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Where to hike in South Lake Tahoe

Go on a Hike in South Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is surrounded by mountains, snowcapped peaks, valleys and lakes. The whole area is generally referred to as the Tahoe Basin. There are a multitude of trails to hike in South Lake Tahoe. Each of these comes with gorgeous views of undulating hills, rocky peaks and (even in the summer), snow capped mountains and, of course, the beautiful Lake Tahoe.

One of our favourite past times (among a bunch of other free summer activities) while staying in South Lake Tahoe has been to hike. If you’re wondering where to hike in South Lake Tahoe, here are four of our favourite hikes in order of difficulty.

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Left: Wildflowers, snow and the view on Mt Tallac. Right: Lake of the Woods from Echo Lake

Lower Eagle Falls

This one is a hike to a hike in South Lake Tahoe. You have to hike down to Vikingsholm/Emerald Bay from the roadside parking lot. The hike down is 1.6km. When you reach the bottom follow the signs for lower Eagle Falls. This is a short trail with a few stairs before you get to the viewpoint to see the falls. As a bonus there is usually a small beach where you can swim and hangout, water levels were super high when we were there so the beach was very small!

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If you’re interested you can also take a tour of Vikingsholme. This is a holiday home built in the 1920’s inspired by Scandinavian architecture. The walk back up to the parking lot isn’t nearly as bad as you would think, personally we found the downward trip more taxing. If you’re feeling very lazy you can also view the falls from the top next to the road.

The drive to the start of this hike is also very scenic and quite dramatic at stages as you drive along narrow ridge line between with sheer drops on either side. There are a number off pullouts along the road if you want to stop for photos.

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Emerald Bay from the parking lot

Railroad Grade/ Powerline Trail

This hike in South Lake Tahoe is a very easy to access trail and starts in a residential suburb. You can make this as long, or short a hike as you wish. The trailhead is situated in the cul-de-sac on Columbine Trail. The first part of the trail is called Railroad Grade. It follows the banks of Trout Creek with gentle ups and downs. It is 2.4km long and ends on Powerline Trail. You can follow Powerline Trail in either direction from the junction. It has a few other trails branching off it as well.

If you’re looking to do about 10km of not too strenuous hiking take a left where Railroad and Powerline trails intersect. Take your first right onto Corral Trail and follow this up to the intersection with Cedar Trail. Cedar Trail will bring you back down to Powerline. Turn right where the trails meet and follow Powerline back to the culdesac where you started. You should get a few glimpses of Lake Tahoe in the distance.

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Picnic stop on Powerline Trail

Echo Lake to Lake of the Woods

This is an out and back hike in South Lake Tahoe, so again the distance is up to you. It starts with an undulating trail that follows the shores of Lower Echo Lake before heading into the desolation wilderness. You have to register your hiking party at the start of the hike and carry your permit with you. Registration is free. The trail head is just behind the dam wall near the general store. Some of the trail gets technical with loose rocks etc underfoot and on a hot day there is very little shade for long stretches of the trail. Carry lots of water!

We hiked out to Lake of the Woods for a total of 17.7km. The last bit going to the lake is a quick, steep climb up and then switchbacks down to the lake. It is beautiful down there though, well worth the effort. You can also head to Lake Aloha if you don’t take the split for Lake of the Woods. This trail also follows a part of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Pack fishing rods if you want as a lot of the lakes up there hold some trout.

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Echo Lake
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Incredible views of Lake of the Woods

Mt Tallac

This was definitely the best hike in South Lake Tahoe we did. Rather than taking the more popular hike up the ‘front’ of Mt Tallac we took a longer more scenic route around the back. It was 20km round trip. The trailhead is situated at the far end of Fallen Leaf Lake. There are a few parking bays but they fill up quickly on the weekend. This is also a popular starting point for back country campers as there are a number of smaller lakes off the same trail.

The terrain varies a lot on the hike – loose gravel, hard packed earth, rocky slopes and possibly some snow! The scenery is spectacular as you go through the valley and start ascending the back of the mountain. The last bit to reach the peak is a scramble across loose rocks and boulders so can be quite tricky. The view at the top is completely worth it as you have almost 360 degree vistas of Lake Tahoe and the surrounds. At the start of the Glen Alpine trailhead keep following the Mt Tallac and Gilmore Lake signs.

Gilmore Lake was a place for a rest on the way up and down. There is a tricky water/river crossing at the outlet. It was also a great place for a swim on the way down. You will also pass a small hot spring you can poke your fingers into near the start of the hike. Also, be aware this a backcountry hike so you have to register your hiking party at the trailhead and carry a permit.

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Gilmore Lake on route up Mt Tallac
hike in south lake tahoe
Lake Tahoe from Mt Tallac

Here is a map with all the trailheads and turnoffs marked.

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