You probably know that the famous quote “the mountains are calling, and I must go” is from naturalist John Muir. But what you might not know is that he was talking about the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range, which is where you’ll find Lake Tahoe. And if you're leaving behind urban life for a few days in the wooded and wonderful Lake Tahoe, hiking will almost certainly be on your itinerary. Fortunately, Lake Tahoe is a hiker’s paradise, with plenty of options for athletes of any level. Some hikes, like the Tunnel Creek Trail, offer amazing views of the lake less only a few minutes in. Others, like Mount Tallac, make you work your way across steep trails through miles of deep forest before being rewarded with epic lake views.
When hiking in Tahoe, remember that you’ll be in bear country. The bears in Tahoe are black bears (even if they look brown) and they’re afraid of people — but they do love people food, so make sure to not leave any food wrappers or trash on the trails. Additionally, Lake Tahoe has extremely heavy snowfall in both the winter and Fall that can affect trail access year-round. Be sure to do research on any of these routes and check the trail conditions before beginning your hike.
Mount Tallac (South Lake Tahoe)
Arguably Tahoe’s most challenging hike, Mount Tallac is a 10-plus mile route that gains about 3,000 feet of elevation on the way up. The terrain is rocky and steep at times and the trail may have snow on it in parts until August. The reward for your efforts are amazing views of the entire region from the summit nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. There are no amenities available at the trailhead.
Out and back trail, 10.5 miles round-trip
Rubicon Peak (South Lake Tahoe)
Not to be confused with the longer and much flatter Rubicon Trail, the Rubicon Peak Trail is a short-but-very-steep 4-mile round-trip trail up to a rocky point with great views. Owing to its difficulty (it gains 2,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles), it’s never too crowded. Parking here is a bit tricky as you’ll have to find a space on the side of the road in a residential neighborhood, but signs should tell you where you can and can’t park.
Out and back trail, 4 miles round-trip
Tunnel Creek Trail (Incline Village, NV)
This easy trail is wide and flat, making it perfect for families. Better yet, views of Lake Tahoe start at less than half a mile in, so there’s plenty of reward for not too much effort. This trail is also popular with mountain bikers and has benches and lookout points along the way. It’s out-and-back, so you can go as far up (or not) as you’d like. Tunnel Creek Cafe at the trailhead is a great place to grab lunch afterward or breakfast beforehand.
Out and back trail, distance varies
Eagle Lake/Eagle Falls (South Lake Tahoe)
Located in popular Emerald Bay State Park, you have two trails to choose from here: the easy, 15-minute walk to Eagle Falls, or the 1-mile hike up to Eagle Lake, which gains about 500 feet of elevation. Eagle Lake is a great place to swim in the summer months. Restrooms and potable water are available at the Eagle Falls trailhead, which also has a parking fee during the summer months. This trail is probably the most crowded on the list, so it’s best to try to come on a weekday or very early in the morning.
Out and back hike, 2 miles round-trip
Crag Lake/Lake Genevieve (West Shore)
These hikes will take you into the 64,000-acre Desolation Wilderness protected area via the Meek’s Bay Trailhead. Parking is along the side of the road. This hike leads to two lovely alpine lakes, but the real treat here is the deep, lush forest you’ll hike through to get there. Make sure to pick up a free permit at the trailhead. The trail gains about 1,200 feet in elevation but it’s fairly moderate in difficulty as the incline is spread out over 5 miles. Lake Genevieve (the turn-around point about 5.5 miles in) is a great spot to camp if you want to make this into a two-day hike, but you’ll need to secure a camping permit in advance online.
Out and back hike, 11 miles round-trip
Five Lakes (Alpine Meadows/North Shore)
This is a wonderful, moderate hike up a shady alpine meadow that’s home to (surprise!) five lakes. The hike is two-plus miles each way and is quite lovely, with wildflowers near the lakes and huge, building-sized boulders dotting the trail on the way up. If you go past the lakes at the top, you can extend the hike all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail. Be sure to bring bug spray as there can occasionally be mosquitos near the lakes, especially when the snow is melting. You’ll gain about 1,000 feet of elevation on the way up and another 500 if you continue to the P.C.T.
Out and back, 4.5 or 5 miles round-trip if you just go to the lakes
Mount Rose (Incline Village, NV)
Mount Rose is an excellent hike for any outdoor enthusiast: if you want to take it easy, you can stop at the waterfall 2.5 miles in. And if you want to do the full 11-mile loop (with 2,400 feet of elevation gain!), your halfway point will be the Mount Rose Summit, which looks down at Lake Tahoe on one side and Nevada’s high desert on the other. The last mile of the hike is quite steep and traverses across loose rock, so you may want to bring hiking poles or at least sturdy hiking boots. Bathrooms are available at the trailhead during the summer, but you’ll need to bring your own water.
Out and back, 10.7 miles round-trip (or 5 miles round-trip if you just go to the waterfall)
Lam Watah Nature Trail (South Lake Tahoe)
Possibly the easiest and most family-friendly hike on this list, this 2.5-mile stroll leads to Nevada Beach and is almost completely flat. The area used to belong to Native Americans and there’s signage about the history of the land along the path. Since this trail is easy and leads to the beach, it makes a great snowshoeing trail in the winter. Try to get there very early in the morning to avoid the crowds; it’s great for a sunrise walk.
Out and back, 2.5 miles round trip (though you can wander around a small loop in the field)
Judah Loop (Truckee)
North of the lake, in Truckee, you’ll find Donner Summit, named for the infamous Donner Party. The 5-mile Judah Loop Trail, which begins at the Sugar Bowl Ski Academy on Donner Summit, is a fun one to hike, going over rocky summits, between giant trees, and eventually looking out on the wilderness to the west of Lake Tahoe. You can add a half-mile or so by making a right at the sign for Donner Lookout near the top and following the out-and-back trail to a second viewpoint.
Loop, 5 miles round-trip (with an additional 1-mile lookout to a view point, if you want)
Granite Chief (Squaw Valley/Truckee)
Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows is a popular ski resort, so it should come as no surprise that it has some amazing terrain. The Granite Chief trail is just over 3 miles long each way and starts near the ski resort’s village. This trail can be a bit hard to follow, especially across some of the exposed granite faces, so look for rock piles (called cairns) that other hikers have stacked to lead you in the right direction. During daytime hours, if you traverse from Granite Peak across to Squaw Valley’s High Camp (about a mile) you can ride the large Squaw Valley ski tram back down to the bottom for free. The hike up gains about 2,000 feet.
Out and back, 6 miles round-trip (or 3 miles if you take the tram back down)