Hiking Cold Creek Trail (via Pioneer Trail in South Tahoe)

Bridge at Cold Creek Trail

Cold Creek Trail is a multi-use trail that accommodates hikers and mountain bikers and connects with other trails further up the draw.

The Cold Creek Trail doesn’t offer spectacular views but it’s flanked on either side by mountainous walls creating one of the best things about this trail, which is that within a minute of hiking there are few indications you’re still in civilization.

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Also, due to its close proximity to Cold Creek, the trail offers many places in which to dip your toes during the warmer months.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily add this hike to your Lake Tahoe bucket list, it’s a great little trail that’s close by if you’re staying anywhere near Pioneer Trail.

Cold Creek Trail Data (approximations):

  • Location: South Tahoe – Pioneer Trail
  • Category of Hike: Short Hike, Day Hike
  • Total Mileage: 2.5 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Highest Point: 6,565 feet
  • Trail Conditions: Hard-packed sand

For other shorter hiking options, visit Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe.

Considerations for Hiking Cold Creek Trail:

  • Parking at the water substation gate is OK, but don’t block the gate
  • Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them
  • Adhere to all Leave No Trace principles
  • There are few trail signs and markers on public lands in the Tahoe region, so unless there are tracks to follow, the correct route may be difficult to identify–when in doubt, turn back
  • Be prepared for inclement weather and carry plenty of warm clothes, food, and water
  • Leave an itinerary of your plans with someone who’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time
Click on the above map to enlarge it for printing and better viewing. This map is only for reference and shows the general route up the Cold Creek Hiking Trail. Always carry a traditional topographic map and compass when traveling in the backcountry.

Parking Directions for the Cold Creek Hiking Trail:

Parking at the water substation entrance (be sure you don’t block the gate) on Pioneer Trail between the roads named Cold Creek Trail and High Meadow Trail is what many people do when hiking the Cold Creek Trail. The substation is 4.5 miles from HWY 50 in Meyers and 3.25 miles from HWY 50 near Stateline. Parking is very limited.

The trailhead to Cold Creek Trail is at the water substation on Pioneer Trail (road).

Granite boulders on Cold Creek Trail on May 16, 2016. © Jared Manninen

For an alternative location at which to park, you can drive up High Meadow Trail (road) southwest from the water substation. At the end of High Meadow Trail (road) you’ll find the trailhead. As usual, don’t block the gate.

Beginning at this location dramatically shortens the distance and elevation gain of your hike to Cold Creek, so essentially it’s a different trail compared to what this article is about. But if the parking is packed at the water substation, this is your best optional access point.

Here’s a map to assist you in finding the parking area for accessing the Cold Creek Hiking Trail at the water substation.

Travel along the Cold Creek Hiking Trail:

On Pioneer Trail at the water substation, between the roads named Cold Creek Trail and High Meadow Trail, you’ll find the trailhead for Cold Creek Trail.

Cold Creek Trail immediately heads upward from the substation, so be prepared for the elevation gain. Also, this is a common exit point for many mountain bikers, so keep an eye looking uphill while hiking because bikers may be riding downhill toward you.

Since the Cold Creek Trail basically heads up a forested draw, you won’t be treated to any long views or panoramic scenes. However, this is also one of the trail’s endearing qualities, which is that despite the fact it’s close to some neighborhoods along Pioneer Trail you’ll feel like you’re deep into the mountains. The high walls on either side of the trail shield the immediate area from any road noise.

Copyright © 2016 Jared Manninen
Lupine along the Cold Creek Trail on May 16, 2016. © Jared Manninen

At 1.25 miles there is a natural turnaround point with a beautifully constructed bridge that spans Cold Creek. This spot also happens to be a nexus of trails, namely Cold Creek Trail, Powerline Trail, and High Meadow Road. Powerline Trail is mostly a traverse and it does offer some glimpses of Lake Tahoe, so head along that trail if you have the time.

For other shorter hiking options, visit Short and Easy Hikes in South Lake Tahoe.

The Cold Creek Trail is appropriate for snowshoeing in the winter, but not favorable for cross-country skiing as there are a number of large granite boulders along the trail and some steep windy sections to negotiate.

Copyright © 2016 Jared Manninen
Hiking down Cold Creek Trail on May 16, 2016. Again, this trail doesn’t offer spectacular views, but sometimes simply spending an hour or two hiking through a secluded forest is all it takes to reset the mind and spirit. © Jared Manninen

Do you have other insight, feedback, or trail updates about hiking Cold Creek Trail?

If so, please post it in the comment section below for the benefit of everybody 🙂