If you’re anything like me, when it comes to planning a hiking trip I am determined to always get in as many miles as possible at each location. It can be tricky to plan, though, especially when you’ve never been to a certain area and are solely relying on guide books and websites to show you the way. And when you’re trip involves mountains, maps can be deceiving and make things appear closer than they are.
When my husband and I planned our California excursion, South Lake Tahoe was the first (and shortest) destination of our trip. I had no idea what to expect, I just knew I wanted to hike as much as possible – and only having three days felt like I was asking for the impossible.
However, I’m here to tell you that hiking (South) Lake Tahoe in three days, and seeing some really incredible sights along the way, is entirely doable. Have no fear, your three day guide to Lake Tahoe is here 🙂
Where to Stay
Tahoe is a popular tourist destination, so the nice thing is the accommodations are pretty endless. You should be able to find whatever you’re looking for. Since we knew we would be spending most of our time outdoors we just needed a place to shower/ice bath and sleep for cheap, that was within a good distance of the trails we were hitting up.
We decided an Airbnb was our best option, and we found a charming cabin, perfect one for what we needed. Not only was it roughly a 20 minute drive to most of our hikes, it was also within walking distance to a really cool brewery that we were able to enjoy after our long, tough hikes.
Where to Hike
Day 1: For the first day we wanted something moderate in terms of elevation and distance so we could acclimate ourselves to the altitude adjustment. However, we also wanted scenic views along the way, so we knew either way it’d be a tough hike. We decided on the Granite Lake & Maggie’s Peak hike, which is an out-and-back trail. We chose this because it was decently close to our place, and the 3.6 mileage seemed perfect. Of course, coming from Ohio that sounds like an easy hike, but don’t let that fool you.
This hike feels like your constantly climbing, with about a 1,300 elevation gain along the way. We were exhausted by the end, but I am so glad we chose this hike. The views were absolutely incredible the entire time. It was the best way to kick off our trip! The hike took us about two hours to complete.
Day 2: Because we only had three days here, we decided this would be our “big hike” day, since we had the full day to complete our hike rather than a day where we were checking in/out of our place. We were both determined to tackle a mountain summit, so we chose to try and conquer Mount Tallac.
With this hike being roughly 10.6 miles out and back, this was the only one we planned for the day. If you’re up for the challenge, I highly recommend this summit. It is definitely difficult, so pace yourself and make sure you start early enough in the day. There is quite a bit of rocky terrain so wear solid shoes with ankle support and bring plenty of snacks and a lot of water.
We filled up my 28L water bladder as well as a 32 oz. water bottle and ran out with about 30 minutes left in the hike. It’s also important to bring or wear layers. At one point I was in a long sleeve, but by the top we hit a little snow and strong wind so I’m glad I brought gloves, a light jacket and a hat.
It took us roughly six and a half hours to do this one with a lot of breaks and lunch at the summit. The final elevation you reach is about 9,700 ft., so the views at the top are pretty insane and worth the hard work.
Day 3: This was our last day and even though we had a bit of drive to Yosemite, we made sure to soak in the last few hours. We were both quite exhausted from the previous days’s hike, so we found a trail along the lake. We wanted to enjoy the crystal clear blue water that we had admired from up in the mountains the last two days. Based on our research, it seemed like Emerald Bay State Park was a perfect place for more leisurely hiking. We decided on Rubicon Trail, which keeps you along the water during your hike.
The actual trail is about 11 miles, but we hiked about 3.25 miles out then turned around since we had a drive ahead of us. This trail is easy and mostly flat, with gorgeous views the entire time. It was a a great option for our tired legs.
While we could have easily spent a week or two in Lake Tahoe, we left feeling pretty accomplished. I know there are so many other trails in this area, the hikes we chose felt like a winning itinerary for us and what we wanted to see. So, if you’re worried three days isn’t enough, don’t be!