Three Days Hiking the Trails in and around Lake Tahoe

After living in California for almost 20 years and never having been to Lake Tahoe, I felt it was finally time to head up to this world class destination.

A small group of us decided to spend 3 days hiking some of the most magnificent trails in the area while staying in a lodge as our home base in South Lake Tahoe. We also got a kayak session in on the lake to add to our adventure weekend.

Here is how you can plan out a hiking and adventure weekend in beautiful Lake Tahoe.

Day One:

After a hearty breakfast head for D.L Bliss State Park to hike the Rubicon Peak Trail, a 10-mile out and back that makes its way to the iconic Emerald Bay. If you are there on a weekend, start your hike early (before 9a) as parking fills up very quick. The trail hugs the vertical hills above the west side of Lake Tahoe, winding along the coastline and affording spectacular views. I would not say it is an easy hike nor would I say it is a strenuous hike, but there are enough ups and downs throughout the trail to make it moderately challenging.

Once you are 5 miles in at Emerald Bay it is a good place to stop and eat your packed lunch. There is a campground there with restrooms. Nearby at Emerald Bay is Vikingsholm Castle, a unique mansion built in 1929 that you can explore around too. Hike back the way you came and do not worry, you will never get tired of the spectacular views, they will look just as amazing the 2nd time around. (If you’re in a group with two cars and want to make this a 5-mile and not a 10-mile hike, you could position a car at Emerald Bay parking and just drive back to your other car parked at D.LBliss where you started the trail.).

Day Two:

Your hike today is the Mount Judah Loop near the famed Donner Pass, known as the most significant square mile in California and perhaps the entire Western United States. It is a little ways drive away from Lake Tahoe (about 30 min.), but well worth it for the vistas and for history lovers. The first wagon trains to come to California came over Donner Summit as well as the first transcontinental railroad followed by the first transcontinental highway and telephone line. Charlie Chaplin’s “Gold Rush” silent film was filmed up here. And of course, the sobering story of the Donner family pioneers who got stuck in an early Sierra snowstorm while attempting an overland trip still captivates historians and travelers today to this area.

Parking for this trail is just east of Donner Ski Ranch, turn south from Highway 40 on to Old Donner Summit Road and the trailhead parking lot is a left hand turn about 800 feet down the road. A good section of the 4.6 mile loop trail (1,100 ft. elevation gain) is on the iconic Pacific Crest Trail, which runs all the way from Mexico to Canada passing through the American states of California, Oregon and Washington, so you’ll have some bragging rights that you hiked on some of the PCT. There are really great views from the summit of Mount Judah at 8,000 ft.

Day Three:

Start your day with some kayaking or paddle boarding on the lake. Mornings are best for this when the water is calmer. There are plenty of locations all around the lake that offer rentals. It is best to reserve ahead of time. Have a water-proof carrier for your phone and/or camera or in most cases the staff will hold it for you in their office while you are on the water.

Finish your Lake Tahoe hiking with a 3-mile hike near Zephyr Cove – the Castle Rock Loop Trail. The hike joins up with and then leaves a portion of the Tahoe Rim trail. You will hike through the forest and then be rewarded with some great views up at this iconic granite peak. You may choose to do some optional rock scrambling at the top if you want too.

As I sat on the beach back in South Lake Tahoe while the sun went down over the lake on our last evening I reflected on how essential good physical and mental health is to keep our immune systems strong. Walking, hiking, and trekking trips, such as the ones I provide for small groups in the great outdoors, can help with that important cause. That’s why I have scheduled many more adventures in the coming months and in 2021, including 4 days trekking on Southern California’s Backbone Trail, 4 days trekking the Trans Catalina Island Trail, Wine and Waterfalls Hiking and Tasting in the Finger Lakes and a Rim-to-Rim Hike in the Grand Canyon (including 2 nights at the historic Phantom Ranch). Please feel free to reach out to me about these programs or any outdoor adventures you would like to be a part of.

About Author
Jack Witt