The Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe Featured Image

I grew up just north of Lake Tahoe in the town of Truckee. From a young age, I began hiking, backpacking, and otherwise exploring all that this area has to offer. Still, I find new gems seemingly every summer. If you’re visiting this spring, summer, or fall, here’s a quick list of some best hikes around Lake Tahoe!

Emerald Bay State Park

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe - Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay State Park

Trailhead Location

138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA

Hike Distance

2-3 miles

Level of Difficulty

Moderate

Time Needed

3-4 hours (depending on how long you play at the bottom!)

Fun Features

Views of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island, a hidden castle, and a waterfall!

Hike Overview

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe - Emerald Bay 2 Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash
Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

This is a great day hike for those of you staying near South Lake Tahoe. Emerald Bay State Park offers exquisite views of Emerald Bay, including Lake Tahoe’s only island, Fannette Island. The history of this state park is quite intriguing. Vikingsholm, the residence at the bottom of the trail, was built by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight in 1929. Mrs. Knight hosted guests at her hidden castle for 15 years before her death in 1945.

The hike descends almost 400 feet for a little over a mile from the parking lot. When at the bottom, you can check out the beach, swim in the crystal clear waters of the bay, and take a tour of the Vikingsholm castle. Information on tour details and times can be found here.

Once you’re finished at the bottom of the trail, you can return to the parking area via the same trail you came down. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, check out the trail to Lower Eagle Falls, which is typically running at peak capacity from late spring into early summer, depending on the snowfall from the previous winter.

Shirley Canyon

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe - Shirley Canyon
Shirley Canyon

Trailhead Location

1912 Chamonix Pl, Olympic Valley, CA 96146

Hike Distance

5.8 miles one way (depends on how far up you go!)

Level of Difficulty

Moderate to Difficult

Time Needed

3-5 hours

Fun Features

Waterfalls, waterfalls, and more waterfalls! (Oh, and a free Tram ride down!)

Hike Overview

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe - Tahoe Hiking PC Tucker Ballister
PC Tucker Ballister

When you’re driving into Squaw Valley, it’ll be hard to pick your jaw off the floorboards as you take in the sheer scale of this gorgeous glacial valley. Home to the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley has a unique history and also boasts some area’s best skiing in the winter months. Options certainly don’t dwindle in the summer though!

The Shirley Canyon Trailhead is located in the northwest corner of the valley behind Olympic Valley Lodge and to the right if you’re looking at “Tram Face.” The best time to hike this trail is in the spring as there are four or five different waterfalls that are at maximum capacity during this time of year. The trail does gain almost 2,000 vertical feet if you follow it all the way to Squaw Valley’s High Camp.

If you don’t want to go all the way up the trail, Shirley Lake is a convenient turn-around spot with an opportunity for a brisk dip into glacial waters on the hottest of summer days. Proceeding all the way to High Camp does have its rewards though. Hikers that complete the full ascent of Shirley Canyon are rewarded with a free ride down the mountain on the tram!

Mount Tallac

best hikes around lake tahoe - mount tallac
Mount Tallac

Trailhead Location

Mount Tallac Trail, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Hike Distance

9.5 miles round-trip

Level of Difficulty

Difficult to Expert

Time Needed

5-7 hours

Fun Features

An opportunity to swim in an alpine lake, a butt-kicking climb, and spectacular lake views!

Hike Overview

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe - Mount Tallac 2 PC Tucker Ballister
PC Tucker Ballister

This hike isn’t for the faint of heart or the casual hiker coming from sea level, but the views at the top are arguably the best in the area. The trail gains 3,255 feet over the course of 4.25 miles, culminating at the peak of Mount Tallac, which sits at an elevation of 9,738 feet.

The last time I did this hike we actually started around 3:30 am with the goal of reaching the summit at sunrise. It was summer so the temperature that early wasn’t too cold, but it was still quite the early start. However, we did reach the summit just as the sun peeked over the mountains of the Carson Range to the east and all our struggles were vindicated. If you love sunrise views or you’re a photography aficionado, this one is hard to beat!

On the way down, you’ll pass by Cathedral Lake and Floating Island Lake. If you’re looking for a crisp, refreshing dip in cool mountain waters, I’d opt for Cathedral over Floating Island. It’s a great spot to cool down and you’ll have enough time to dry off completely before you get back to your car!

Picnic Rock

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe - Picnic Rock
Picnic Rock

Trailhead Location

Brockway Summit, Hwy 89 between Truckee and Kings Beach

Hike Distance

3.1 miles round trip

Level of Difficulty

Easy

Time Needed

2-3 hours

Fun Features

Rim trail traffic, furry friends, and easy to access views of Tahoe!

Hike Overview

Best Hikes Around Lake Tahoe Picnic Rock 2 PC NH Blevins via Flickr
PC NH Blevins via Flickr

Commonly labeled as “The shortest hike with the best views” in Tahoe, Picnic Rock is a great trail for a quick morning or afternoon hike. If you really want to do it right, take food with you and enjoy a picnic lunch with stellar views of Lake Tahoe’s north shore.

Starting just off Highway 89 near Brockway Summit, the Picnic Rock Trail climbs almost 800 feet to the viewpoint. The majority of the trail parallels the Tahoe Rim Trail, so expect plenty of mountain biking and thru-hiking traffic. The full Tahoe Rim Trail extends more than 160 miles around the entire circumference of Lake Tahoe. So if you run into any thru-hikers be sure to ask them about their experience!

Picnic Rock is a must-see trail for any newcomers to Tahoe. It’s a great opportunity to get your feet wet hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains without overly straining yourself and still being rewarded with amazing lake views. Head on down to Truckee or Kings Beach for a beer and a burger after this excellent afternoon hike!

Want to Get Off The Beaten Path?

the best hikes around lake tahoe - get off the beaten path

These four trails provide an awesome introduction to the Tahoe wilderness. That said, they are some of the more popular trails in the area. This can be nice if you’re concerned about being the only people out there, but if you’re looking for a bit more peace and solitude, you might be looking for something different entirely.

If this is the case, I invite you to send me a message about your upcoming trip to Tahoe! Let me know where you’re staying, how long you’ll be here, and what type of adventure you’re looking for. I’ll be happy to respond with recommendations in prompt fashion!

About The Backpack Guide

the backpack guide - rei adventures 2020
The Backpack Guide on the John Muir Trail

At The Backpack Guide, I’m always looking for new trails and wildernesses to explore. I’m also excited to see and share photos of our readers with their new backpacks. Please don’t hesitate to share your latest adventure or backpack purchase on social media by tagging @thebackpackguide on Instagram and Facebook!

As always, please leave any questions, comments, or concerns below and we hope you enjoyed the information we’ve presented here for you today!

Take Care of Tahoe!

The Backpack Guide

tucker@thebackpackguide.com

Comments

  1. Nuttanee

    I have heard so many good things about Lake Tahoe but every time when I visit California, I ended up doing something else all the time. Emerald Bay state park and Mount Tallac are stunning! But I might be better off with the Picnic Roc or the Emerald Bay, still new with hiking. Thank you for sharing the tips, will make sure to visit on my next visit 🙂

    1. Post
      Author
      Tucker Ballister

      You’re very welcome! If I can provide any other tips or recommendations before your next California trip, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email! 

  2. Douglas

    Wow are those some awesome pictures I can’t believe some of the places that this world has to offer that are so amazing.  Wondering have you done some of these hikes or which would you recommend to people?  All of them would be fun to try but as they are difficult to expert I guess look out for what you ask for.  I hope I can find some great answers from you again I really like the photos that you had and this would be an awesome place to take my kids hiking.  Thank you

    1. Post
      Author
      Tucker Ballister

      Hey Douglas! Yes, I’ve done all of these hikes and would recommend them all if you’re a first time visitor to Lake Tahoe. There’s a lot more to offer here, but these hikes are great to get your feet wet and learn what this area has to offer! 

  3. Ann

    Hi! I have landed on your site and absolutely love it! I have been wanting to go to the Emerald Bay State Park for a long time. And I really liked the way you’ve shared your experience with us. I had been planing 4 hours for this. And we seemed to be thinking the same thing because I was also thinking it depended on how long we played at the bottom. 

    1. Post
      Author
      Tucker Ballister

      Right on Ann! If you come during the summer, be sure to check the California State Park website to look into tours of the Vikingsholm Mansion at the bottom of the Emerald Bay trail. It’s one of the original estates built on the lake way back in the 1930s and well worth the tour!

  4. Anthony Hu

    Thank you for introducing Lake Tahoe. The coming summer, we plan to go to Yosemite National park, but haven’t finalized our detailed travel schedule. I see that both are in a relatively close territory. The Lake Tahoe and surrounding region are beautiful, we are definitely going to pay it a visit.

    I love hiking. We plan to stay there for one day and the Trailhead at Emerald Bay State Park is an ideal trail for us. There are so many fun features, such as Emerald Bay and Fannette Island, a hidden castle, and a waterfall. We need to stay there the night before we hike. Do you have hotel to recommend?

    It is kind of you sharing this useful information with us.

    1. Post
      Author
      Tucker Ballister

      Hey Anthony! There aren’t any hotels SUPER close to the Emerald Bay Trailhead, but I’d recommend staying in South Lake Tahoe if you’re coming from Yosemite and want to hike Emerald Bay while you’re here. The drive from South Lake is easier and quicker than coming from North Lake. Hope that’s helpful! 

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