Snowshoeing is an enjoyable way to experience Lake Tahoe’s backcountry. There aren’t many techniques involved with snowshoeing beyond walking slightly wider and picking up your knees a little higher (depending on snow levels). So, the activity is accessible to many people who don’t have the time and money to invest in more involved methods of traveling into the backcountry. And there are loads of places to snowshoe on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, ranging from flat and easy terrain to areas featuring more steep and strenuous routes. Here are some locations worth checking out:
Considerations for Your Backcountry Experience in the Lake Tahoe Region:
- Assess the risks, weigh their consequences, know your limits, and be conscious of your decisions before taking action.
- Leave your itinerary with a responsible person who’ll take appropriate action if you don’t return at your prescribed time.
- When in doubt, turn back.
- Dress in layers in order to shed or add on articles of clothing.
- Wear appropriate footwear for the winter conditions.
- Carry the necessary safety gear for your specific adventure and know how to use it.
- Stay adequately fueled and hydrated.
- Public lands are for everyone.
- When parking, don’t block traffic or Forest Service gates or impede snow removal vehicles while they’re operating.
- Keep your dogs on a leash and pick up after them.
Fallen Leaf Lake area and Highway 89 north of South Lake Tahoe’s “Y” intersection (Highway 50 / State Route 89)
Mellow and flat snowshoeing areas include Baldwin, Kiva, and Pope Beaches, as well the Tallac Historic Site, Camp Richardson (no pets, trail pass required), Fallen Leaf Lake Campground, Taylor Creek Sno-Park (permit required), and the Taylor Creek Visitor Area. To access Floating Island and Cathedral Lakes, as well as Mount Tallac, park your vehicle at Mount Tallac Road (don’t block the Forest Service gate). If you plan to summit Mount Tallac, however, you’ll have to negotiate well over 3,000’ of elevation gain and high exposure. Many of the locations in this general region are, literally, at lake level (i.e. lower elevation), so it might take a couple of snowstorms to warrant actually wearing snowshoes.
While parked further north in Emerald Bay, you can snowshoe down to Vikingsholm and walk around the bay. Or, you could travel into Desolation Wilderness via the Eagle Falls Trailhead. For a stunning view looking down into Emerald Bay, snowshoe up to South Maggie’s Peak. This trail is accessible from the Bayview Trailhead at the back of the Bayview campground. Snowshoeing up to Maggie’s Peaks can be challenging, however, because you’ll have to contend with roughly 2,000’ of elevation gain.
West of the “Y” you’ll encounter many easy and moderate routes along Lake Tahoe Boulevard, Tahoe Mountain Road, and North Upper Truckee Road. There are multiple Forest Services gates along those roads in which you can park. Snowshoe around Washoe Meadows State Park, Tahoe Mountain, and Angora Ridge, Angora Lakes, and the Angora burn area. Please note that many of the areas in and around Meyers are at a relatively low elevation, so it may take some time for snow to accumulate enough to snowshoe.
To access the southern end of Desolation Wilderness, travel west of Echo Summit on Highway 50 and turn right onto Johnson Pass Road. You can park at the Echo Lakes Sno-Park (permit required) and then snowshoe to Echo Lakes and Lake Aloha. There is about a one mile hike to Lower Echo Lake either by the road or the Pacific Crest Trail/Tahoe Rim Trail. However, the PCT/TRT junction at Johnson Pass Road is about a quarter mile west of the Sno-Park.
South Lake Tahoe (city of)
Bijou Park is flat and centrally located in South Lake Tahoe, just off of Al Tahoe Boulevard. Keep in mind, however, since Bijou Park’s elevation is at about lake level, it can take a while for snow to accumulate enough in the park to necessitate the use of snowshoes. To travel further and climb higher into the mountains in the city of South Lake Tahoe, park at one of the Forest Service gates (don’t block the gates) along Pioneer Trail or at the end of Oneidas Street.
These areas are ideal for early and late season snowshoeing thanks to many of the locations being situated at higher elevations. You’ll also most likely find snow in these places during low-snow winters at Lake Tahoe. Grass Lake and Hope Valley is flat, whereas Big Meadow and Carson Pass Sno-Park (permit required) offers some uphill challenges. For even more difficult climbs, travel up to Waterhouse, Freel Peak, or Red Lake Peak. These peaks are very strenuous and require backcountry experience, as well as ample time to safely navigate to and from.
Kirkwood Ski Resort, further west on State Route 88, has a cross-country ski and snowshoe area (trail pass required, dogs only on designated trails). They also feature a rental and retail shop for those who don’t own gear. The trail system, at optimal winter conditions is 80km of groomed trails and features easy to advanced routes. Just be sure to stay off to the side (don’t walk on the classic tracks or down the middle of the skate lane) while snowshoeing on groomed trails.
The Van Sickle Bi-State Park is behind Heavenly Village and set on the face of the mountain, so climb as high as your fitness level will accommodate. To avoid being ticketed, use the paid parking garage on Bellamy Court. Rabe Meadow, further east and located on Kahle Drive, is mostly flat and easy to access. Also know that since Rabe Meadow is near lake level and on the east side of town, it takes more time to accumulate enough snow in which to need snowshoes.