If watching the movie Wild made you want to strap on a backpack and hit the Pacific Crest Trail, then head to Tahoe this fall for some quick overnight treks to satiate your wanderlust. If you're new to the sport, these five backpacking trails will challenge you, but also reveal the best places around the lake to pitch a tent and take a nap during a long weekend.
Loch Leven Lakes, 3.7 miles round trip
This short backpack and hiking trail is easily accessed from Interstate 80 just east of Cisco Grove. The moderate hike up to the series of alpine lakes meanders through meadows, old growth forest, and the tracks of the 1860s Central Pacific railroad. Permits are required by the Forest Service for campfires and camp stoves.
Trail is 1/8 mile east of the Big Bend Visitor Center on old U.S. 40 off of Interstate 80
Five Lakes, Granite Chief Wilderness, 4.0 miles round trip
This is one of the most popular hikes in the north part of Lake Tahoe since you can choose from five different lakes to camp at and you don’t need an overnight permit. The trail gives you views of the Squaw Valley backcountry and gains nearly 1,000 feet up to the lakes. Stick to the left to visit the lakes or take the right to head deeper into the Granite Chief Wilderness.
The trail for Five Lakes starts on the side of Alpine Meadows Road at the intersection of Deer Park Road.
Lake Winnemucca, 5 miles round trip
If you want to experience some of the famed Pacific Crest Trail, the beautiful hike from the Carson Pass to Lake Winnemucca in the Mokelumne Wilderness follows the well-trodden track. This trail gains about 600 feet in just a few miles, but the area around Winnemucca has some of the best wildflowers in June and July. For a side trip, try to summit the 10,382 foot nearby Round Top.
The trail starts at the Carson Pass Ranger Station on Highway 88 south of Tahoe. There is a parking fee if you park in one of the two lots at the top of the pass.
Lake Margaret, 5 miles round trip
Lake Margaret is also located on Highway 88 just 3/4 mile from the Kirkwood Mountain Resort. This trail is not much of a challenge, but you will not need a permit to camp at the small, island-dotted lake at the base of a granite cliff. The trail to Margaret is not well marked in places and you may get turned around. Keep an eye out for the rock cairns built by other hikers.
Trail is located on the north side of Highway 88 3/4 miles after Kirkwood. There is free parking for only 8-10 cars.
Lake Aloha, 12 miles round trip
No Tahoe backpack trip is complete without a hike into Desolation Wilderness. Avoid the craziness near Emerald Bay and attack the Lake Aloha trail from Echo Lake. This hike is long, but fairly flat. You will pass five lakes on your way to Aloha dotted with hundreds of rock islands. Later in the season, Aloha will be drained for use in the central California valley, but some water may remain in pockets. The El Dorado Ranger Station sells overnight wilderness permit for $5 per person per night.
The Aloha trail starts at Echo Lakes just of of Highway 50 10 miles west of South Lake Tahoe.