Lake Tahoe, the largest Alpine Lake in North America, is full of inviting coves that shimmer with multifarious shades of blue, and long trails that smell of sweet vanilla from the numerous Jeffrey Pine trees. While visiting this enchanting lake nestled deep in the northern Sierra Nevada mountain range I was amazed at the number or trails, and scenic hikes that could be found. Although Lake Tahoe is the “jewel” of the Sierra Nevada there are endless lakes and waterfalls to be explored, ranging from easy to difficult for anyone to handle. And Autumn in Lake Tahoe is the best time to go!
The picture above is Bonsai rock. Nothing special – just a large grey washed rock sitting in a hidden cove of Lake Tahoe, with a couple of tiny little trees trees on it. Until the sun starts to set, and the sky becomes awash with colors only God knows how to create, while the lake shimmers as the tones of blue start to change before your eyes. THEN Bonsai Rock becomes THE rock.
I don’t believe there is a bad angle for photographs, but I do recommend getting there early so you have time to plan your photo or just enjoy the sunset. The easiest way to find the secret gem is by coming from the North side of the lake, pass Sand Harbor and at exactly 2 miles you will see two small pull offs on the right hand side. The “trail” is steep – straight down to the lake, and you will likely end up doing quite a bit of rock scrambling. Once at the shoreline take a seat and enjoy the show.
Maggies Peaks was the most beautiful trail I hiked during my short stay in Tahoe, it packs a lot of punch in a short 3 miles. The views include multiple lakes, granite, and a grand entrance into Desolation Wilderness. Since October is a slower month for Tahoe, I had the trail to myself up until the last hour. This moderately difficult hike climbs to an elevation of 8,699 if you make it to the south peak. The northern peak is at 8,499 feet. The first mile consists of steep elevation and a scenic overlook of Emerald Bay that is unparalleled to any view you’ll find off the road. A little further up the trail is Granite Lake, a small alpine green alpine lake, with beautiful coniferous trees and chipmunks scurrying between the granite boulders.
You can stop here, but don’t. If you continue on the trail the views will astound you. You can see Granite Lake, Emerald Bay, and Lake Tahoe at the same time – and it is magnificent. The switchbacks that continue up the mountain are steep, but they take you to the saddle of Maggies Peaks, the gateway into Desolation Wilderness. Take a right and venture off trail to the northern peak, or take a left and you’ll make your way to the southern peak. Even though the trails don’t lead to the peaks the low lying vegetation makes it easy to navigate. Once you climb the southern peak you are only greeted with more breathtaking views that include Azure Lake and Middle Velma Lake.
Once you return to the trail head of Maggies Peaks why stop there? I decided to continue up the other trail to Cascade Lake. Its a short two miles round trip, and its relatively easy. The falls were only a trickle since it was October, but it was a pleasant trail that anyone can do and has some wonderful views of Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe.
This two mile trail is right down the road from the trail head for Maggies Peaks and Cascade Lake, and its a moderate 3 mile hike. In fact I did Maggies Peaks, Eagle Lake, and Cascade Lake in one day, and still had daylight hours to spare. The trail is straight forward, leading you straight into Desolation Wilderness. You are surrounded by lush green forest with the occasional scent of Christmas depending on which way the wind blows. Eagle Lake is a gorgeous example of what Tahoe can offer.
Skunk Harbor is a 3.2 mile trail on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe. A dirt road leads you down to a bright inlet with an old stone structure on the property. The story goes that a wealthy Californian family owned a house on the west side of the lake, yet they wanted their own playground. So they purchased Skunk Harbor and built an extravagant hall, and held lavish parties all summer long. It is rated as a moderate hike, I believe because of the steep incline on the way back up the trail, other than that its as easy as a trail can get.
Sand Harbor is a park on the Eastern shores of Lake Tahoe. There is a nice wooden walkway that leads you in and out of the coves that are covered in perfectly round boulders. The Lake shows its true colors on this incredible piece of shoreline, and is definitely worth the stop. This is the place you want to go to paddle board, kayak or even venture in for a cold swim.
Tahoe was lovely, and this destination has much to offer year round.
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