Perched along the gorgeous alpine lake, South Lake Tahoe is one of the best places for hiking in Northern California.
South Lake Tahoe hikes takes you around the shores of the cobalt-blue lake and bring you to tall mountain peaks, surrounded by pine trees and meadows dotted with wildflowers. Besides hiking, the area boasts plenty of outdoor activities such as kayaking in summer and skiing and snowboarding in winter.
Why visit South Lake Tahoe
The second deepest lake in the United States (only behind Crater Lake in Oregon) at 6,225 feet, Lake Tahoe is also the highest alpine lake in North America. More than 60 tributaries flow into the lake and there’s only one outlet – Truckee River.
In my guide, I’ll share the most scenic South Lake Tahoe hikes that will treat your wanderlust and give you a taste of real adventure, so buckle up and let’s go!
PRO TIP: With San Francisco only 2,5 hours away and Las Vegas about 6.5 hours away, South Lake Tahoe is a perfect stop for your West Coast bucket list. I drove to South Lake Tahoe from Lone Pine, California with a quick stop in Yosemite, and had a lot of fun on my road trip.
If you need help planning your West Coast road trip adventure, read one of my guides about top West Coast itineraries.
South Lake Tahoe directions
The closest major airport to South Lake Tahoe is located in Reno, Nevada. There, you can rent a car and head straight to South Lake Tahoe. The drive from Reno to South Lake Tahoe is about 1 hour.
How many days do I need in South Lake Tahoe?
I recommend 3-5 days for South Lake Tahoe hikes and other outdoor activities.
However, because of its location along the California-Nevada border, there are plenty of things to do in South Lake Tahoe besides hiking. You will find restaurants and night clubs in downtown South Lake Tahoe, and if you want to gamble, head to Stateline, a small town in Nevada that straddles the border with California and has several casinos.
Take a tour of South Lake Tahoe
One of the options you should consider for your trip is taking an organized tour of South Lake Tahoe to get more familiar with the fascinating history of this region and learn about some of the places that you shouldn’t miss.
For example, a sightseeing cruise of Emerald Bay is a great choice if you are visiting South Lake Tahoe for the first time!
South Lake Tahoe Hotels
1. Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel – Located at the base of Heavenly Mountain Resort, this hotel is right near the beach and also offers a good proximity to shopping and dining.
2. Beach Retreat and Lodge at Tahoe – This cool beachfront hotel is a perfect place to relax and unwind while enjoying the gorgeous alpine setting with the lake views.
3. 3 Peaks Resort and Beach Club – Another fun hotel, 3 Peaks Resort is situated near Heavenly Village Gondola and just a few blocks away from multiple Lake Tahoe Casinos. This hotel offers awesome cabin-style suites and access to a private beach!
4. Cabin at Stateline – Located just a bit over a mile from El Dorado Beach, this is a cozy accommodation with tons of private space that will make you feel at home.
Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park is home to Rubicon Trail – one of the most popular South Lake Tahoe hikes that tends to get busy very quickly, so I recommend starting early in the morning. Here you will also find a small beach and a historic Vikingsholm Castle modeled after Scandinavian castles.
If you have time, I suggest taking a tour of Vikingsholm Castle.
South Lake Tahoe Kayaking
Get into a kayak and paddle to the mysterious Fannette Island, the only island on Lake Tahoe located right in the middle of Emerald Bay State Park.
Sometimes, when the wind is too strong, a kayaking station could be closed, so check the weather before planning your activities.
If you are looking to rent SUP or take a lesson, stop by SUP Tahoe, a South Tahoe’s leading shop that specializes in everything SUP.
PRO TIP: Drones are prohibited in California state parks due to their potential interference with wildlife and disruptive sounds. A park ranger might give you a costly citation even if you get caught with a drone without flying it (At least that’s what I was told).
Easy-to-moderate 6.3-mile one-way hike snakes along the shoreline of Lake Tahoe and provides a gorgeous overview of the Emerald Bay past secluded coves, bright wildflowers and an old lighthouse. The highlight of the hike is Lower Eagle Falls, a cascading waterfall that definitely deserves a stop along the way.
The trail starts at D.I. Bliss State Park north of Emerald Bay, however, it can be accessed from several points:
– Eagle Point Campground: If you are staying at Eagle Point campground, accessing Rubicon Trail is fairly easy. All you have to do is to find the marked entrance on the northern end of the park. From there, you will have to hike about 1.7 miles down to the Vikingsholm Castle. From there you can continue hiking north toward D.I. Bliss State Park.
– Rubicon Point at D.I. Bliss State Park: You will have to hike about 3.1 miles to Emerald Point and then 5 miles to Boat Camp before continuing to Vikingsholm Castle which will take you another mile.
– Emerald Bay Overlook: You can also access Rubison Trail if you park at Emerald Bay Overlook and make your way down to the beach area.
If you begin your hike Emerald Bay State Park or D.L. Bliss State Park, make sure to check if there are parking fees. Parking lots at both state parks get full early morning during summer months, so make sure to arrive there early morning. The round trip is just over 13 miles.
Upper and Lower Eagle Falls
One of the most gorgeous South Lake Tahoe hikes, Eagle Falls sits right above Eagle Lake. The trail starts at the Eagle Falls Trailhead Parking Lot right off the highway and gains about 400 feet in elevation as it takes you all the way to the amazing waterfalls.
The Upper Eagle Falls are approximately 0.2 miles from the bridge. After crossing the bridge, continue to hike for 0.8 miles before you reach Eagle Lake.
Skyline Trail Hike
Located near the California-Nevada stateline, Heavenly Mountain Gondola is one of the most popular South Lake Tahoe hikes in summer.
Whether you want to hit the slopes or just take in the spectacular views around you, Heavenly Mountain is the place. Take a chairlift off Heavenly’s Gondola to get to get to the beginning of the trailhead and hike for 2-miles along Skyline Trail to see some incredible views of Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley.
D.L. Bliss State Park
D.L. Bliss State Park is another popular place for South Lake Tahoe hikes.
While it’s technically outside of South Lake Tahoe, it’s just a short drive up the road from Emerald Bay State Park. D.L. Bliss State Park should be on your itinerary also because it’s a starting point for Rubicon Trail, one of the most scenic hikes near South Lake Tahoe.
The trail ends at Emerald Bay and takes you through several amazing spots including the lighthouse.
PRO TIP: While not all places allow dogs at South Lake Tahoe, there are several locations where you can still take your pooch.
Unfortunately, you can’t take dogs to any trails around Emerald Bay, or any trails or beaches at at D.L. Bliss or Sugar Pine Point State Parks. Dogs are allowed at North Beach at Zephyr Cove Resort and Kiva Beach at Tallac Historic Site.
Camping at D.L. Bliss State Park
At D.L. Bliss State Park, you will be able to camp, relax at the beach and enjoy the turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe rimmed by the dark Sierra Nevada mountains. One of the most popular things to do in South Lake Tahoe in summer is visiting Lester Beach. Located just short walk away from the parking lot, this beach boasts nice white sand, clear turquoise waters and tons of space.
PRO TIP: Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on South Lake beaches.
One of the most prominent features of D.I. Bliss State Park is Rubicon Point Lighthouse, the highest elevation lighthouse in the United States.
Fallen Leaf Lake Hike
This quiet lake is located just south of Lake Tahoe. It offers a quiet retreat from the busy shores of Lake Tahoe.
After taking a swim, explore Glen Alpine Trail and Falls, one of the most scenic trails near South Lake Tahoe.
This trailhead begins at the southern end of Fallen Leaf Lake near the parking lot. While Lower Glen Alpine Falls and Lily Lake can be accessed via a short walk from the parking lot, you can also continue toward other hikes on the same trailhead.
Here are some of them:
Grass Lake – 2 miles one way (moderate)
Susie Lake – 4 miles one way (moderate)
Half Moon Lake – 4.5 miles one way (moderate)
Mt. Tallac Trail
If you want to earn the bragging rights of climbing the highest peak in the South Lake Tahoe area, hit the trail to Mt. Tallac.
This challenging trail gains over 3,000 feet in elevation and offers incredible views of the cobalt-blue lake along the way culminating with a 360-degree view of Lake Tahoe and Carson Range along with Fallen Leaf Lake.
The trail is about 10 miles and it begins off Highway 89 near Camp Shelly. You need a permit to hike this trail as it is in the wilderness.
Van Sickle Trail Hike
South Lake Tahoe’s best kept secret, Van Sickle Trail Hike begins near the Van Sickle Bi-State Park. This gorgeous trail links Stateline on the Nevada side with the Tahoe Rim Trail. You can hike to the waterfall for about 0.75 miles or keep going to the intersection with the Tahoe Rim Trail for about 3.5 miles one way.
Cascade Falls Hike
Cascade Falls is a 2-mile round-trip hike near Emerald Bay. The trail follows the contour of the lake and offers views of Lake Tahoe and nearby Desolation Wilderness.
South Lake Tahoe boasts a number of beaches – a perfect place to relax after conquering hikes in South Lake Tahoe.
Some of the most popular ones are Baldwin Beach, Pope Beach, Camp Richardson Resort Beach and Lakeview Commons Beach. Some of them have hourly fees, so make sure to plan your trip and budget accordingly.
PRO TIP: Water in Lake Tahoe can be ice cold even around late May and all the way through June, so if you expect to have a fun swim in a comfortable warm lake, I really hate to tell you that it’s not going to happen early into the summer season. As a matter of fact, when I tried to do some swimming in Lake Tahoe in June, the water was ice cold. Brrr!
If you want more comfortable temperature for swimming, try visiting Lake Tahoe in late July or August when the temperature of water in the lake gets warmer.
South Lake Tahoe Campgrounds
1.Camp Richardson Campground – This campground is a stone throw away from the shores of South Lake Tahoe. It’s a home to a marina, store, an ice cream parlor and the popular Beacon restaurant, Camp Richardson has campsites for tents and RV’s, however, the campgrounds are open only during summer. No pets are allowed.
To make a reservation at Camp Richardson in South Lake Tahoe, you have to either go online or make a call ahead of your visit. Prices range from $45 for a tent site to $50 for an RV site.
2. Eagle Point Campground – Situated within Emerald Bay State Park, Eagle Point offers 100 campground sites, but it doesn’t have hook-ups or showers. While it is famous for its scenic campsites, the campground does not accommodate RVs.
One of the main draws of Eagle Point Campground is its close proximity to the Rubicon Trail and even if you don’t want to hike, you can get an amazing overlook of Emerald Bay.
3. Fallen Leaf Campground – Located about a quarter mile north of Fallen Leaf Lake, this quiet campground offers a quick access to Pope and Baldwin Beaches and several Mt. Tallac trailheads in addition to Tallac Historic Site.
4. Camp Shelly – Conveniently located right across from Baldwin Beach along Highway 89, this relatively small campground offers 25 campsites, each of accommodating up to 8 people. Reservations can be made in person or over the phone, however, during summer season, I recommend reserving your spot in advance due to high demand.
5. Bayview Campground – Bayview Campground sits at the southern end of Emerald Bay. It’s a compact campground with 12 camp sites on a first-come first-serve basis. The campground is located near Emerald Bay and Vikingsholm Castle.
6. Tahoe Valley Campground – If you are looking for a comprehensive campground, Tahoe Valley is your place! This campground has RV and tent sites, however, it might not be the right spot if you are looking for a quiet place to relax. Because Tahoe Valley Campground has an array amenities such as courts for tennis and basketball, and a general store, it can get a bit crowded.
Daily rates range between $35 and $65 during the peak season.
A few final words
If you plan your visit for winter, remember to get tire chains and other equipment for winter driving, as the area gets plenty of snowstorms during this time. If you are going to visit the area in summer, make sure to hit all of the key spots early morning because the traffic can get pretty bad.
No matter when you visit this iconic location, I hope you will have an amazing time exploring all of the amazing South Lake Tahoe hikes and enjoying the area’s outdoor activities.
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