The trail from Carson Pass to beautiful 9,000 foot Winnemucca Lake is an area favorite, known for its gorgeous wildflowers and excellent views. This is a great hike for photographers, because of the picture perfect scenery, and people with dogs, because of the small elevation change and rewarding sights. If you are planning to take pictures on your way, the sun will be on your left if you start in the morning and on your right in the afternoon, as you progress roughly south-southwest to Winnemucca Lake. The moderate 4.2 mile out and back hike begins with a gentle climb through the forest featuring filtered glimpses of Round Top Mountain. About a half mile into the hike, Frog Lake will appear on your left, marking the end of the elevation change. A few different varieties of flowers can be found here. On the hillside to the west of the lake, you can find rare Wood Roses on occasion, and you can see a big field of wild iris if you circle around to the east side of the lake.
From this point on all the way to Winnemucca Lake, you’re in an open area, brimming with vibrant, colorful wildflowers. Scarlet gilia, Indian paintbrush, blue flax, sierra lilies, and numerous other species are scattered as far as the eye can see. As the trail edges along the western flank of Elephant’s Back, there are a few flowing streams and wet areas where you can encounter lupine, columbine, monkeyflower, and, if you’re lucky, small blue butterflies called Melissa Blues. Soon you’ll reach Winnemucca Lake, a great place for swimming, fishing, a lunch break, or letting the dogs play. This is a great place to explore and climb large boulders. The north face of Round Top Mountain falls into the lake, and another field of iris is located to the northwest of the lake. There is a trail that goes along the north side of the lake, and for extreme hikers, you can also reach Round Top Lake and Fourth of July Lake for about an 8.8 mile hike.
To get to Woods Lake Campground, where the trail begins, take Highway 88 east. After passing Kirkwood Ski Resort and Caples Lake, but before you reach Carson Pass, look for the campground on your right. Follow the road to the day use parking lot. It’s generally a good idea to arrive early, as this is a popular hike and parking has a tendency to fill up fast.
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Five Lakes Trail – Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails
Among the foothills of the Granite Chief Wilderness sprawls the Five Lakes Trail – an absolutely stunning and contemplative hike featuring five beautiful alpine lakes. Although this is a very popular one, the lakes allow you some solitude. It’s a moderate 5 mile out-and-back hike round trip. The beginning of the trail starts out with a steep ascent, but it will even out in the second half of the hike. Approximately 1,000 feet is gained total. The first part of the hike is comprised of forested switchbacks with views of the Alpine Meadows Ski Area on your left. This is the most difficult section of the trek, surrounded by a thicket of Manzanita, mule ear, and snowberry, turning into a forest of Jeffrey Pines as you climb. Here you’ll come to a narrow traverse on the side of the open sandstone and granite canyon, where a priceless panorama of jagged ridge line splays before you. There are also some very unique and interesting rock formations at this point.
As the trail eases up, you will come to the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness. The rewarding sights start with a massive granite wall, small streamlets snaking down in the spring and summer into tranquil lakes. Step into the cool blue water and cool off. These unnamed forest-rimmed lakes are a great place to swim, picnic, sunbathe, play fetch with Fido (this is a great dog hike), or even fish. You can clearly see Squaw Mountain rising up behind the waters. The largest lake, also considered the prettiest of the five, is the last one you come to. With fir trees abound, boulders surrounding, and a backdrop of the tip of the ridge, you’ll definitely be able to see why. Kids like to go rock hopping here, and the boulders are also an excellent sunbathing spot.
You can also camp at Five Lakes if you’re backpacking, though not within 600 feet of the lakes. By mid July, the trip will be snow free and the lakes will be at their peak. To get to the trailhead, take Interstate 80 to Highway 89 south to Tahoe City. After 9.5 miles, turn right on Alpine Meadows Road. Drive 2.1 miles to the trailhead on the right, across Deer Park Drive.
Lake Tahoe Hiking – Mt. Judah Loop Tahoe Hiking Trails
This is a 4.6 mile loop that climbs the northeast face of Mt. Judah for some of the most impressive vistas in northern Tahoe Sierra. The recently popular Mt. Judah Loop Trail cuts off the Pacific Crest Trail and follows the contours of the mountain. First it ascends moderately onto a scenic Jeep road near Coldstream Pass, then enters an aqueous area which brightens with varieties of pretty wildflowers in the spring and summer. As one might expect, this is the best time for the hike, also because spring and summer are the only times in which the mountain is clear of snow. Advantageous view points are abundant along the trail on the way up, as is the magnificently rugged terrain around Donner Pass. Outside the Judah entrance at Sugar Bowl Resort, the path climbs quickly and opens up to views of Lake Mary down below, tucked neatly inside mountain peaks.
The views don’t stop there; as you continue on in the Sugar Bowl Resort area and then head up towards the peak, you’ll be afforded excellent tableaus of shimmering Donner Lake. You’ll also see Mt. Rose, Truckee, and Coldstream Canyon immediately before you, and in summer the east side of Mt. Judah is dotted with lush purple Rock Fringe flowers. The trail then veers along the crest of the mountain top for an awe-inspiring panorama – Anderson Peak and Timber Knob to the south, and Castle Peak and Sierra Buttes rising up in the north. Before the loop connects back to the Pacific Crest Trail, it goes past Roller Pass, where signs tell the story of this significant point, its early settlers, and their difficult journey.
Eastbound and westbound drivers; take I-80’s Soda Springs exit and drive 4 miles along former Highway 40 to Donner Pass. Those at the west shore of Donner Pass can make a winding climb of a similar distance west to the pass. From the pass, drive 0.2 miles south on a paved road to where it bends west. Here, a pole-line road starts east, reaching a private road in 40 yards where it forks right. Park in this vicinity if you can, but since it’s open to a few cars at most and popular, you may have to park along one of the old highway’s turnouts.
If you’ve ever taken Highway 50 to South Lake Tahoe, then chances are you’ve seen a gushing waterfall to the north just as you’re approaching Echo Pass Summit. This spectacular fall is Horsetail Falls, created by Pyramid Creek flowing down the steep glacier carved granite faces of Desolation Wilderness. This is a short but difficult hike that should only be attempted by sure-footed, seasoned hikers. Follow Pyramid Creek up the granite rocks 1.4 miles to the falls. On the way up, keep an eye out for two or three (depending on the season) other unnamed waterfalls working their way down the mountains to your right. Coming up on Horsetail Falls itself just might take your breath away, provided you still have it. The sheer power of the rushing water eroding away at the sturdy granite will amaze you. This is quite a natural wonder to witness; Horsetail Falls is by far the largest in the Tahoe area. Though difficult to accurately measure, it is estimated to be about 800 feet tall.
Cool off and relax in the wading and swimming pools along the creek side, but use caution as several deaths have occurred in the strong current over the years. Keep close watch over children at all times. The falls flow all year, but are particularly dramatic at the peak of snow melt – about the middle of June through early July. Ambitious hikers can continue scrambling up the mountain along the strenuous trek to the top of the falls. There you’ll find a delightful Alpine lake called Avalanche Lake. There are also astounding views of Desolation Wilderness from this vantage point. Taking children up this route is not recommended as the rocks are very slippery even when they aren’t wet. The hike isn’t short on elevation gain; the trailhead is at 6,000 feet and the top of the falls are at 7,200 feet, though most of this height is gained in the last half mile to the top of Horsetail. The hike to the bottom of the falls will probably take about an hour and a half round trip.
At the wilderness boundary, you’ll have to fill out a permit before continuing up to the falls. To get there from South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 50 south. A little less than 7 miles from Echo Summit, you’ll see a well developed parking area for Twin Bridges and the Pyramid Creek Trail. There are flushing toilets and running water here as well.
Clark Trail – Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails
For the more adventurous hiker, Clark Trail is a strenuous and solitary route that takes you from the southeast edge of Fallen Leaf Lake up the steep wooded hillside to Angora Lookout and Angora Lakes. The steep grades should be traversed with caution and expertise, so only seasoned hikers should attempt this trail. This is a pretty elevated climb – you will gain 560 feet in elevation without much mileage to back it up. The trail is mostly loose shale, and is shady most of the way up. It’s a 1.6 mile hike to Upper Angora, where you can go swimming, cliff jumping, sun yourself on the beach, or try a pitcher of Angora’s regionally famous fresh-squeezed lemonade. Angora Lookout is a relatively minor summit, but still high enough for stunning views across the trees of the basin and north towards Lake Tahoe.
The Angora Lookout served the fire surveillance needs of the Lake Tahoe Basin for many years until it was replaced by improvements in aerial and satellite technology in the late 1970’s. The first lookout was built in 1924 and later converted into a small residence for the individuals personally in charge of it. In 1935, the current lookout was constructed alongside the original by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In addition, a third structure was built in the 1940’s to serve as a garage. All three of these buildings are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Alternate access to the Angora Lookout can be reached by driving along Angora Ridge Road, which also continues one mile south to Angora Lakes.
The quiet nature of this hike allows hikers to see some wildlife, including chipmunks, squirrels, stellar’s jays, Mountain chickadees, woodpeckers, and if you’re lucky (or not so lucky, depending on how you see it) you could catch a glimpse of a coyote or a bear. Clark Trail is accessible from March through November. To get there, take Highway 89 north from South Lake Tahoe to Fallen Leaf Lake Road. Parking is located at the Glen Alpine Trailhead. From the parking area, walk back down the road to the junction of Fallen Leaf Lake Road and look for the small church to your right. A little post behind the church marks the hard-to-find trailhead.