Last month I road tripped up to Lake Tahoe. I sat in the traffic jams on I-80 and idled bumper-to-bumper through South Lake Tahoe. I elbowed the crowds guzzling schooners of microbrewed beer on those irresistible lake-view decks at sunset. Then the next morning, all of those howling masses just disappeared.
Turns out that choosing to hike while everyone else is baking in the sun at the beach -- or alternatively, just setting off on foot somewhere other than the vaunted Rubicon Trail between Emerald Bay and DL Bliss State Parks -- will give you that Sierra Nevada meditation you crave.
Framed by wildflowers and jagged peaks, the Tahoe Meadows Trails border the Mt Rose Hwy, about 8 miles from Lake Tahoe's eastern shore and Incline Village, Nevada. Starting just a mile down the highway from Mt Rose Summit, these gentle boardwalk and dirt paths wind around a subalpine meadow and over a burbling stream. Even better: free parking, and leashed dogs allowed.
You won't pass many other folks besides shoreline fishers and a few picnicking families on the short nature loop around Spooner Lake, just north of the Hwy 89/50 intersection, south of Incline Village. To access this quiet trail, the $10 entry fee to Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park is a bargain, because it includes same-day admission to Sand Harbor beach up the road for a cool post-hike dip. (No swimming at Spooner Lake, sorry -- too many leeches!)
Finally, if you're ready to flee from the plague of happy-hour crowds by the lake, Stateline Lookout is the hike you want to take. Full disclosure: there's actually no fire lookout here anymore. But the stone-walled observation platform at the top, which lets you survey the sparkling waves and watch the sun sink into the Desolation Wilderness over by the lake's western shore, is prize enough. The hike follows paved Forest Service Rd 1601, starting just east of the old-school casinos in Crystal Bay, a short drive west of Incline Village.
Have another favorite uncrowded trail in Tahoe? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
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Photos: Lake Tahoe (Jonathan Hayes)