Jumping into a snow-fed alpine lake after a strenuous, sweaty hike is more invigorating than a shower. It energizes you better than a strong cup of coffee. It’s good for your soul.
Though taking a dip in Lake Tahoe is downright therapeutic, there’s something special about floating in an alpine lake in the middle of the woods, miles from any cars or development.
So put on your hiking shoes, pack a swimsuit and quick-drying towel, and head out into the backcountry.
READ MORE IN TAHOE MAGAZINE: This story is included in the 2019 Summer edition of Tahoe Magazine, a specialty publication of the Sierra Nevada Media Group. The magazine is on newsstands now across Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Reno. Or, go here to read the digital version!
Below are Tahoe Magazine’s top five alpine lakes to trek to this summer.
The 4.6-mile trek to Margaret Lake is an easy-to-moderate hike that ends at the trail’s namesake lake. The out-and-back trail near Kirkwood meanders through forests and meadows, along creeks, and over granite rocks. Margaret Lake is surrounded by large rock formations that are perfect for jumping off of — as well as lounging on while enjoying lunch. The lake is also a popular destination for overnight backpackers.
Located near the North Shore, Marlette Lake was formed in 1873 when a dam was constructed at the outlet of a broad glaciated-basin that drained into Lake Tahoe. Sitting at over 8,000 feet, the lake is now a brood for rainbow and cutthroat trout — though don’t let the thought of fish swimming around in the lake keep you from jumping in. The lake covers 381 surface acres and is 45 feet deep, providing a much-needed cool down whether you start the trek from Spooner Lake (10.2 miles out-and-back) or Chimney Beach (5.8 miles out-and-back).
It’s rare to find a true loop trail, let alone one that follows a serene creek the entire trek and features three gorgeous alpine lakes. The 4.9-mile trail near Markleeville takes hikers past Woods, Winnemucca and Round Top lakes. In the summer, the Mokelumne Wilderness meadows are flush with wildflowers while snow still lingers in some of the surrounding peaks. Though real lake enthusiasts will find joy in jumping into all three lakes, Winnemucca is the easiest to take a dip in. Spoiler alert: It’s freezing.
The hike to Dick’s Lake is a difficult one — 10 miles, out-and-back — but it’s well worth it. The Bayview Trail starts at Emerald Bay, on Tahoe’s southwest shore. The moderate hike takes you past Granite Lake, gives sweeping views of Desolation and Lake Tahoe at Maggie’s Peak, then pops out at Dick’s Lake, which is a popular fishing, camping and swimming spot.
Part loop, part out-and-back, the trail to Lake Aloha, located just south of Dick’s Lake, passes four alpine lakes and ends in the ultimate Desolation Wilderness swimming hole. Depending on its water level, the sprawling Lake Aloha is filled with granite rock islands perfect for lounging on. The route follows the Pacific Crest Trail, starting at Lower Echo Lake then passing Upper Echo Lake, Tamarak Lake, and Lake of the Woods. While the hike can be done in a day, it makes for a great overnight backpacking trip, too.