My Favorite Hikes in South Lake Tahoe - A Local’s Guide
By: Jenn Gleckman
Not for the faint of heart, this 10-mile round-trip hike to the top of one of the highest peaks in the Tahoe basin provides spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Desolation Wilderness. While the full moon hike means you get to see the sunrise from the top of Mt. Tallac, this trail is also very popular during daylight hours. If you’re going during the day, fuel up beforehand with coffee and an enormous scone or egg & bacon sandwich at Café Alpina, conveniently located on your way out to the trailhead.
While the trail itself isn’t too technical for the first half, do note that it does include some steep, rocky sections above Cathedral Lake, along with some exposure at the top. Because the trail does climb up nearly 3,000 feet, it’s recommended that you bring clothing layers, along with a hat, water, snacks, and a camera to capture your summit. For post-hike celebration and refreshments, hit up the Beacon Bar & Grill at Camp Richardson for drinks on the water, or go for some protein replenishment at the Burger Lounge on Emerald Bay Road.
The trailhead is located approximately 3-1/2 miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89. Look for the Mt. Tallac Trailhead sign directly across from the entrance to Baldwin Beach. Turn left down the dirt road and continue to the trailhead parking.
Approximately 12 miles
Starting point: Bayview trailhead
I love this hike for the bang-for-the-buck views of Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay, and my dog loves it for the many swimming opportunities. In the 12 miles, you hike, you’ll encounter 5 lakes (Upper & Middle Velmas, Fontanellis, Dicks & Granite). Pick up coffee & a bagel at Alpina Cafe, and head up Highway 89 towards Emerald Bay. Begin at the Bayview trailhead, on the south side of Emerald Bay – trailhead parking is located at the far end of the campground. Pick up your day-use permit at trailhead, and then take the right-hand trail, which will immediately start climbing.
Enjoy a brief stop at Granite Lake, approximately ½ mile in, and continue up until you reach the intersection with the Eagle Falls trailhead, 2.8 miles from where you began. Continue another mile to a junction, and follow the trail right towards Middle Velma Lake. Along the way, the trail will contour along part of Upper Velma Lake. You’ll come to a creek crossing that requires some rock hopping as there’s no bridge. Continue on the trail for another ¼ mile to Middle Velma. Continue the loop by backtracking to the trail junction just before Middle Velma, and follow the trail uphill to Fontanellis Lake. It’s about a mile to the lake, and the trail follows the lakeshore for another mile. Dicks Peak looms in the distance, and as you continue on the trail you’ll reach another intersection. Dicks Lake is a few yards down the trail, a popular camping and fishing spot.
From Dicks Lake, head up the trail back towards Lake Tahoe. There’s a short climb to the saddle, then the trail descends down a rocky face. If you’re lucky you may hear (or see) a marmot. The trail continues over primarily rocky terrain for another mile before you reach the junction to Middle Velma (keep an eye out for cairns when the trail becomes faint). Continue straight for another mile; pass the left-hand trail junction to Eagle Falls. Bayview trail continues straight, climbing up towards the saddle of Maggie’s before descending again to Granite Lake and the parking lot. As you breeze down the switchbacks, enjoy the stunning views, but be sure to watch your feet. As with all Tahoe hikes, water, sunscreen, a hat, clothing layers, and a camera are all recommended, along with sturdy walking shoes.
Finish up your day with a hearty dinner at Freshies. You’ve earned the jerk chicken!