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):
- Location: South Tahoe – Christmas Valley – Big Meadow Trailhead
- Category of Route: Family Fun Hike, Day Hike
- Total Mileage: 6.25 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,050 feet
- Highest Point: 8,127 feet
- Trail: Alternating between hard-packed and sandy soil
- Exercise extreme caution when crossing SR 89 to and from the Big Meadow Campground
- 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’ll call emergency services if you don’t return by your prescribed time
- Dogs are allowed, but keep them on leash and pick up after them
Travel west on HWY 50 from South Lake Tahoe and south on SR 89 out of Meyers. As you begin to make your way up to Luther Pass on SR 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.
Here’s a map to assist you in finding the parking area for accessing the trail to Scotts Lake.
The trail to Scotts Lake from the Big Meadow campground begins with having to negotiate SR 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 SR 89, stay on the trail (which happens to be the Tahoe Rim Trail) until you reach a junction at approximately .60 miles. At this junction you could veer left or right. Take the left. If you went to the right at this junction you would continue hiking along the Tahoe Rim Trail and would eventually reach Big Meadow and then find yourself en route to Round Lake. So in order to reach Scotts Lake, take the left at the junction. The route gradually travels uphill contouring the base of a steep ridgeline.
During the summer months you will find an assortment of wildflowers, Aspen trees, and Juniper trees along the trail to Scotts Lake. I can’t emphasize enough that you should stick to the trail through here as many of the wildflowers are very delicate. 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).
Although I mostly consider this a day hike due to the overall distance and elevation gain, if you were traveling with young children you could easily turn back at any point. And even if you didn’t make it all the way to Scotts Lake, there is plenty for the whole family to experience on an abridged version of this hike.
Please note that there is an another route to Scotts Lake via a dirt road that originates in Hope Valley, but I will publish that route at a later date. Also know that the first couple of miles of the trail to Scotts Lake also constitutes the beginning of the longer loop route to Stevens Peak (clockwise direction).