Hiking Lake Tahoe’s Rubicon Trail

If you are thinking about hiking in California’s Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe should be on your list. Tahoe’s best shoreline, the Rubicon Trail should also be on that list.

Lake Tahoe has a special place in our hearts. It was our first hiking trip after we moved to California, and we fell in love with it immediately. And we don’t only mean the lake itself, though it’s an incredibly blue, crystal clear and deep alpine lake that’s worth talking about, but we also mean all of the hiking trails starting in the area around Lake Tahoe. Exploring its shoreline and all the other smaller, hidden alpine lakes offer endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. And one of our favorites is Rubicon Trail.

Why is Rubicon Trail special?

Rubicon Trail, Lake Tahoe, California, USA

It’s not just us who like Rubicon Trail so much, it’s a popular and busy trail for a good reason: it’s the most scenic shoreline hike along Lake Tahoe, offering the best close views and several access points to the lake.

The entire hike is 5 miles one-way and can be done as a day hike there and back. It starts from D.L. Bliss State Park and ends in Emerald Bay State Park – or the other way around. If you have two cars to leave at the two trailheads, you can do it as a one-way hike. We didn’t, but it didn’t matter to us either, because it’s such a delight to be on this trail. We enjoyed the amazing vista points, we went down to the lake at all the access points where we could.

Lake Tahoe’s Rubicon Trail

Emerald Bay and its beach

One access point was Emerald Bay itself with its pretty sandy beach in the shade of the pine forest. Water temperatures are probably the best in Emerald Bay as it’s a protected, shallow bay. Don’t expect pleasant temperatures though, Lake Tahoe is an alpine lake. Its surface is usually around 40-50oF (4.5 to 10oC), sometimes it can warm up to 65 to 70oF (18 to 21oC) during August and September.

Where to start and where to rest?

Rubicon Trail, Lake Tahoe, California, USA

Turn to Lester Beach Road from Emerald Bay Road, and this takes you to the paid parking lot of D.L. Bliss State Park. Rubicon Trail starts from there. Lester Beach is also accessible from that parking lot, if you’re planning to do a short swim before or after the hike. We tried to swim, because it was a hot and sunny July day, but I told you… water is cold. We got out quickly. 😀 Lester Beach is nice though.

The lake access points were our favorite places to rest a bit during the hike – though the trail is really not that demanding that you have to make lots of rest stops, it was just so nice to sit and marvel at everything around us. A particularly lovely, small cove is located at Emerald Point, right before reaching Emerald Bay.

Lake Tahoe’s Rubicon Trail

Best time to do this hike

Located in the Sierra Nevada at a surface elevation of 6225 feet (1897 meters) winter definitely exists at Lake Tahoe, and it’s cold and snowy. The hiking season lasts from late May until early September, and the weather is usually sunny and hot during the day in this period. Evenings get chilly.

Where to stay

Lake Tahoe’s Rubicon Trail

There are plenty of options: a lot of campgrounds in the area, and hotels of any kind in the nearby towns like South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City, Incline Village – just to mention a few of them. Summer is busy though, so you better book accommodation well in advance.

Summary of all the details

  • Trailhead: Rubicon Trailhead in D.L. Bliss State Park (paid parking)
  • Length: 5 miles one-way from D.L. Bliss State Park to Emerald Bay State Park
  • Difficulty: moderate

Would you visit Lake Tahoe?

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Lake Tahoe Rubicon Trail, California, USA

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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