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 are 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 multiple national forests and wilderness areas that 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 are 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 are generally 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 routes featuring 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 are educational in nature. Some posts contain bits of wisdom I’ve gathered over the years while others feature specific skills in which to learn and practice. Topics range from cross-country skiing techniques to operating backpacking stoves to setting up an improvised shelter. Also, I 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 might expect, the Trail Journal features “tales from the trail.” Rather than give you a blow-by-blow synopsis of miles covered, however, these stories focus on the experiential aspects of being outdoors. The journals feature themes such as humor, humility, fear, survival, backcountry philosophy, and whatever else I can throw in there. Some of the stories are 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.
Answers to random questions and other notes about Tahoe Trail Guide:
- Does Tahoe Trail Guide provide guiding services into the Tahoe backcountry?
- No. Historically it has been a challenge to obtain the necessary permits and legal rights to become an actual guide at Lake Tahoe. Although there is a movement to make that process easier, right now I’m not willing to assume the responsibility or liability inherent with full guiding operations. Instead, think of Tahoe Trail Guide as a guidebook or users’ guide to venturing into Tahoe’s backcountry via hiking shoes or boots, cross-country skis, and snowshoes. Just know that although I attempt to be as accurate as possible with the information I provide on Tahoe Trail Guide, ultimately your safety is your responsibility. Double check, confirm, verify … your gear, route, emergency plans, and exit strategy using multiple sources, if need be, in order to be safe while embarking on your backcountry adventure. In other words … measure twice, cut once.
- Does Tahoe Trail Guide provide rental gear for people to use on their own excursions into the Tahoe backcountry?
- No. Right now I’m not willing to assume the responsibility and liability or go through the legal hoops inherent with running a rental service. I also don’t have adequate storage space to house an inventory of rental gear.
- When is the best time to go into the Tahoe backcountry?
- There is no bad time to go into Tahoe’s backcountry. The weather may not be as favorable some days, but just remember that there’s no bad weather, only bad gear. And, some places may be a little more crowded than others on the holidays and weekends, but Tahoe’s backcountry is a year-round playground. You just need to be mentally and physically prepared to endure whatever conditions you may encounter. Summer is pretty standard for backpacking and winter is pretty standard for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. However, there are always the exceptions so be prepared for snow in the summer and sun in the winter.
- When is the best time to visit Lake Tahoe?
- Mid-week. Avoid, if at all possible, coming up to Lake Tahoe on Friday and leaving on Sunday. I realize this sounds crazy and that you’re probably used to dealing with a lot of traffic every day. However, there are so many better ways you could spend your time other than being trapped in your car on HWYs 50 or 80 for 5-12 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to get to Tahoe on a Friday during a snowstorm. The weekend norm during the 2016/17 Snowpocalypse was that it took people 6-10 hours to drive from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe on Fridays and then repeating that experience on Sundays on their way home. Some families described to me their 12 hour sagas driving from San Francisco (normally the drive takes 4-5 hours). That is crazy, so I recommend visiting mid-week if possible to avoid all of that nonsense and overcrowding.
- The water in Lake Tahoe is so clear, can you drink it?
- No. Clarity is not an indication of purity. Assume that all water sources across the world have been contaminated, even those picturesque alpine lakes found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe.
- Why are there so few clearly marked trailheads and parking areas to the hiking trails of Lake Tahoe?
- Great question, but I don’t have an answer. There is no logical or rational explanation for the lack of signage. Probably the belief is that the signs would somehow detract from the Lake Tahoe wilderness experience. Instead, it only serves to confuse visitors and causes them to drive aimlessly down the road and in and out of normally quiet neighborhoods. Who knows, maybe it’s just so that Tahoe locals can have another thing to be pissed off about with regard to visitors. Rest assured that I do my best to provide accurate descriptions about where to park.
- Speaking of which, what does it mean to be a Tahoe local?
- I’ve never lived in a place where it mattered so much to people to be considered “local.” I’ve been living (and working) here permanently since 2005, but because I’m not so damned adamant about thumping my chest and making it known to everyone that I’m local, I sometimes feel like I’m not a local. And by some of the old guards’ standards I’m probably not local because I wasn’t born here, haven’t raised kids here, don’t own a house here, and I make as few town visits as possible. But, since 2005, South Lake Tahoe has been my primary residence, my vehicle has been registered here, I vote here, and I receive a summons for jury duty 1-3 times per year (yes, you read that correctly). That part about jury duty is one of the many “badges of honor” we locals wear because it’s such a ridiculous thing that we’re put on notice so frequently every year. I’ve also earned an Associate’s degree from Lake Tahoe Community College, volunteered at numerous community service events and fundraisers around Lake Tahoe, been a substitute teacher and assistant wrestling coach within the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, and I’ve held multiple part-time jobs at the same time to make ends meet (yet another badge of honor of being “local”). That day-to-day, nuts and bolts kind of stuff is what I think of when I use the term local. So, I mean no disrespect when I say this, but to me it would be a big stretch for a person to call themselves local if they simply owned a vacation home up here and visited it a few times a year. I also think it’s a stretch to call oneself local if you’re only here for a season and then planning to move on. Lake Tahoe is a transient location, so until you permanently set roots I wouldn’t be out there advertising that you’re local. On the other hand, it irritates me to no end to hear longtime Tahoe locals perpetually badmouth second homeowners, visitors, guests, tourists … because they’re “ruining” our small town. This is ludicrous because Lake Tahoe’s economy is, and always has been, based on one form or another of tourism. I come from upper Midwest small town, so I can say with certainty that no community around Lake Tahoe is, nor ever has been, “small town.” Since the 1800s, Lake Tahoe has been home and host to some of the wealthiest people in the nation, if not the world. And with a steady infusion of wealth comes amenities and opportunity, neither of which are found in small towns (which is why people move away from them!). So, stop worrying about being called a local. It doesn’t matter. Our economy depends on you coming to play and recreate here. Just be cool. Just be you.
- Why doesn’t Tahoe Trail Guide feature more trails, particularly ones on the north, west, and east shores of Lake Tahoe?
- Tahoe Trail Guide is a one-person operation (i.e. me) right now, and since I live near South Lake Tahoe I tend to focus on writing articles that feature imagery and information about the southern side of Lake Tahoe. I also have some seasonal jobs that take up a lot of my time, so I don’t write articles as often as I would like. However, most of what I write concerning lessons learned, backcountry skills and etiquette, and similarly related topics are universal. Bear with me as I continue to build this website and, as the site gains momentum, I will bring on other Tahoe locals to contribute information and imagery.
- Why don’t any of the Tahoe Trail Guide articles use excessively aggressive terminology to get me amped up about hiking a mountain or finding a new trail?
- This is not a real question. However, if you ever find me using phrases (other than right here) such as owning it, conquering it, crushing it, killing it, nailing it, slaying it, bagging it, for shock value, call me on it. As trendy as it is to use those types of phrases, in my opinion, that nonsense ranks right up there with putting another notch on your belt or bedpost and has no place in contemporary vernacular. It stems from a person who’s never experienced humility or defeat, and those are people you should avoid with regard to setting foot in the backcountry. I’m no hippy dippy tree hugger, but I know enough to know that I am just a speck of dust in the universe and if that mountain or trail doesn’t want me on it, I’ll get the message one way or another. As competitive as I can be, you’ll never find me treating the backcountry as an imperialistic conquest. Be humble and grateful for the opportunity to be in the backcountry because we are simply its guests.
- Is Tahoe Trail Guide available as an app for smart devices?
- No. Tahoe Trail Guide is a mobile responsive website. People have suggested that I create Tahoe Trail Guide as an app, but I do not have plans to do so. While working at a Lake Tahoe backpacking store years ago I asked a couple of Pacific Crest Trail hikers their thoughts about this site as an app. One of them said, “no one wants another crappy app clogging up their phone.” I couldn’t agree more. Tahoe Trail Guide definitely features information about hiking and cross-country ski trails, but there’s so much more information on this site that it would render it useless as an app. 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).
- There are already so many other websites that feature Lake Tahoe hiking trails, why bother making Tahoe Trail Guide?
- Because I’m arrogant and believe I can do it better. I also write lots of articles that feature universal backcountry concepts, as well as informational and inspirational blogs that (hopefully) enrich your outdoor experience. So yes, there are lots of websites and books that feature Lake Tahoe trails, but I’m building this site to be so much more than just another peak bagging-oriented website. Over the years I’ve identified three types of sites I believe deteriorate “buyer confidence” when researching information related to Lake Tahoe outdoor recreation (and will avoid recreating):
- 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 are thin on specifics or considerations and/or feature 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. However, neither the site administrator nor anyone else responds with confirmation that the user’s correction was accurate.
I mention these types of websites (that annoy the heck out of me) 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 for your support!