Scotts Lake is a fun Tahoe day hike that features a walk through groves of Aspen and Juniper trees, a great selection of wildflowers (when in season), some elevation gain to get your heart pumping, and free and convenient trailhead parking. Bring a swimsuit and towel to take advantage of the fact you’re hiking to a lake. Since the distance to Scotts Lake is only around six miles and elevation gain about 1,000 feet, the trail is challenging but not overwhelming for your pre-teen children.
Trail Data (approximations):
- Total Mileage: 6.25 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,050 feet
- Highest Point: 8,127 feet
- Trail: Alternating between hard-packed and sandy soil
Travel west on HWY 50 from South Lake Tahoe and south on HWY 89 out of Meyers. As you begin to make your way up to Luther Pass on HWY 89, you’ll come around a significant bend in the road that veers left. There is an entrance to the Big Meadow campground on the left. The entrance to the campground is easy to miss as it’s slightly recessed and located just after the bend in the road. You’ll know you’ve driven too far if you reach the flat stretch of highway atop Luther Pass. Turn around and try again. When you reach the entrance to Big Meadow campground, enter and then make a quick left turn and park your vehicle in the free parking area. There are restrooms located at this campground.
The trail to Scotts Lake from the Big Meadow campground begins with having to negotiate HWY 89. Be extremely careful when crossing this road as motorists driving up the hill are just coming around that bend. Once you’re safely across HWY 89, stay on the trail (which happens to be the Tahoe Rim Trail) until you reach a junction where you could veer left or right. Take the left. If you continue hiking along the Tahoe Rim Trail you will reach Big Meadow and find yourself en route to Round Lake. I will write about this trail in the future. For now, take the left at the junction to head to Scotts Lake. The route gradually travels uphill contouring the base of a steep ridgeline. Along the trail to Scotts Lake you will find an assortment of wildflowers, Aspen trees, and Juniper trees. At Scotts Lake, if you were to shoot an azimuth due north from approximately the center of the lake, you would find Waterhouse Peak (a favorite peak of backcountry skiers and snowboarders). Please note that there is an alternate route to Scotts Lake via a dirt road that originates down in Hope Valley. I will write about this, too, in the future.
- Exercise extreme caution when crossing HWY 89
- Stay on the trail to preserve the delicate wildflowers that grow along the edges of the trail
- 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 will call emergency services if you do not return by your prescribed time
- Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them
Below is a Google Map to assist you in finding the parking area for accessing the trail to Scotts Lake.