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Land Of Million Alpine Lakes: Tahoe, California

Can you imagine a hiking trail which passes by four or even more beautiful, crystal clear alpine lakes surrounded by picturesque granite peaks?

There’s more than one trail at Lake Tahoe which satisfies those criterias and you don’t need to hike for days to reach them, a lot of them are so close!

We are completely aware that we are biased when we talk or write about Tahoe, but it’s one of our favorite hiking places in California – and that’s a fact. (And part of Tahoe’s east shore is already Nevada, that’s a fact, too, I know.) It’s just a real paradise for hiking freaks like us.

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It’s not just one big lake, there’s a lot more here!

This huge, crystal clear, deep blue alpine lake stole our heart at the first sight! And as we discovered the countless smaller, hidden alpine lakes in the area, we have just started to realize how ideal place this is for hiking and recharging in nature’s inimitable beauties.

The MUST-SEE: Emerald Bay

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Emerald Bay is kind of the icon of Lake Tahoe – a fabulous icon!

The most beautiful shoreline hike leads just along the bay, but it’s also accessible by car, so you can just hang out on the beach or take a boat tour to charming little Fannette Island in the middle of the bay.

Best shoreline hike: Rubicon Trail

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We hiked the Rubicon Trail along Tahoe’s coastline which is a beautiful scenic day hike – with a section along Emerald Bay, too.

We started at the Rubicon trailhead and turned back at Vikingsholm – which is far from the end of the trail, but we wanted a casual hike with lots of rest stops when we just lied on the shore, enjoyed the views and cooled down our feets in the lake.

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Rubicon is a popular and busy trail, so expect a lot of people there. However you will be rewarded with the best close views of Lake Tahoe and there’s a lot of access points to the shore, too.

Best panorama: Maggie Peaks

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When I think of Lake Tahoe, the first picture coming to my mind is the view of Emerald Bay from the trail toward Maggie Peaks.

This 3 miles trail (round trip) has great panoramas of Tahoe and other alpine lakes on the way, but the best of it comes at the end: a view of Tahoe and 6-7 other – some closer, some more distant – alpine lakes from Maggie Peaks itself. Peaks here mean two peaks and you should definitely climb up to both of them to decide which has the best views – just to figure out that you can’t decide. 🙂

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Moderately busy, well maintained trail. Granite Lake is a hidden gem and a perfect rest stop at around halfway to the peaks.

Hiking essentials
  • start at Bayview Trailhead and head toward Desolation Wilderness at the end of the campground (signs are very straightforward)
  • you need permit even for a day hike to Desolation Wilderness, but it’s free and available at the crossing at the end of the campground
  • climbing to the peaks at the end of this hike includes some off-trail travel – I think it was pretty straightforward, but it’s good to have a map just in case

Best walk: Donner Lake

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Hidden in the mountains northwest of Tahoe, Donner Lake is a charming place for outdoor activities. Walking on the short trails of Donner Memorial State Park with the views of the lake is just refreshing.

There’s tons of opportunities for kayak or paddleboat renting, too, if you want to explore the lake. We spent such a fun afternoon there!

One day getaway to the wilderness: Twin Lakes

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Perfectly clear alpine lakes reflecting the nearby granite peaks as mirrors – this is what you get on the trail starting from Wrights Lake toward Twin Lakes.

Our first and last things to do was having a rest stop (yepp, even before starting the hike :)) at Wrights Lake and enjoy the calm morning and evening view.

Then it was a steep hike to reach Twin Lakes and because we still had time, we ventured even a bit more further to Island Lake – which is a very special one with lots of small islands in it.

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This adventurous day hike leads into the heart of the wilderness. It’s not busy at all, just a perfect getaway from crowd and noise.

Hiking essentials
  • you need permit even for a day hike to Desolation Wilderness, but it’s free and available at the trailhead
  • parking at Wrights Lake Campground is only for campers, but there’s a lot of space for parking before the campground – it’s just 5 minutes extra walk

Peaceful & quiet hike: Marlette Lake

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If you don’t want to see much people, check out the east coast of Tahoe (it’s in Nevada, by the way). The most beautiful, peaceful hike for us there is the 5 miles trail (round trip) to Marlette Lake.

Hiking essentials
  • finding the trailhead could be a bit challenging and the trail itself is also not straightforward at some sections so be sure to have a map
  • to get to the trailhead: take Route 28 south out of Incline Village for 5 miles to the parking area just across the road from the Chimney Beach trailhead and look for a logging road – parking is at the beginning of that road

Swimming?

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Tahoe’s nice beaches and the other beautiful alpine lakes are tempting to jump in for a short swim, but they are actually very cold. We’ve seen a few people swimming, but these lakes are definitely not swimming lakes for us, even in the middle of the summer – we tried though…

Water temperature near Tahoe’s surface is usually around 40-50℉ (4.5 to 10℃), sometimes it can warm up to 65 to 70℉ (18 to 21℃) during August and September. It’s the second deepest lake in the US (501 m) and its surface elevation is at 1897 m, by the way, so no wonder it’s so cold.

Where to stay?

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There’s tons of campgrounds in the area, but if you prefer sleeping in bed, you can choose from accommodations in the nearby towns like South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City, Incline Village – just to mention few of them.

Best time to visit

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Hiking season at Tahoe starts at Memorial Day (end of May) and ends at Labour Day (beginning of September). The weather is usually sunny and hot during the day in this period, nights can still be chilly.

Of course, from late autumn until mid-spring it’s also high season – for skiing and snowshoe hiking, but that’s a different story…

Do you have a favorite alpine lake?

LandOfMillionAlpineLakesTahoeCA

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