There is no shortage of hiking trails in the Lake Tahoe area, but it's nice to know how “easy” or “hard” they'll be before you set out. Here are some of the most popular and easy-to-access hikes from the main towns, where most visitors stay. These four can be reached via Highway 89, which runs from Truckee down the west side of the lake.
Vikingsholm: 2 miles (3.2 kilometers)
If you’re driving to Emerald Bay, one of the lake’s most popular destinations, known for its tiny Fannette Island, the hike down to Vikingsholm Castle is a must. You can take in the view of the bay from the observation area on Highway 89, but most visitors walk down the mountain to the water to see the 1929 mansion and get another perspective on the bay. It’s a wide, out-and-back trail that doesn’t take long, but the change in elevation is almost 500 feet (152 meters), and you do have to hike back up to return to your car. Vikingsholm Castle is open for tours on select days. To continue hiking, join the Rubicon Trail or Eagle Falls trail once you’re on the lakeshore.
Five Lakes: 5 miles (8 kilometers)
Climb about 1,000 feet (305 meters) in elevation to reach a series of five small, pristine mountain lakes in the Granite Chief Wilderness. The trailhead sits on the road to Alpine Meadows ski resort, six miles (10 kilometers) from Tahoe City and 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Truckee. Most of the steep climbing is at the beginning, and then the trail flattens out a bit, rewarding you as as you meander to the lakes, where you can rest and refuel.
Shirley Canyon: 3.6 miles (5.7 kilometers)
Also known as Shirley Lake, this trail starts at the base of Squaw Valley ski resort and takes you up to the top of the mountain, known as High Camp, where you can hop on the aerial tram to ride back down. The trail is a favorite for its scenery of waterfalls, granite boulders, wildflowers, and Shirley Lake, which some hikers use as a turnaround point instead of hiking all the way to the top. If you do reach High Camp, you can toast your hard work with a drink while you admire the expansive view of the lake and surrounding peaks.
Eagle Rock: 0.7 miles (1.1 kilometers)
Not to be confused with Eagle Falls or Eagle Lake, which sit near Emerald Bay in the South Lake area, Eagle Rock viewpoint provides a quick way to get a panoramic view of the lake from its west shore. Just under five miles (seven kilometers) south of Tahoe City, before Homewood, the trailhead is off the west side of Highway 89. This is not a hike you’ll need to plan your whole day around, making it a great choice for families with younger kids.