Top hiking and biking trails to explore in North Tahoe
The largest alpine lake in North America is also one of the continent’s most scenic, making getting outdoors and exploring the surrounding area on foot or on two wheels a must. You’ll discover a stunning view around practically every bend – and, as North Tahoe is renowned for its more tranquil atmosphere, it’s the ideal region for a serene hike or bike ride. For the best of the best, head out on one of these jaw-dropping routes that will take you far from the crowds and into pristine wilderness.
Tamarack Peak is one of the iconic North Tahoe peaks, located near Mount Rose under the shadow of some of the region’s tallest mountains. While it may not be as high as those dramatic 10,000-feet-tall or higher peaks, it’s one of the top attractions in the Mount Rose area, no matter what the season. When all that powdery snow melts, it’s a top spot for a hike. While there is a slight climb at the beginning and downhill at the end, the trail is mostly level making it suitable for most levels of fitness.
Start at the Mount Rose Trail parking lot, nine miles east of the 28-431 junction near Incline Village. The gentle six-mile loop has less than a 500-foot elevation gain throughout and can be accomplished in just two- to three-hours, but ideally, take it a slower pace to soak up the panoramic vistas. Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Basin, and western Nevada all come into view, and at the midway point you’ll reach a magnificent waterfall too – a perfect place for a picnic.
Mount Watson Lake Loop at Northstar
Northstar California is famous for its outstanding winter skiing, but it also happens to offer lift-access hiking during the warmer months of the year which provides access to multiple hiking trails. The Watson Lake Loop is one of the longer treks, but it’s also quite family-friendly. The six-mile route starts at the Tahoe Zephyr lift and has about a 1,000-foot elevation gain, following a stretch of the Tahoe Rim Trail before culminating at Watson Lake. Your reward is this especially serene lake, nearly round in shape, sitting at about 7800 feet in elevation. You’ll also be able to take in all the quintessential beauty the Tahoe region is so renowned for, including 360-degree views of the entire Lake Tahoe-Truckee area.
Five Lakes Trail
This easy hike near Alpine Meadows requires only a moderate level of fitness, due to the climb at the beginning with an elevation gain of just under 1,000 feet. It’s ideal for tackling on a warm summer day with its variety of cool, shaded areas at the end, and you won’t have to suffer for long in the heat with the route just two miles, about an hour’s hike, each way. While you could complete the round-trip journey in two hours, if you have more time, you can spend all day exploring the lakes. All five are open for swimming and fishing. At Mile 2 of the trail, you’ll have the option to continue to travel to the other lakes, or you could even venture as far south as Mexico or as far north as Canada via the Pacific Crest Trail.
Access the Five Lakes Trail about two miles down the Alpine Meadows access road, marked with a small sign. The route meanders alongside and crosses Five Lakes Creek before reaching Whiskey Creek with a number of detours and intersecting trails along the way.
Tunnel Creek Trail
This trail, also known as the Flume Trail, is ideal for both hiking or mountain biking. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque mountain bike trail in the entire nation. No matter what you intend to utilize it for, this one showcases some of the most impressive views of Lake Tahoe you’ll find. It begins at the Tunnel Creek Café near Incline Village (ideal for fueling up with breakfast first). As it starts to climb, those vistas just keep getting better and better. You’ll have the option to take the moderate main trail or a more challenging, steeper trail up Monkey Rock, one of the best overlooks in the region. Over the years, this monkey-shaped rock has developed an even more distinct face, with nostrils and an ear carved into it. Toward the end of the journey, you’ll find a shaded, wooded area that leads away from the lake. It continues as the Flume Trail which is frequently utilized by mountain bikers, though most hikers turn around. If you’re looking for sunset views, this is one of the most amazing spots to watch the sun go down, with the colours splashing across the lake and mountain ridges.
While this trail can be hiked within a few hours, out and back, in the summer when the snow is gone you can keep travelling, on bike or on foot, all the way to Marlette Lake for a 15-mile round-trip adventure. While it’s a long distance it’s also fairly moderate due to the steady climb with the elevation gain of 1,400 feet all within the first couple of miles and then all flat terrain after that.
Glenshire Lake Loop Trail
Short on time, energy or both? Hiking with small children? This short, flat dirt trail that’s easy to navigate is ideal for families and others who want to get out and enjoy the fresh air and spectacular scenery without putting in a ton of effort. Tucked within Truckee’s alpine peaks, you’ll discover endless mountain views – and, as a section of it crosses a lush wildflower-filled meadow while circling the tranquil waters, you can take lots of postcard-perfect pics that include fun pops of colour. Head out just before dusk to walk under the soft glow of a sunset, or even go after dark to stroll under a star-filled sky.
The Glenshire Lake Loop Trail is located behind the Glenshire Clubhouse, just under six miles from downtown Truckee.
Stateline Fire Lookout Trail
One of the best views of the North Tahoe shore can be experienced from the Stateline Fire Lookout hiking trail, situated on the California/Nevada border near Crystal Bay. As it’s just a mile-and-a-half round-trip, it’s also ideal for families with small children and anyone seeking a short but rewarding hike. The Stateline Lookout was one of the earliest lookouts built in the Tahoe Basin, constructed in 1936 at an elevation of over 7,000 feet. While it was dismantled nearly two decades ago due to technological advances in detecting fires which made human spotters too pricey, hikers can still explore the tower’s base at the top.
The trail is just 1.8-miles out and back with a loop at the top, gaining 335 feet. Keep in mind that the old forest road the trail follows is paved rather than a traditional dirt path, making it easier to manage. From the moment you park your car off Reservoir Drive in Crystal Bay, following the sign that reads ‘Fire Lookout,” you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking lake views that continue to get even better with every step you take. Be sure to bring a camera, and plan for extra time to rest on the benches overlooking Tahoe and read the interpretative signs along the way.
Shirley Canyon Trail
The Shirley Canyon Trail, also known as the Shirley Lake Trail, is one of North Tahoe’s most popular hikes. Located in Squaw Valley, about midway between Tahoe City and Truckee on Highway 89, it traverses through rugged canyon walls and over granite rocks as it makes its way to Shirley Lake, with the canyon forming the headwaters of Squaw Creek. Of all the treks in this region, none deliver the splendor of the granite architecture more than this. It also happens to be one of the best waterfall hikes with numerous small cascades and tranquil pools to enjoy along the way. While the path splits and braids multiple times, no matter which you decide to take all variations will bring you upward, and eventually reconnect. In total, the main Shirley Canyon Trail to the lake is only a little over two miles. From the lake, you can make your return, or continue to the Squaw Valley Ski Area and take the free cable car back down.
To reach the trailhead, head to Squaw Valley via Highway 89 from Tahoe City, taking Squaw Valley Road to Squaw Peak Road, parking at the end of the lop as it becomes Squaw Peak Way.
Tahoe City to Sugar Pine Point
Both mountain bikers and hikers can take advantage of this path that runs for nine miles, leading from Tahoe City, stretching to Sugar Pine Point near Meeks Bay. A dedicated pedestrian/biking path, the entire route is paved and ideal for families who want to enjoy a fairly easy but rewarding scenic walk or ride without dealing with traffic. It flows throughout Tahoe’s west shore, offering accessibility for more biking, reaching close to several of the lake’s premier ski resorts. Begin near Fanny Bridge at the Truckee River in Tahoe City on the west side of Lake Tahoe at Fairway Drive and Highway 89.
While you’re in the area, you can also explore Sugar Pine Point State Park which is home to one of the finest remaining natural areas on the lake and offers nearly two-miles of lake frontage as well. Another highlight in the park is the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion, or Pine Lodge, a historic summer home built around the turn-of-the-20th-century, providing a fascinating look at the lifestyles of the wealthy in the area.
Sawtooth offers a beginning/intermediate bike ride on a 9-mile single-track loop, though it'. As it contains no more than 200 feet of elevation gain over its course, it’s a fun ride without putting in a ton of effort, providing outstanding scenery and multiple overlooks, including the Truckee River Canyon which stands over the Truckee River. The trail is open to hikers as well, making Access is from the FS06 fire road with lies off Thelin Drive in the Sierra Meadows neighborhood, with the trailhead clearly marked.
Incline Village Path
The Incline Village Path is made up of several short, paved paths. Ideal for walking or biking, you’ll find a 2.5-mile section between old Ponderosa Ranch and Lakeshore Drive and another 2.5-mile stretch between the lake and Sierra Nevada College. Continue to the end of the trail that begins at Gateway Park, following the lake’s shoreline for 2.5 miles, and you can connect with several different biking trails too.