Tahoe Trail Guide is your online resource for hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing at Lake Tahoe. To help you navigate this website more effectively, I’ve organized it into three main categories. They are Tahoe Trails, Lessons Learned, and Trail Journal. To further help you search the site, I’ve tagged each article with specific search words. When looking at the search word “cloud,” you’ll notice that some words appear larger (literally bigger, not necessarily longer) than others. This means there are more articles related to those search words. Below is a brief description of each Tahoe Trail Guide category, followed by a few notes regarding the long-term vision for the website.
The trails featured on Tahoe Trail Guide will be located in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin, although there will be some that extend beyond. For example, the Pacific Crest Trail travels far north and south of the Tahoe Basin, and the Tahoe Yosemite Trail begins at Meeks Bay and continues south to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. There are also numerous national forests and wilderness areas that either border Lake Tahoe or are close to it. Trails in these areas will also be featured on Tahoe Trail Guide.
To help you select a specific type or length of trail in which to hike, I’ve organized the Tahoe Trails into three distinct groups. Use the following search words to help you figure out where to go.
- Family Fun Hikes: “Where’s a good place to go hiking?” was the most common question I was asked while working at a backpacking store in South Lake Tahoe for three years. This isn’t surprising, but it was a challenge to answer when the person asking was standing beside their eight year old son and 80 year old mother. For this reason, I’ve compiled on Tahoe Trail Guide a series of short, easy Lake Tahoe hikes to accommodate people of all ages. These short and easy hikes will be approximately five miles or less in distance and generally feature 500 feet or less of elevation gain. Lake Tahoe is nestled in the mountains, after all, so it can be difficult to find any stretch of 5 miles where you won’t be doing some climbing. But when you’re limited in how far you can hike, how high you can climb, or are just plain short on time, choose a family fun hike!
- Day Hikes: These day hikes are between 5-12 miles long. I’ve found that the average hiker doesn’t usually plan to hike more than a dozen miles in one day. Depending on circumstances such as elevation gain, weather, and snow pack some of the longer family fun hikes could be considered day hikes as well. Since the Lake Tahoe region is located within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s generally accepted that elevation gain is a more important factor than the distance in miles when determining how long a hike will take you to complete. One rule of thumb you can use when calculating how long a mountainous hike along an established trail will take you is to first determine the amount of elevation you will be climbing. Then, for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain estimate that it will take one hour when maintaining a typical 2 miles/hour hiking pace. For example, if you plan to hike Mount Tallac and have looked at a map, you will know that the parking lot sits at about 6,430′, while the summit is at 9,735′. Therefore, you will have to contend with 3,305 feet of elevation gain (9,735-6,430) which means that you can expect to spend a little over three hours climbing to the top of Mount Tallac at a standard hiking pace.
- Multi-Day Hikes: The multi-day hikes featured on Tahoe Trail Guide will generally be longer than 12 miles. Of course many people can and will cover much more ground in a day, particularly those who are mentally and physically prepared. However, for most average hikers and backpackers, 12 miles is considered more than enough for a single day’s worth of hiking. So, anything longer than 12 miles will be categorized on this site as a multi-day hike. Also, any excursion (to include cross-country skiing and snowshoeing) that features at least one overnight will tagged “multi-day hikes.”
Each Tahoe Trail features a brief description that includes:
- A teaser paragraph describing highlights of the trail
- Trail Data* (total mileage, total elevation gain, the trail’s highest point, and a terse description of the type of trail)
- Parking instructions
- Notes about traveling along the trail
* Please note these are approximations. Total Mileage is the total round-trip mileage of the trail. With regard to Total Elevation Gain here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you may need to reconsider your idea of “flat.” I consider a route that features only 300-500 feet of elevation gain versus one that includes 2,000-3,500 feet of elevation gain flat. The trail’s Highest Point may not relate to the end feature of the hike. For example, the highest point of the hike to Cascade Falls is actually nearest the trailhead.
If you like the map and would like to order a poster or print of it, visit my RedBubble account.
The articles classified as Lessons Learned will be educational in nature. Some posts will contain bits of wisdom I’ve gathered over the years while others will feature specific skills in which to learn and practice. Topics will range from cross-country skiing techniques to operating backpacking stoves to setting up an improvised shelter. Also, I will provide a number of different “systems” reviews where I discuss and show the pros/cons of various outdoor-related systems such as water filtration, backcountry cookware, and classic cross-country skis.
One note I’d like to mention is that I do not plan to provide gear reviews of specific products. There are already plenty of other resources available in which to help you decide on a specific item or piece of gear. The most helpful and comprehensive gear review website I’ve found is Outdoor Gear Lab, which also happens to be a Tahoe-based company. And then there are plenty of sites such as Amazon and REI that provide customer-based reviews of specific products.
As you probably would expect, the Trail Journal will feature “tales from the trail.” Rather than give you a blow-by-blow synopsis of miles covered, however, these stories will focus on the experiential aspects of being outdoors. The journals will feature broader themes, such as humor, humility, fear, survival, backcountry philosophy, and whatever else I can throw in there. Clearly some of the stories will be less profound (I can’t always take myself too serious) than others, but the point of this category is to illustrate that being outside and enjoying nature sparks myriad emotions and responses. You don’t need to be a naturalist or possess a degree in the natural sciences to benefit from being outdoors. You simply need to go outside and allow yourself to become a part of the world around you.
Notes about the long-term plans for Tahoe Trail Guide:
- Since I live near South Lake Tahoe and I’m only one person, for the foreseeable future the trail data I will create will primarily focus on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. However, the posts I write concerning lessons learned, backcountry skills and etiquette, and similarly related topics will essentially be universal.
- When Tahoe Trail Guide gains momentum, I’ll bring on board other Tahoe locals to contribute information and imagery.
- Many people have requested that Tahoe Trail Guide be available as some form of app. This most likely will never happen. When I asked one Pacific Crest Trail hiker about his thoughts regarding an app, he said “no one wants another crappy app clogging up their phone.” I couldn’t agree more. Besides, your phone will fail you when you need it most, so thoroughly research your trip prior to leaving and take with you a map and compass (and the knowledge to use them).
- Lastly, over the years I’ve identified three types of websites I believe deteriorate “buyer confidence” when researching information related to Lake Tahoe outdoor recreation. These are the three types of websites I will avoid creating at all costs:
- Personal websites that contain highly detailed and meticulous information, but are poorly written, confusingly organized, and boring to look at. This doesn’t mean the actual information is inaccurate or that the person developing the content is not an expert. Most likely the information on these sites is exceptional. However, more often than not, the creator is not actually a writer or graphic designer so problems with grammar and punctuation, inclusion of excessive detail or not enough, and just plain old poor web design threaten to undermine the person’s message. Ultimately, the internet is a visual medium not unlike a traditional publication so, at minimum, websites should feature high-quality imagery and logical organization. At best, they should be dynamic and inspire you to actually go outside and hike that mountain peak or ski that backcountry route.
- Tourist websites that look, on the surface, to be well researched and organized but upon a deeper inspection, anonymously created. In an age where fake news plagues the internet, if you cannot find a human being who is willing to attach their name to the information they are presenting, steer clear. There are many websites that feature seemingly comprehensive information about Lake Tahoe, but don’t offer any information (not even a person’s name) about the people responsible for creating the website or its content. Most likely these sites were developed solely for the purpose of generating ad revenue. Basically, the owner of the domain copies information available on other sites, makes some minor tweaks and re-writes the content in order to call it their own, then throws a bunch of ads on the pages and hopes for a steady paycheck. Some of the information is probably safe, but you have to question why a person is unwilling to take ownership of their own material.
- Remotely managed user-generated sites that offer out-of-date information and irrelevant reviews. Often the information provided on these types of websites is so sparse that it’s barely enough to get you to the trailhead. Lake Tahoe is a highly unique place. In fact, people who have never been to Lake Tahoe don’t usually realize that it is not just one place. It’s actually 2-4 different places depending on where you are. And based on weather, traffic, and construction it can take you three or more hours to drive around the entire lake. That said, reading an article on one of these remotely managed recreational blogs about something like The Five Best Easy Day Hikes at Lake Tahoe could have you driving for hours because of the fact that your hotel room is in South Lake Tahoe, but the hikes featured in the article are on the other side of the lake. This would clearly be a waste of your time. However, the site owner probably doesn’t know or even care. What’s most important to them is that the name of that article features lots of keywords that search engines will find and then reward them when you click on their page. Then there’s the business about relying on users to generate the website’s content. It’s a great idea in theory, but if you’ve ever researched a product on Amazon, you know what can happen. You find a five star review with one or two sentences of praise, a one star review with a long rant, and then a three star review from a person who writes, “The product arrived on time, but the packaging was damaged. Next time I will buy from another vendor.” Super helpful, right? Another frustrating scenario about these types of sites is when a user posts a review that includes a correction to a critical detail from the originally submitted trail information. But then neither the site administrator nor anyone else responds with confirmation or verification that the user’s correction was accurate.
I only mention these three types of websites because I want to stress the point that, although I may not be the number one expert of all things Tahoe, I am committed to learning and sharing with you any and all information that will aid in your Tahoe backcountry adventures. Tahoe Trail Guide is clearly not the first Lake Tahoe recreational online resource to be developed, nor will it be the last, but I hope it will at least be one of the more useful ones available to you. And, rest assured, I am a real human being who will produce, to the best of my ability, content that is as both accurate and high quality. Leave comments, critiques, reviews, and suggestions to any of the posts, and I will respond to them as quickly as possible. Thank you.