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Tahoe Hikes


Welcome to our hiking page. Each week we will feature a new Tahoe hike, and all of those hike descriptions will be archived here, with the collection growing as we add them regularly. Click on the hike list below to find the detailed description.

Big Meadow
Brockway Pass to Watson Lake
Loch Leven Lakes trail system
Martis Creek Trails
Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake
Donner Lake Rim Trail

Big Meadow heading east
This is a medium-difficult out and back day hike of just under 9 miles round trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail. It includes views of the southern Sierra and, in season, great wild flowers. The trail is open to hikers, mountain bikes and horses.tahoerimtrail

Start: The Big Meadow trailhead is on the north side of Highway 89 about five miles south of US 50. There is a paved parking lot, restrooms and horse trailer parking.
Description from the Tahoe Rim Trail Assn: Follow the paved road for 100 yards before going right onto the trail. The next 2 miles you will climb gently with switchbacks through a mostly thick forest of predominantly Jeffrey pine and red fir. Here you junction with the Grass Lake Trail so be sure to watch for TRT signs. From here as you continue your journey you will pass through several small meadows with many wildflowers and two rock outcroppings that make great viewing spots. From these you can see the northwest area of Lake Tahoe and mountains to the east and south. After a total of 4.4 miles you will reach Saxon Creek Trail (aka “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride). For an added challenge you can go on an extra mile (2 round trip) to Freel Meadows for more open views and wildflower viewing; otherwise find a nice spot for lunch and some relaxation before returning to the trailhead.

For more hikes from this trailhead see the EchoLakes.org web site.
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Brockway to Watson Lake

Here is another day hike description from our friends at the Tahoe Rim Trail Association. This one is pretty tough, mostly because of the distance: a 13-mile hike from Brockway Pass to Watson Lake and back. The actual terrain is somewhat mellow. The hike includes a short spur that takes you to a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe.

Difficulty: Hard
Distance : 13.4 miles round trip
Low / High Elevations : 7000 ft. to 7760 ft.
Highlights : Lunch at the lake and gentle rambling hiking.
Location : The Brockway trailhead is on highway 267 about 0.5 miles south of the summit.

Users : This trail is open to all, mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians are welcome; but be sure to yield as is appropriate.

Description: The first 4.5 miles are gentle ups and downs through white fir and Jeffrey pine forest. In this section you will cross several forest service roads, specifically FSR 73 commonly known as the Fiberboard Freeway; make sure you are rejoining the actual trail after each of these junctions. After 4.5 miles there is a short 90 yard spur trail on your left hand side which takes you to a large rock pile that offers spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. During the next 2.2 miles you will be heading gently up through beautiful wildflower meadows and forested areas. After passing several seep streams you will arrive at Watson Lake. Enjoy your time here before returning via the same path.

Special Note: you can drive to Watson Lake, so if you want to make this a shorter trip you could put one car on each end.

Photo from michaelonthetrail and flickr.com
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Martis Creek Trail

Martis Valley south of Truckee is best known as the site of a long and bitter fight over a proposed development. But it is also the home of a wildlife viewing area and some very family friendly hiking. The Martis Creek Trails hike is an easy stroll, recommended and described below by the good people at the Truckee Trails Foundation. See their full selection of local hikes and updated trail conditions here.

Martis Valley/photo from Truckee Donner Land Trust

Martis Valley/photo from Truckee Donner Land Trust

Martis Creek Trails
Distance: about four miles, as described. Easy to add more with multiple trail options.
Difficulty: easy

Open to: Non-motorized users. Water for dogs: Yes. NOTE: IT IS THE LAW THAT ALL DOG WASTE MUST BE PICKED UP AND DISPOSED OF.

Directions to Trailhead: From Downtown Truckee: Proceed east onto Brockway Rd from Donner Pass Road. At the junction with SR 267, turn right. After the airport, watch for \\\”Wildlife viewing area” sign and turn right into the parking area.

Description: For Hikers (bikes not allowed on trail near the creek): Start at the parking area for a very popular level walk along the creek; expect to encounter lots of dogs and people. Connects with the Tompkins Memorial Trail for a 3 mile loop.

For Bicycles: Start at the Tompkins Memorial Trail, halfway down the access road to the parking lot. This is a 3 mile loop around the valley, with numerous possibilities for add-ons as the Tompins Memorial Trail winds through Northstar. It is well-signed.

Wildlife seen here include mule deer, coyote, the golden-mantled ground squirrel, pocket mouse, chipmunk, and racoon. Birds include the red-tailed hawk, killdeer, mountain quail and the Canada goose.
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Sagehen Creek
Hike distance: 5 miles out and back
Elevation gain: modest
Difficulty: easy

While hiking or biking through sensitive wildlands, please remember to respect the terrain and the foilage through which you are traveling.

Trailhead: On Highway 89, 6.8 miles north of Truckee. There is a dirt parking area on the right (east) side just past the bridge over Sagehen Creek. There are no facilities at the trailhead and the trail is not marked, but it is clearly visible on the northeast side of Sagehen Creek.

Sagehen Creek wildflowers

Sagehen Creek wildflowers

This hike is known for its wildflowers, which peak in early to midsummer. For that reason it will be the first hike led this season, on May 16, by “Wildflower Roger,” who leads wildflower hikes for the local chapter of the Sierra Club. He will especially be on the lookout for Camas Lilies and Death Camas, for which this watershed is best known.

From the trailhead, the path heads downstream through a forest of pines, firs, cedars and junipers, along with the ever present wildflowers. After a little over a mile the trail slides away from the creek just a bit to the northeast through a field of mule ears, which bloom in early summer into a sea of yellow flowers. About two miles in you reach a clearing and a small rivulet, which you cross to reach a meadow that borders Stampede Reservoir. The trail soon disappears, but your destination, the lake’s edge, should be within view, and you can amble the rest of the way there. Return the way you came.

Nearby: Sagehen Creek on the west side of Highway 89 is home to two scientific research stations and a visitors center.

Read here about the University of California’s Sagehen Creek field station, including their underwater observation post where you can see the fish swimming by. Better than Sea World! An excerpt:sagehen4

Located within the Sagehen Experimental Forest on the eastern slope of the northern Sierra Nevada approximately 20 miles north of Lake Tahoe, Sagehen Creek Field Station has been dedicated to research and teaching since 1951. The University of California operates the station under a long-term, special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service. The surrounding watershed is also available to researchers and classes through an agreement with the Forest Service and includes extensive stands of yellow pine, mixed conifer, and red fir forests, as well as brush fields, scattered mountain meadows, and fens. Sagehen serves as the hub of a much broader network of research areas known as the Central Sierra Field Research Stations, which is comprised of: Sagehen Creek Field Station, Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, Onion Creek Experimental Watershed, Chickering American River Reserve, and North Fork Association Lands.

Sagehenn Creek is also the site of a US Geological Survey Hydrolgoic Benchmark Network stataion, or HBN. Read more than you probably ever thought you wanted to know about the creek at the USGS website here. An exerpt:

The Sagehen Creek Basin is located within the Sierran Steppe-Mixed Forest-Coniferous Forest-Alpine Meadow Province (Bailey and others, 1994). Vegetation in the basin is dominated by pine and fir forest with grassy meadows along the main channel (Rundel and others, 1977; Andrews and Erman, 1986). The most common trees are Ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, Douglas-fir, sugar pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar. The basin is about 90 percent forested and 10 percent meadow. Soils are classified as Alfisols and are mapped in the Windy series (Johnson and Needham, 1966). This series consists of deep, well-drained soils developed in material weathered from volcanic rocks that contain up to 90 percent rock fragments. A typical profile has a surface layer of dark grayish brown, gravelly, sandy loam that is 60 cm thick overlying a subsoil of yellowish-brown, cobbly, sandy, loam that extends to a depth of 115 cm. Soils in this series generally are acidic and have base saturation ranges from 2 to 35 percent (Johnson and Needham, 1966).

The oldest rocks in the vicinity of the Sagehen Creek Basin are metamorphic rocks of Triassic-Jurassic age, which crop out west of the basin along the crest of the Sierra Nevada (Lindgren, 1897; Burnett and Jennings, 1962; Birkeland, 1963). The metamorphic rocks, which are mostly banded siliceous hornfels, were intruded by granitic rocks of the Sierra Nevada View of basin from road (A. Mast; 7/91)
Batholith during the Cretaceous age (Bateman, 1992). Tertiary volcanic rocks, primarily andesitic flows and breccias, overlie the older granitic and metamorphic rocks throughout the region and are the predominant rock type in the Sagehen Creek Basin (Hudson, 1951). The Tertiary volcanic rocks contain plagioclase (andesine and labradorite), magnetite, and apatite phenocrysts, and are overlain by glacial till and alluvial deposits (Birkeland, 1964). The till is of Wisconsinan age, based on correlations made by Birkeland (1964) and Richmond and Fullerton (1986), and in the basin probably was mostly derived from the Tertiary-age volcanic rocks.

The Sagehen Creek Basin is almost entirely in the Tahoe National Forest, except for several hundred hectares that are privately owned by a lumber company. Historical records indicate that low-intensity grazing, logging, and wild fires have occurred in the basin since the late 1800’s, and there has been little change in land use since the early 1950’s (Erman and others, 1988). The principal human activity in the basin is hydrologic and biological research conducted by a variety of agencies, including the USGS and the University of California. A biological research station operated by the University of California is located about 0.5 km upstream from the HBN station. There are no impoundments or diversions in the basin. Two dirt roads traverse the basin, but access is limited by locked gates. There is an undeveloped campground about 2 km upstream from the HBN station. Other recreational uses include fishing, hiking, skiing, and snowmobiling. There are no mines in the basin, but extensive timber harvesting occurred between the 1880’s and the early 1900’s. The 10-year projected timber harvest from the basin is 9 to 10 million board feet (D.C. Erman, University of California, written commun., 1998). A sheep allotment of 1,200 units exists for the basin-animals are moved through the basin in August to higher elevations and back to lower elevations in mid-September. The sheep rest and feed 1 to 3 days in each of the large meadows in the basin on the way out (D.C. Erman, written commun., 1998).

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Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake
Distance: About 4.5 miles one-way, out and back.
Difficulty: moderate

Marlette Lake. Photo: Nevada Parks Dept.

Marlette Lake. Photo: Nevada Parks Dept.

High above Lake Tahoe’s east shore, just south of Sand Harbor, Marlette Lake serves as the gateway to the famous Flume Trail mountain bike ride, which is one of the region’s finest. But don’t neglect Marlette Lake as a destination for its own sake. A moderately difficult five-mile hike from Spooner gets you there, and it’s well worth the walk. Marlette is a beautiful mountain lake, with catch-and-release fishing in the summer and a bounty of colorful aspen in the fall. Hikers used to have to share the soft dirt road up from Spooner with mountain bikers. Now the bikers and the hikers each have their own path, with the hikers getting the single track and the bikers taking the road.

Trail head: Take Highway 28 to the entrance to Spooner Lake within Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, one mile north of the junction with Highway 50. Follow the park road to the visitor center. The park offers picnic tables, restrooms, and mountain bike rentals.

The hike: Take a wide path from Spooner Lake trailhead to North Canyon Road and head north across the lake’s outlet and into a mixed forest of pines and firs. About three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead, just past Spooner’s Cabin, pick up the North Canyon Trail, which will take you all the way to Marlette Lake. The high point of the trail is about 4 miles in, and then it’s a half-mile descent to the shore of the lake. From there you can explore the beginnings of the Flume Trail or walk to Marlette Overlook for a view of Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe. Return the same way you came in.

Extra: Here are some dated but still relevant online reviews of this hike.
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