My Favorite – The Five Lakes Hike

Hiking in Lake Tahoe is one of the top attractions visitors and locals enjoy throughout the basin.  There are hundreds of miles of trails to choose from and explore, but year after year my favorite hike to enjoy each summer is the Five Lakes Hike on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.

The Five Lakes Trail is located in the Granite Chief Wilderness in between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley ski resorts and is easily accessible at the intersection of Alpine Meadows and Deer Park roads.  The 5-mile moderate trail ascends approximately 900-1000 ft. along granite canyons and pine forests to a high-altitude meadow that creates a bowl of five lakes in between the rugged mountain peaks towering from above including a peak of Squaw Valley ski resort.  As you ascend the trail, you will enjoy view of the Alpine Meadows ski resort from a distance, traverse under an abandon ski resort chair lift (said to be created to link the two ski resorts at one time) and climb along the rocky, granite cliff until you pass a waterfall and reach the high-altitude meadow.  The hike takes only about one-hour to reach the meadow and lakes but I recommend spending at least a 1/2-day on the trail in order to fully explore and enjoy the lakes above.  Since it is such a popular hike, the trail can become crowded, especially on weekends, but not to worry as there are plenty of nooks and coves to relax, picnic, swim and even fish in the lakes.

Check out a video of my recent trips along the Five Lakes Hike in Lake Tahoe and learn tips and see pictures of this gorgeous trail!

A few local tips on the Five Lakes Hike:  

  • Be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen!  This hike is primarily exposed and can be very hot during the midday until you reach the shady meadows above
  • Pack lots of water and snacks.  As you quickly ascend the trail it is roughly a 2.5-mile straight climb until you reach the top.  The added elevation factor in the mountains can surprise out-of-town visitor
  • Sometimes finding all 5 lakes can be tricky but take your time enjoying and exploring the high elevation meadows and trails connecting the lakes throughout.
  • Worth the wait!  Due to its high elevation, I recommend enjoying this hike later in the summer season as high-altitude snow is likely to remain throughout spring.  One year over 4th of July friends and I did this hike and there was still snow covering the trail and the lakes were frozen over!

To learn more about this popular trail visit this online trail guide that including stage by stage directions as well as this complete review in SFGate.com.  Have you ever hiked Five Lakes?  If so do you have any tips to share on how to find all five lakes? Please share them in the comments below.

If you enjoying learning about Lake Tahoe follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

Opening Day to Bike & Hike at Northstar California

547284_349278815154232_1618896414_nWith temperatures around the basin heating up and the sun slipping behind the mountains later each day, it is no secret – summertime has arrived in Lake Tahoe.  What does that mean besides BBQs, beach days and summer weekend traffic? It means that resorts and vendors throughout the basin will begin launching their summer schedule of activity programs.

A big player in the region did just that today.  Northstar California owned by Vail Resorts starting turning their chairlifts again, celebrating the opening day of their downhill mountain bike park and trail lift access for the summer season.

Northstar California is home to Northern California’s largest mountain bike park offering beginner to advanced cross country and downhill mountain biking trails, bike rentals and repair, lift access throughout the resort and its own Bike Academy.  Whether you are an expert or a novice downhill mountain biker like me, this place has something for you.  The ultimate perk, with lift access you can cut out 1/2 the work by riding the chair lifts up the mountain alongside your bike and focus your time and energy on enjoying the thrill of riding down the mountain instead.

My personal favorite and recommendation for beginners is to sign-up for a lesson with Northstar’s Bike Academy Bike 101 program.  It’s the perfect introduction to both mountain biking as well as the resort terrain teaching you all the basic skills needed, familiarity with the equipment 2013-summer-trail-mapand safety instructions.  The Bike 101 program includes half-day bike rental, safety gear and helmet as well as a lift ticket to enjoy the mountain which you can explore all day after your lesson.  I tried the experience last summer, loved it and looking forward to returning this year.  The staff is phenomenal, well versed in mountain biking techniques as well as knowledge of the mountain.

Also, if you have never ridden a chairlift in the summertime, frankly you’re missing out.  Most associate chairlifts with wintertime activities, but here you can enjoy the gorgeous views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and glimpses of nearby Lake Tahoe all summer long on the hiking trails of Northstar California.  With three main chairlift access open including the Gondola, Tahoe Zephyr Express or Vista Express chairlifts, families and friends can explore the mountainside enjoying scenic views of Lake Tahoe, Martis Valley and the Sierra Crest of in the distance.  Easy lift access, clearly marked trails and parameters of the resort, make it easy for out-of-town families to explore hiking trails safely and with more familiarity than in the open, backcountry of the basin.

Afraid you and your kids might get hooked?  No problem, Northstar California offers competitive season passes packages allowing guests to enjoy access to the biking trails and hiking trails all summer long through September.  Learn more about mountain bike and hiking pass pricing as well as season passes.   Also learn more about the resort’s hours of operations as well as answers to all of your questions about the mountain experience.

Do you enjoy downhill mountain biking and if so, where are your favorite places to ride in Lake Tahoe? Please share your feedback in the comments below.

If you enjoying learning about Lake Tahoe follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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Mt. Judah Loop Trail – View from Atop!

IMG_0901A wonderful hike in Lake Tahoe is the Mt. Judah Loop Trail that offers sweeping views of Donner Lake and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains on the North Shore.   As a resident on the North Shore, many of my recreational activities favor this side of the Lake but there are marvelous hikes in every region surrounding the lake.   The Mt. Judah Loop Trail veers off from the famed Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that spans 2,663 mile along the West Coast from Canada all the way to Mexico.  Learn more about the Pacific Crest Trail.   The trail is well marked, moderate in difficulty, 5.5 miles in length with an elevation gain of 1,700 ft.   The trail loops around the summit of Mt. Judah, elevation 8,234ft, offering a 365-degree view of the region.

Mt. Judah Loop Trail Hike

Getting There:  Exit highway 80 at the Soda Springs Exit and travel 4 miles along the former Highway 40 to Donner Pass.  Drive past Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and turn right after a group of buildings.  You will see a parking lot on your right with cars scattered, look for the Pacific Crest Trail sign at the far end along the road.

Hike down the road until you reach the PCT trail signs indicating further directions.  A single-track trails begins to climb the backside of the mountain with rocky steps and short switchbacks.  Soon you will come across a trail intersection which indicates the beginning of the Mt. Judah Loop Trail and where you will leave the Pacific Crest Trail.   This will also be the conclusion of your loop around Mt. Judah when you return, joining back on the PCT.  The single-track trail remains fairly level and loops around the summit amongst wild flowers, pine forests and  most notably spectacular views.   Along the loop there is also a detour to a lookout from Donner Peak which I highly recommend offering an amazing vista above Donner Lake.   First summit accomplished!

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On to the next peak!  Return back to the Mt. Judah Loop Trail and follow the ridgeline as it climbs up Mt. Judah  to the highest point on the mountain.   Here is where all of your hand work will pay off!  I recommend taking a break and soaking in the 365-degree views around you, including views of the crest, Lake Mary and Sugar IMG_0911Bowl to your west, the Pacific Crest trail to your south,  Donner Lake and Truckee to your east and Castle Peak to your north.  To complete the loop, follow along the trail back down the south side of the mountain and look for the junction back to the Pacific Crest Trail.  Turn right at the junction and travel north along the Pacific Crest Trail as you descend alongside Mt. Judah, weaving through dense pine trees.  Eventually, you will pass the original junction you took to begin the Mt. Judah Trail Loop hike.  Continue along the PCT until you exist the trail.  For more information about the specifics of this hike along with others in the Lake Tahoe region I often use Every Hike as a good reference guide.
A few tips:  I recommend this hike early in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is least intense as portions are exposed.  Note that the snow hasn’t melted off the summits yet and trails at high elevations such as this one aren’t clear of snow.  Give this hike another month to ensure a dry path.  This wonderful hike can also be enjoyed during the wintertime on snowshoes!  Take extra precautions when snowshoeing along this trail and be aware of winter conditions.

Have you hiked the Pacific Crest Trail or Mt. Judah Loop Trail?  Share with us in the comments your favorite hikes to enjoy in Lake Tahoe!

If you enjoying learning about Lake Tahoe follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

All photos below to Robin Penning

Tahoe Rim Trail – A “Trail Like No Other”

Tahoe Rim Trail 2011 074When visiting Lake Tahoe you will likely hear locals speaking about the Tahoe Rim Trail but you might be asking what is it? where is it? and what can I do on it?

The Tahoe Rim Trail Association describes it as a “Trail like No Other” which we are so lucky to have in our backyard at Lake Tahoe.   A few cool facts about The Tahoe Rim Trail:  165 miles of single-track multiuser trail, circumvents Lake Tahoe peak by peak, passes through both California and Nevada, six counties, one state park, three National Forests and three Wilderness areas.  If you have ever hiked in Lake Tahoe, you likely set foot on the Tahoe Rim Trail whether you knew it or not.  Even better, the Tahoe Rim Trail isn’t limited to hiking, it offers something for all outdoor enthusiasts including horseback riding on all portions of the trail, backpacking for overnight adventurers as well as mountain biking access on more than 50% of the trail.  One of the best features of the Tahoe Rim Trail is that it connects to so many other trails in Lake Tahoe including the famous Flume Trail on the East Shore and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails along the West Shore just to name a few.

map-using-trail-master copyI love hiking and it’s so hard to pick my favorite portions of the Tahoe Rim trail!  For shorter, 1/2 day hikes that are closeby, I enjoy hiking along the portions that loop Mt. Rose and the nearby Tahoe Meadows which can also be great snowshoeing trails in the wintertime.  For longer day trips and overnight backpacking, I head towards Echo Lake in South Lake Tahoe to explore the trails that leads deep into Desolation Wilderness. I enjoy the trails that traverse though granite meadows and High Sierra alpine lakes that I visited as a child with my family during backpacking trips.  Here is a map of the complete Tahoe Rim Trail.

Can’t choose? Wanna do it all?  Join the 165 mile club and become the 1423rd member!  That’s right, do as the locals do and set the goal to complete the entire Tahoe Rim Trail.  I am proud to say that I have two local friends who accomplished this amazing feat a few summers ago.  You can tackle this challenge in different ways and strategies.  My friends completed it in one summer by dividing up sections of the trail, conquerining it one weekend at a time and enjoyed seeing so much of Lake Tahoe’s backcountry while doing it.  If you are interested in joining the 165 mile club check out more details and a list of current members on their website.

IMG_1780The Trail Rim Trail is managed by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, a nonprofit organization formed in 1981.  They began constructing the trail in 1984, later  completed in September of 2001.  The Tahoe Rim Trail Association is continuously maintaining, restoring and reconstructing sections of the trail.  Each season they offer volunteer programs to locals and visitors to work on repairing a section of the trail. If you love Lake Tahoe, especially hiking and biking, volunteering on the Tahoe Rim Trail is a great way to support Lake Tahoe and meet some of the locals who are dedicated to keeping Lake Tahoe the best lake!  The Tahoe Rim Trail Association also offers educational seminars and special events for members, groups and visitors.   To learn more about the Tahoe Rim Trail’s volunteering programs and schedule of events visit their website.

Have you hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail and if so do you have a favorite section? Share it in the comments below!

Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe?  Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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A Local’s Favorite Daycation – Emerald Bay

EagleFalls1As a Lake Tahoe local, whether by car or boat, the trip to Emerald Bay is my favorite sightseeing day trip to make.  Named one of the most photographed panoramas in America, I am not the only one!  But what you may not know is that springtime can be the best time to visit Emerald Bay.

People mistakenly think that there isn’t much to do in Lake Tahoe during the spring “off season” after ski resorts close and before golf courses and lake activities begin, but the off season is actually a favorite time of locals to enjoy Lake Tahoe.  Emerald Bay is a perfect example of this.  Two reasons my favorite time to visit Emerald Bay is in the spring are simple:  bigger waterfalls and smaller crowds!  Sound good to you?  Here I will share with you some of the best things to do and tips for visiting Emerald Bay.

3717160754_d3f6c55207_bBut first some history. Emerald Bay is a state park and national natural landmark located along the south west corner of Lake Tahoe famous for its expansive panorama of Lake Tahoe, granite glacier carved surrounding peaks and rich emerald shimmering waters.  Emerald Bay is accessible via Highway 89 and located 22 miles south of Tahoe City or 12 miles north west of South Lake Tahoe.  It is famous for a few unique features including being home to the Lake’s only island as well as the only flowing waterfall into the Lake.  Emerald Bay is also home of  Vikingsholm and its adjoining “Tea House” on Fannette Island. To learn more about these famous landmarks, visit my earlier post Lake Tahoe’s Original Mansion Masterpieces.

When visiting Emerald Bay, plan on spending the entire day as there is so much to do!
Here is a list of my favorite must see and do when visiting:
IMG_0879– Hike to Upper Eagle Waterfalls
– Hike to Emerald Beach & Lower Eagle Waterfalls
– Hike to Eagle Lake and have a picnic. My favorite!  (photo left)
– Sunbathe on the beach & swim in the emerald waters
– Snap a photo of the famous view from the Visitors Center
– Take a tour of the Vikingsholm Mansion
– Hike along the Rubicon Trail towards D.L. Bliss State Park
– Visit the bay by boat! Enjoy a different perspective of the waterfalls and mountains
– Take a day hike trip to nearby Cascade Lake or Granite Lake. Learn more at Stephen Berei’s Lake Tahoe All Access Blog

mapLocal Tips for your Trip!  Emerald Bay becomes EXTREMELY crowded in the summer months of July and August.  My friends and I have a rule that if we won’t get there by 10:00 am on summer weekend, its better not to go.  Parking is very limited with only three small lots available and it can take an hour of circling to find a spot during peak summer time.  Bring cash!  Parking rates at the visitor local center apply and can vary each year.  Hiking trails can also be very crowded, but are easy and short making them accessible for family members of all ages and ability. Dogs are not allowed along the hiking trails or beach.  Last, layer clothing.  The beach is surrounded by spectacular granite cliffs, gets shady early in the afternoon and the waters are very chilly due to the snowmelt especially during spring months.  Campsites, park facilities and museum tours do not open until Memorial weekend and remain open though Labor Day weekend.  To learn more about park information and hours visit the Emerald Bay State Park website.

Have you ever visited Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe?  If so, share your favorite thing to do there in the comments below!

Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe?  Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

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Ready, Set… Let the Hiking Season Begin! Tunnel Creek Trail

montrail4Spring has sprung, ski resorts are closing and to Lake Tahoe residents and visitors that means it’s time to take a hike!  I am thrilled for this time of year when the snow melts from the high Sierra’s granting more and more access to backcountry terrain for  summer exploring on foot to begin.  As a resident of North Lake Tahoe one of my favorite hikes nearby is Tunnel Creek, a favorite amongst locals for its convenient access, great work out and of course, the unparalleled views!

Tunnel Creek offers unbelievable views as you ascend trails hovering above some of the most spectacular and scenic shores of Lake Tahoe above Highway 28, Hidden Beach Unknownand Sand Harbor State Park off in the distance.  Not only does the trail offer spectacular views, but it’s also a fantastic workout!  To access the trailhead simply park across the street from the old Bonanza parking lot on Highway 28 just as you leave Incline Village traveling towards South Lake Tahoe (if you reach Hidden Beach trail head on Highway 28 you have gone too far). Today there is the new Tunnel Creek Station which includes Flume Trail Bikes and the Tunnel Creek Cafe making the entrance to the hike easier to spot.  Park along the shoulder of the highway, there is no public parking allowed in the lot nor along Tunnel Creek Road itself for hikers.   The Tunnel Creek Trail also connects with the world famous Flume Trail, which eventually connects with the Tahoe Rim Trail, making this trail a multipurpose access point to many Lake Tahoe adventures!

IMG_7294To begin the hike, cross Highway 28, walk towards the Tunnel Creek Station along Tunnel Creek Road and climb the short paved road/driveway.  After a few hundred yards you will reach a flat, sandy trail that stretches for about a 1/4 mi above Highway 28 until you reach the official trailhead shown on the right.  From here it is a fairly steep uphill climb for about a mile along a dirt path under shaded pine trees.  The next mile+ of the trail is the most enjoyable of the hike offering a windy, sandy trail along the East shore with unobstructed views of the Lake Tahoe and the beautiful shores below.  The mostly flat and clear trail also make it perfect for trail running if you want an extra workout.  Towards the end of this portion of the trail it enters a shaded, wooded area which leads away from the Lake and continues on to the Flume Trail and is where most hikers turn around.

5051203881_8c91508e30_oI most enjoy hiking the Tunnel Creek Trail early in the morning or later in the afternoon, during spring and fall.  During these times the trail is less crowded, especially with mountain bikers.  Since this trail is connected to the Flume Trail, it can become heavily congested with mountain bikers racing down the trail so be sure to be on alert.  Also, much of the trail is exposed so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring additional coverings to avoid sunburns.  The Tunnel Creek Trail is also an excellent location to catch sunset views over the ridges across the Lake during evening hikes.

If you enjoy hiking in Lake Tahoe, share your favorite hiking trail in the comments below and whether or not you have hiked the Tunnel Creek trail!

Enjoy learning about Lake Tahoe?  Follow my blog and me at @robinpenning to receive information on tips, news, activities and special events in Lake Tahoe.

Photo Credit 1, Photo Credit 2, Photo Credit 3, Photo Credit 4