16 Best Hikes in Lake Tahoe for All Levels ✔️ by a Local

A woman is standing on top of a rock overlooking lake tahoe.

As a California travel writer, I’m often asked about my favorite destinations in this beautiful, large state of mine. Without a doubt, high on my list, you will always find the stunning area of Lake Tahoe.

When I head up to this region of Northern California, I’m always looking for new ways to explore its natural beauty, wildlife, and serenity. A jaw-dropping alpine lake tucked into the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe, is filled with scenic vistas, amazing hiking trails, inspirational climbs, and the most crystal clear, turquoise water typically reserved for exotic, tropical islands.

What’s the simplest way to take in the scenery and grandeur of Lake Tahoe? Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails!

So, pack up, gear up, and come along on the journey with me as we discover the best hikes in Lake Tahoe to add to my (and your!) ever-growing list.

Quick Picks for Your Stay

If you are short on time and want to fit in as many popular Lake Tahoe hiking trails as possible, you’ll have to plan ahead.

Here are the top 3 hikes you don’t want to miss:

And here are the best hotels: Marriott’s Timber Lodge (luxury), The Coachman Hotel (mid-range), Bring the Adventure Studio Apartment (budget)

Need a little more info before you make your hotel choice? Check out our extensive list of the best Lake Tahoe areas & hotels for every budget!

Now, here’s a map of all the starting points for each trail we’ll be talking about. Please note that the hikes on this list are ordered by difficulty, from the easiest to the most challenging one.

1. Take a walk down the Stateline Fire Lookout Trail

A view of lake tahoe through pine trees.

📏 Distance: 1.7 miles (2.7 km), loop
⏱️ Time: 45 – 60 minutes
📈 Difficulty: easy
📍 Starting point: from Reservoir Drive, turn right on Lakeshore Avenue and left on Forest Service Road 1601 (by the iron pipe gate).

One of the best Lake Tahoe hikes, this stunning, leisurely, paved hike will take you across state lines!

Located near Crystal Bay, Nevada, Stateline Fire Lookout Trail (see trail map) has 305 ft (93 m) of elevation gain and stunning views of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Walk from the Nevada side to the California side and consider your vacation twice as fun!😉

NOTE: you’ll need to park on the side of the road for this one – no parking lot.

2. Hit the Cave Rock Trail

A scenic view of the lake tahoe from the top of a mountain.

📏 Distance: 0.8 miles (1.3 km), out & back
⏱️ Time: 15 minutes
📈 Difficulty: easy
📍 Starting point: turn up Cave Rock Drive and park at the hairpin turn

Located above the sandy shores of Cave Rock State Park, Cave Rock Trail (see trail map) is one of my favorite Lake Tahoe hiking trails!

You’ll find incredible views of Lake Tahoe and the Lake Tahoe area from above the rocks – my first time up there, I cried because it was so breathtakingly beautiful! 😭

3. Discover the amazing beauty of Cascade Falls Trail

A blue bird perched on rocks near a waterfall.

📏 Distance: 1.3 miles (2.1 km), round trip
⏱️ Time: 35 – 40 minutes
📈 Difficulty: easy
📍 Starting point: Bayview Trailhead – park at the far end of Bayview Campground

One of the most popular and best hikes in South Lake Tahoe, Cascade Falls Trail (see trail map) is an easy to moderate hike that will pay off BIG! 209 ft (64 m) elevation gain opening up to panoramic beauty.

The short hike in the Emerald Bay State Park area gets you quickly out to a scenic waterfall, as well as picturesque views of Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe.

This unique feature of viewing two alpine lakes on 1 single, short hike is a big draw for this hiking trail.

Keep in mind, because it is quick and rewarding, Cascade Falls Trail’s small parking lot fills up almost immediately. Arrive early if you want to nab a spot!

4. Check out the Balancing Rock Nature Trail

A large rock in the middle of a forest.

📏 Distance: 0.7 miles (1.1 km), out and back
⏱️ Time: 25 minutes
📈 Difficulty: easy
📍 Starting point: along Highway 1 at Soberanes Point

Who doesn’t love an easy, scenic hike that gets you back to the car in 30 minutes?

Balancing Rock Nature Trail (see trail map) is the perfect hike if you are pressed for time or just want to get a quick taste of what Lake Tahoe has to offer.

Taking you up a dirt road, this Lake Tahoe hike located in D.L Bliss State Park is worth making it to your list.

The scenic rock formation of ‘Balancing Rock’ is a sight to see, photograph, and stare at in awe. Surrounded by mountains and lush greenery, you’ll love the ambiance on this hike!

NOTE: closed as of Spring 2023

5. Enjoy the beauty of Fallen Leaf Lake Trail

A lake surrounded by mountains and trees.

📏 Distance: 3.5 miles (5.6 km), out & back
⏱️ Time: 1 – 1.5 hours
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: Fallen Leaf Campground

Fallen Leaf Lake Trail (see trail map) will take you on an adventure out and back on this 144 ft (44 m) elevation gain up and around this stunning lake.

A popular area for camping and water sports, the trail is usually quite populated, as well as the surrounding areas.

Having the best access to an alpine lake, this trail takes you quickly from the parking lot out into nature.

NOTE: parking lot day use fee US$10

6. Explore Floating Island & Cathedral Lakes Trail

A lake surrounded by mountains and rocks.

📏 Distance: 4.9 miles (7.9 km), round trip
⏱️ Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: trailhead on Mount Tallac Road

Floating Island & Cathedral Lake Trail (see trail map) is a beautiful hike that offers simultaneous views of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake. 

Pack a picnic lunch for this lengthy hike on the way up Mount Tallac, where you get to experience the beauty of both Floating Island Lake and Cathedral Lake.

Stop to enjoy the stunning views of these 2 alpine lakes below – the perfect place for a photo op.

7. Immerse in nature on Eagle Rock Trailhead

A man standing on top of a mountain overlooking lake tahoe.

📏 Distance: 0.7 miles (2.7 km), out & back
⏱️ Time: 25 – 30 minutes
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: right off of SR 89 in Tahoe Pines

Eagle Rock Trail (see trail map) is a beautiful, moderate hike on the west side of Lake Tahoe.

Popular for birding, hiking, and snowshoeing, this trail is busy in both the summer and winter months.

From a short hike around the back of the rock and up to the top, you’ll have epic views of the stream at the base.

8. Have fun on Echo Lakes Trail

A view of lake tahoe from a rocky cliff.

📏 Distance: 5.3 miles (8.5 km), round trip
⏱️ Time: 2 – 2.5 hours
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: off Highway 50 by the Echo Chalet

Located within the Desolation Wilderness, a federally designated wilderness area with over 63,000 acres (25,000 hectares) comprising subalpine and alpine forests, glacially formed lakes and granite mountaintops.

Echo Lakes Trail (see trail map) is a great introduction to this area and Lake Tahoe hikes! With a 511 ft (156 m) elevation gain, you’ll love the scenery of this alpine lake against the mountain backdrop.

This amazing hike is one of my favorite trails in Lake Tahoe, both for the seclusion and close access to the wild.

And one of the coolest aspects, there’s a boat taxi at the opposite side of the lake from the trailhead, so in the warmer months, you can hop on the water!

NOTE: if you plan on hiking past Lower Echo Lake, you will need a wilderness permit.

9. Take Eagle Lake Trail out to Eagle Falls

waterfall near a lake surrounded by trees

📏 Distance: 1.9 miles (3.1 km), out & back
⏱️ Time: 1 hour
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: just inside Limekiln Park entrance

One of the most picturesque hikes in Lake Tahoe, Eagle Lake Trail (see trail map) boasts some of the most dramatic views that the entire Lake Tahoe Basin has to offer.

Whether you’re looking for a good challenge, stunning views, or picturesque waterfalls, you’ll have your pick on Eagle Lake Trail.

Don’t forget to grab a permit at Eagle Falls Trailhead, prepare for some elevation gain and steep steps, and you’ll come across the awe-inspiring waterfalls.

Headed to Eagle Lake? Follow the trail uphill another half-mile (0.8 km) until you reach a split in the path – the trail on the right will lead you down to Eagle Lake.

NOTE: parking fees may apply at the trailhead.

10. Discover the serenity of Five Lakes Trail

A mountain lake surrounded by trees.

📏 Distance: 4.8 miles (7.7 km), round trip
⏱️ Time: 2.5 hours
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: Alpine Meadows Road, the trailhead is on the right-hand side, halfway up the road

The Five Lake Trail (see trail map) in the North Lake Tahoe region is a beautiful, challenging hike within the Granite Chief Wilderness in Olympic Valley.

A popular spot to fish and swim, Five Lakes Trail is ideal during the summertime after the snow has melted. Enjoy amazing views, interesting side trails, and vibrant wildflowers in the season!

NOTE: no parking lot, park on the side of the road.

11. Climb up to Granite Lake & Maggie’s Peaks

A view of lake tahoe from the top of a mountain.

📏 Distance: 4.1 miles (6.6 km), round-trip
⏱️ Time: 4 hours
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: Bayview Trailhead off Emerald Bay Road

Located in the Desolation Wilderness, the hike up to Granite Lake & Maggie’s Peaks (see trail map) is incredibly scenic.

Considered one of the most breathtaking views in all of Lake Tahoe, don’t miss the chance to explore this incredible piece of nature.

A short yet steep and amazing adventure, you’ll love the views of Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake!

Keep in mind all hikers require a permit to be here, so grab a free one at the Bayview Trailhead.

12. Conquer the Rubicon Trail North

A wooden walkway leading to a cliff overlooking lake tahoe.

📏 Distance: 18.2 miles (29.3 km), point to point
⏱️ Time: 7.5 hours
📈 Difficulty: moderate
📍 Starting point: Wentworth Springs Campground

The Rubicon Trail (see trail map) is a world-famous 4-wheel drive route for OHVs that connects the stunning D L Bliss State Park and picturesque Emerald Bay State Park.

With 4 trailheads and a 1,500 ft (457 m) elevation gain, you know you are in for a big adventure! You can begin at the Loon Lake, Wentworth Springs trailhead, Tahoe Staging Area (the endpoint of this route), or drive the historical route from Georgetown.

The scenery on this trail is dramatic and captivating: sharp granite rocks, lush greenery, fields of boulders, and wildlife above and below.

Just be wary of Cadillac Hill – it’s very steep and uneven.

PRO TIP: the Rubicon Trail is normally taken west to east (and vice versa is considered “running backward”).

13. Pick your favorite path on the Tahoe Rim Trail

A trail with rocks and flowers on it.

📏 Distance: 167 miles (269 km), loop
⏱️ Time: varies
📈 Difficulty: challenging
📍 Starting point: Spooner Summit Trailhead

The Tahoe Rim Trail (see trail map) is a challenging adventure consisting of 10 different trails, starting predominantly in South Lake Tahoe.

One of the most expansive Lake Tahoe hikes, you can play all day on the trail – mountain biking or hiking, whichever you prefer.

Try the stunning North Canyon Trail from Incline Village, the Brockway Summit, or the Marlette Lake Trail but be prepared for challenging routes!

Luckily, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, a community of volunteers from the local area, fights tirelessly to protect and preserve this impressive trail.

14. Pros won’t want to miss Mount Tallac Trail

A lake surrounded by mountains and trees.

📏 Distance: 9.6 miles (15.6 km), out and back
⏱️ Time: 7 – 7.5 hours
📈 Difficulty: challenging
📍 Starting point: Mount Tallac Trailhead sign directly across from the entrance to Baldwin Beach

Mount Tallac Trailhead (see trail map) starts by gradually climbing along the ridge, offering amazing views of Fallen Leaf Lake.

You’ll enjoy an elevation gain of 3,280 ft (1,000 m), taking you past Floating Island Lake and Cathedral Lake.

When you finally reach the summit, you’ll be blown away by the sensational views of Emerald Bay and South Lake Tahoe.

15. Hike to Winnemucca Lake Loop & Round Top Lake

view from a trail of a lake surrounded by hills and trees

📏 Distance: 7 miles (11 km), round-trip
⏱️ Time: 3 hours
📈 Difficulty: challenging
📍 Starting point: behind the Carson Pass Information Station

The Winnemucca Lake Loop & Round Top Lake Trail (see trail map) is a beautiful, moderately challenging hike taking you through the natural beauty of the area.

If you’re looking to make it more of an effort, extend your Lake Tahoe hike to see another alpine lake – Woods Lake.

This is a wonderful spot in the Mokelumne Wilderness South to enjoy the serenity of an alpine lake with surrounding mountains, wildflowers, and lush vegetation.

Super popular for camping, backpacking, and birding, so bring your binoculars!

16. Get inspired on the Pacific Crest Trail

A trail marker is attached to a tree in the woods.

📏 Distance: 2,590 miles (4,170 km), point to point
⏱️ Time: approximately 5 months
📈 Difficulty: hard
📍 Starting point: Donner Summit

One of the most famous Lake Tahoe hikes, the Pacific Crest Trail (see trail map), is known worldwide for being one of the most traveled Lake Tahoe hiking trails!

Stretching from Mexico to Canada, the PCT travels through California, Oregon, and Washington.

Intersecting the west side of Lake Tahoe, Donner Summit allows you to begin the first part of your hike on the trail then you’ll stumble across Lake Azalea before arriving at Flora Lake.

While many backpackers spend years planning for this epic adventure, you can get just a small taste of it by experiencing the trailhead from the Lake Tahoe region.

👪 Most kid-friendly:Cave Rock
✨ Best views:Granite Lake & Maggie’s Peaks
😀 Easiest trail:Stateline Fire Lookout Trail
💪 Most challenging trail:Mount Tallac

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe

Take a look below for my best recommendations on where to stay on any budget, with prices ranging from US$150 to US$280 and above.

collage of 3 images with: a pool, bedroom and lounge area

Luxury (US$280 and up)

  • Marriott’s Timber Lodge – located at the base of Heavenly Ski Resort, this luxury hotel is comfortable, convenient, and loaded with great amenities and an awesome outdoor swimming pool!
  • Black Bear Lodge – the quintessential luxury mountain lodge, this hotel oozes cozy vibes with gorgeous rooms, brilliantly adorned fireplaces, and enticing, secluded hot tub areas.

Mid-Range (US$175 – US$250)

  • The Coachman Hotel – this is a great option if you want to be close to the Heavenly Ski Resort gondola, at only 5 minute walk away, you’ll be centered in all of Lake Tahoe’s action. Check out their beautiful hot tub and outdoor swimming pool!
  • Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge & Spa – I love that this hotel sits on its own private beach on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Complete with an incredible swimming pool, awesome on-site activities, and a full-service spa.

Budget (up to US$175)

  • Tahoe Seasons Resort – a great budget option, this hotel has large suites, an outdoor swimming pool & hot tub, as well as stunning mountain views from every room.
  • Bring the Adventure Studio Apartment – this apartment-style option is perfectly decorated, with a comfortable king-sized bed, private parking, and free Wi-Fi.

Check the rates here

FAQs about the best hikes in Lake Tahoe

Two people standing on a cliff overlooking a lake.

🚶 Which part of Lake Tahoe is best for hiking?

Lake Tahoe has incredible hiking opportunities all over its perimeter, but the southwest region is the most popular for hiking.

🌲 What is the prettiest place in Lake Tahoe?

Emerald Bay State Park is considered the prettiest place in Lake Tahoe, but you’ll have to be the judge of that!

🎒 What are the hardest hikes in Lake Tahoe?

A few of the hardest hikes in Lake Tahoe are the Pacific Crest Trail, Mount Tallac, and Winnemucca Lake Loop.

🌊 Is Lake Tahoe good for hiking?

Yes! Lake Tahoe is excellent for hiking in both the winter and summer seasons.

Conclusion

tahoe waterfall at sunset

Be honest, isn’t hiking in Lake Tahoe one of the most freeing and adventurous things you’ve done in your life?

The alpine lake beauty, the fresh air, the unspoiled nature – it all comes together to create the vibrant and unforgettable atmosphere that is Lake Tahoe.

You know I’m desperate to hear about your adventure, so don’t be a stranger! 📲

And, keep in mind you want to maximize your time and experience by booking your priority hotels and activities in advance!

I’d love it if you’d comment below with some of your favorite hikes from the list, and feel free to share any life-altering epiphanies you had along the trails! 😉

Aloha & safe travels,

Hayden G.


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view of a lake surrounded by trees

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