America’s largest alpine lake, Lake Tahoe, is nestled high in the Sierra Nevada, straddling the line between Nevada and California. Visitors access the lake along 72 miles of shore line. As the name suggests, North Lake Tahoe is a jumping off point for lakeside and on-the-water activities on the north side of the lake, including popular spots such as Kings Beach and Sand Harbor State Park.
But while the lake gets all the buzz, it’s not the only adventure game in town. For those who love the peace and quiet of nature, there’s an option to escape the sometimes busy shoreline: head to the mountains. North Lake Tahoe is the ultimate access point for some seriously breathtaking wilderness areas and national forests. Here’s where to explore and tips for what to do when you’re back at your basecamp in North Lake Tahoe.
Mount Rose Wilderness
If you’re headed to North Lake Tahoe from the Nevada side, the Mount Rose Wilderness—one of the nation’s newest designated wilderness areas—offers views of the lake and nearby Reno (and on some trails, both).
The Mount Rose Trail, one of the most-loved trails in the area, takes you to the 10,785-foot summit of Mount Rose itself. This 10.7-mile loop features views of Lake Tahoe toward the beginning of the trail, a meander through a forest, a pit stop at the small but mighty Galena Falls, followed by an upward climb to the summit where you’ll enjoy views of Reno to the east and Lake Tahoe to the west. Despite the 2,000-foot elevation gain, the trail keeps a steady, gradual climb throughout, which makes for a pleasant day hike.
Looking for something less traveled? The nearby Tamarack Peak Loop Trail is slightly shorter with less elevation gain and leads to a scenic lake where you can take a dip to cool off. Count on stunning Sierra Nevada views, summer wildflowers, chipmunks, Steller’s Jays and the occasional raptor sighting.
Note: Unlike the Mount Rose Trail, the Tamarack Peak Loop Trail is accessible to mountain bikers, so plan to share the path (or bike it yourself).
For shorter hikes and plenty of choose-your-own-adventure options, the Tahoe Meadows trailhead is the starting point of several hikes. Take a look at a map of the area to plan the perfect combination of trails, whether your pleasure be something longer or shorter, with lake views, meadows or Jeffrey Pines.
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
Bordering the Mount Rose area, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is the largest national forest in the lower 48, encompassing over 6.3 million acres and covering most of the eastern mountains around Lake Tahoe and beyond. This part of the lake is known for views of Sand Harbor’s Caribbean blues, sunset over Tahoe, and plenty of opportunities for peace and quiet.
The 170-mile Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) that circles the lake makes for an outstanding long-distance hike, but you don’t need a whole vacation to experience it; day hikers can hop on the trail at many access points. One of the most beautiful and gradual parts of the trail—about 25 miles from Mount Rose highway to Spooner Summit via Marlette Lake—is easily accessible from North Lake Tahoe. Base yourself out of the Incline Village area for easy access to explore this section of the trail over a few days.
For the best lake views in the Humboldt-Toiyabe, the Flume Trail, Monkey Rock, and Chimney Rock are all great picks. You won’t get these trails all to yourself, but if you aim for a mid-week adventure, you’ll find solitude as well as stunning views.
Tahoe National Forest
Heading to the California side of North Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe National Forest has a total area of 871,495 acres, with trails covering almost the entire northwest quadrant of the Lake Tahoe shoreline all the way out to Truckee and beyond. The Pacific Crest Trail, the TRT as well as hundreds of other trails run through this national forest.
Up for a challenge? Just out of the Kings Beach area, which is a wonderful spot to stay on the lake, you’ll find the Brockway Summit to Mt. Baldy loop. This challenging, 13.5-mile trail features a 2,600-foot elevation gain that comes with sweeping views of Lake Tahoe. Because this trail isn’t for novice hikers, it offers more solitude than some of the easier hikes in the area. Brockway Summit is also a launch point for dozens of other hikes, including an 18-miler all the way to Tahoe City via Mount Watson. For something shorter, the Tahoe Vista Trail is a moderate, 8-mile option along the TRT offering beautiful views and a flat(ish), panoramic middle portion.
Tip: Keep in mind that whatever you choose, you’ll need to pack out everything you pack in, remain only on designated trails, and keep in mind that this part of the world is highly flammable, so open fires are not allowed.
Granite Chief Wilderness
Just west of the Tahoe City area, the Granite Chief Wilderness offers over 25,000 acres of protected land just waiting for adventures. The most beloved trail in the area is the 5-mile Five Lakes Trail, and despite its popularity, you’ll still be able to find moments of quiet and solitude along the way, particularly mid-week. Plan on seeing plenty of wildflowers, consider bringing your fishing pole, and bug repellent suit as the mosquitoes love the lakes during summer months, too.
Looking for a bit more of a challenge, which often comes with more solitude? Leave most of the other hikers behind as you continue past the lakes to complete the 8-mile Whiskey Creek Camp Trail. On this less-traveled route you’ll likely see deer and plenty of bear scat along the way.
For the evenings, charming Tahoe City is your perfect home base on the western side of North Lake Tahoe. This lakeside village is one of the most walkable towns along the lake. While you’re in town, enjoy Tuesday open mic nights at the Tahoe Tap Haus, inventive eats from the cute and cottagey Spoon Restaurant, and ice cream on a scenic patio at Mountain Slice Cafe and Creamery.
Lake Tahoe is one of the most clear and pristine lakes in the world, but as it increases in popularity, so does its vulnerability. When enjoying North Lake Tahoe, consider joining a beach cleanup with Tahoe Blue Crew, drink water from reusable bottles, purify with filters when you hike, leave no trace on the trails, and shop, eat and stay locally. Also, be sure to sign up for regional emergency alerts for safe recreating.
No matter which wilderness area you choose to explore, you’ve got thousands of miles of trails available to you, all with their own unique draws and adventure potential. North Lake Tahoe is a wilderness dream. Enjoy the journey.
North Lake Tahoe spans two states, California and Nevada, and offers a unique 12-town experience of charm and authenticity. To protect the region, visitors are encouraged to participate in the Traveler Responsibility Pledge, a series of tenets inspiring environmental stewardship and sustainability best practices. For more information, visit gotahoenorth.com.