The sweat equity in the 1100ft climb in the first four miles of this bike ride earns you elevated views of the east shore of Lake Tahoe and beer from Tunnel Creek Cafe when you’re done. From the trailhead at Spooner Lake, be prepared for some gentle uphills as you roll through aspen groves. This gives way to a half-mile steep climb on challenging terrain past Snow Valley. Once you’ve hit Marlette Saddle, the hardest strains against gravity are over, and you get to coast through the shoreline scenery of Marlette and Tahoe lakes.
Flume Trail Bike Rental at Incline Village in Nevada offers shuttles and bike rentals to facilitate one-way rides. They are also knowledgeable and helpful in providing guidance for turning the popular Flume Trail ride into a loop.
Angora Lakes Trail - South Lake Tahoe, California
Best off-Tahoe summer day hike
1.2 miles point-to-point, 2-3 hrs, easy
Views of Fallen Leaf Lake and Mt. Tallac, along with cliff jumping and fresh-squeezed lemonade from the Angora Lakes Resort, make this off-Tahoe trail a family winner. A short hill leads to the first, lower lake. Another quarter mile or so leads to the second, upper lake which has a small, sandy shore for swimming, kayak and boat rentals, and large rock outcroppings for big, splashy cannonball dives.
There are two options for parking, but of course, summer is busy. The first is on Angora Ridge Road, for a fee. The second is free. Follow Fallen Leaf Lake Road to the end of the lake and then park on the road shoulder. It adds about a mile (round-trip) to the out-and-back hike.
Chickadee Ridge - Incline Village, Nevada
A unique winter hike
1.7 miles point-to-point, 2-3 hrs, easy
Bring your snowshoes and camera for a ridgeline hike that offers views of the eastern shores of Lake Tahoe and interaction with adorable chickadees that will land in the palm of your hand (no birdseed required). Begin in Tahoe Meadows (also known as Mt. Rose Meadows) and then follow signs to Tahoe Rim Trail, Meadow Loops and Ophir Creek Trail - or forge your own path up the ridge. It’s easy to spy where you’re headed. Bring a sled if you're keen for a zip down the Tahoe Meadows sledding hill.
Free parking is available at the South Tahoe Meadows Trailhead off of Mt. Rose Highway (State Route 431), about 7.4 miles from Incline Village.
Commemorative Overland Emigrant Trail - Truckee, California
Best spring hike or bike ride
15 miles point-to-point, full-day, moderate
With its wide pathway and lower elevation, this trail is a snow-free early spring warm-up for all ability levels. Rolling hills past open valleys will be filled with wildflowers in May and June, and Stampede Reservoir makes for a refreshing swimming hole. The open space provides unobstructed views of Alder Creek and the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Most folks park and begin at the Donner Camp Picnic Area just north of Truckee off Highway 89. Historical markers remind modern-day adventurers of the Donner party’s harrowing and tragic experience sheltering a winter in 1846 when their wagon train to California was stopped due to snow.
Rainbow Trail at Taylor Creek Visitor’s Center
Best wheelchair accessible and family-friendly trail
0.6 mile loop, 1-2 hrs, easy
This paved, educational loop is marked with interpretive signs and includes a stop at the Taylor Creek stream profile chamber. Fall is Kokanee salmon spawning season and an exciting time to watch for bright flashes of the pink, red and silver salmon in the underwater aquarium view.
Aside from the creek, the trail loops through meadow and marsh, which may be blooming with red snow plant or pink monkeyflower. There are also three other family-friendly trails that can be accessed from the Taylor Creek Visitor’s Center (free to park). Lake of the Sky Trail is a dirt path that leads to the beachfront at Tallac Point on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. The quarter-mile Forest Tree Trail showcases Jeffrey Pine and Smokey’s Trail teaches young hikers about safe campfires.
Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT)
Best for an overnight or thru-hike
170.5 mile backcountry loop that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe, 10-15 days, difficult
The Tahoe Rim Trail Association breaks this thru-hike into eight segments, each stretch ranging 20 to 30-plus miles. Depending on the mountain-lake highlight you’d like, you can choose an overnight segment or go the distance. Alpine lakes, open wildflower meadows, lava cliffs and panoramic views of Lake Tahoe are some of the natural environs that will surround you.
In its entirety, this National Recreation Trail crosses six counties, four national forests, three wilderness areas, two states and one state park, and it shares some of its pathway with the Pacific Crest Trail. If you’ve been dreaming and scheming about that first or next thru-hike, add this one to your list.