One of the reasons that my family and I love Lake Tahoe so much is that it’s the perfect place to go hiking. The views of the lake and mountains are endless, and the hills that surround the lake are full of fun surprises and a variety of nice trails. With hikes ranging from quick flat trails to long all-day hikes, it’s not hard to find something to fit your family’s needs.
After a few years of exploring Tahoe’s trails with my two boys, these are some of our favorite family-friendly hikes around Lake Tahoe:
- Eagle Rock Hiking Trail, Homewood on the west shore
To reach this hike, drive toward Homewood and look for the trailhead right on the road (on the side away from the lake). Look for parked cars–there should be some cars parked at the trailhead since there’s no parking lot here. The trail is short but climbs steadily. You can reach the top of Eagle Rock in about 20 minutes. The rock has one of the best views of the lake:
2. Taylor Creek, South Lake Tahoe
Visiting Taylor Creek is one of the best things to do in Lake Tahoe in the fall because of the yellow leaves of the aspen trees and the Kokanee salmon that spawn in this creek. In fall when the salmon are here, you may even see a bear in the water looking for a meal. In late spring and summer, the area has wildflowers.
The half-mile Rainbow Trail is easy and flat. It starts at the Visitor Center and makes a loop which takes about 30-60 minutes depending on how much time you spend at the creek. There are other trails here that are slightly longer. The trails are open year round, but the Visitor Center is open Memorial Day through October 31, and parking costs $10.
3. The Rubicon Trail
The Rubicon Trail is probably the best known in the Tahoe area, and for good reason. This 4.5-mile trail takes you along the shoes of the lake between two beautiful state parks, D.L. Bliss and Emerald Bay State Parks. Note that that distance is one-way, so you’ll need to leave a car at the end or arrange for someone to pick you up unless you want to hike round trip. If you come with kids, you may want to hike just the first part and then turn around.
The trail may be too long for younger kids to do. We hiked just a part of the trail starting from Calawee Cove in D.L. Bliss State Park. We still want to see the rest of it, so that means that on another trip, we’ll start at the opposite end (at Emerald Bay) or hike the whole way without the kids.
The views of the lake from the trail are stunning. The trail meanders along the shore with just a bit of up and down but always leading to viewpoints where you can see coves of turquoise water or expansive views across the lake.
A few logistics:
This is a popular trail, so try to come on a weekday and expect a lot of people on the trail in the summer.
You can park at Calawee Cove in D.L. Bliss State Park. The trail begins at the end of the small parking lot just above the cove (where the bathrooms are). We ended our hike here in the late afternoon. Parking at the state parks is $10.
4. Balancing Rock Trail, D.L. Bliss State Park
One of my favorite short trails for families is Balancing Rock Trail in D.L. Bliss State Park (one of my favorite state parks in California!). This half-mile loop begins at a teepee to honor the Native Americans who used to live in this area before continuing to a series of massive granite boulders and then to a stream.
As the name suggests, the highlight is the trail’s geologic wonder, a huge, 130-ton balancing rock that rests precariously on top of a smaller granite base. Be sure to pick up one of the brochures in the box at the trail head for more information about the nature that you’ll see on the trail.
5. High Camp Loop at Squaw
One of my favorite outings in the Tahoe area is visiting Squaw Valley (the alpine meadows in the valley are so peaceful) and taking the aerial tram to High Camp. Once there, you can spend an hour or several hours hiking the trails, visiting the Olympics Museum and playing outdoor games like cornhole with your kids. It’s especially pretty here in the summer when the wildflowers are in bloom.
There are several trails to choose from, but I recommend the High Camp Loop, a 1.25-mile trail that has beautiful views but little climbing.
You can park at the Village, stop there for lunch or a snack, and then take the tram up to High Camp. The tram ride costs $34 per adult or $8 for kids over 4 if you book online 24 hours in advance (the tram ride is so fun! The views are incredible!). The Olympic Museum is free. It can get windy up there so bring an extra layer.
If you’d prefer to hike up there (maybe with teens?), the Shirley Canyon Trail starts just outside the village and goes up to High Camp, where you can take the tram back down for free.
And a few more:
Dolder Nature Trail: Located inside Sugar Pine Point State Park on the west shore, this flat two-mile loop starts behind the mansion, passes along the lake shore and then winds through the forest. In the summer, expect ferns and wildflowers but few people!
Shirley Canyon Trail: Located just outside the Village at Squaw, this trail is a 4-mile climb to a lake. With kids, try doing just part of the trail — we hiked just the first part to the waterfall when my kids were 4 and 8.
Donner Lake: This easy flat trail goes from the parking lot through the trees and to the lake — it’s a quiet, pretty trail that can be done in summer or winter (with snowshoes). The two times we’ve been there, we’ve been the only ones around. Plus, the Visitor Center has an educational exhibit about the history of this area and the Donner Party.
Do you have any tips for hiking at Lake Tahoe with kids?
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