Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe
You guys, I had no idea how awesome (albeit not always an easy task) snowshoeing is. Or rather, how awesome snowshoeing around Lake Tahoe is. I mean when you have views and vistas like you do around Lake Tahoe, it's hard to argue about it being lame. But perhaps you're asking the same question I always have, "But isn't snowshoeing just hiking in snow?" Well, kind of. You're probably not throwing on snowshoes after just a few inches of snow, or while traversing hard-packed snow conditions. Rather, snowshoes come in handy in that deep, powdery snow, where if you took a step with a traditional hiking boot, you'd sink deep into the snow. But thanks to the large surface area of snowshoes, you don't sink into the snow since there's better weight distribution upon impact with the snow. Science!
But more than just the science of snowshoeing are the benefits, such as the workout results, since you're burning up to 45% more calories than if you were simply walking at the same speed. And as I alluded to, at least in Lake Tahoe, there are the benefits of the hella beautiful views, which are magnified in the winter. In Lake Tahoe, you're getting a glimpse of views during the winter that are often only accessible by snowmobiles, skis, or snowshoes. Furthermore, it's not unlikely that you'll be placing down fresh tracks.
But enough small talk, let's get to the details. See below for a few of my favorite adventures snowshoeing around Lake Tahoe.
Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe
Tahoe Meadows. Simply put, Tahoe Meadows is one of the best snow play areas in Lake Tahoe. Bonus points: It's free (just bring your own equipment). On any given day you'll find everyone from families sledding down the hills to groups of cross-country skiers cruising through the meadow to people snowmobiling through the trees to snowshoers heading for the ridgeline. Tahoe Meadows' most defining feature, however, is that the trailhead connects with the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165-mile trail around Lake Tahoe. As such, the reward is the sweeping view of Lake Tahoe from the nearby ridge. On weekdays, you shouldn't have any problem finding parking along Mount Rose Highway, while weekends you may want to arrive early in the day.
Donner Summit. Whether spring, summer, fall, or winter, Donner Summit is one of my favorite escapes. The area is steeped in history (that's "Donner" as in the Donner Party) and beauty, including petroglyphs, abandoned train tunnels (originally part of the First Transcontinental Railroad), the Pacific Crest Trail, a state park, ski resorts, first-class rock climbing routes, and beautiful vistas overlooking Donner Lake. And all of that, mere minutes from one another. While there are a few different areas to pull-off around Donner Summit, I usually park around the summit itself near the Pacific Crest Trail, which you can either follow north or south on snowshoes and be greeted with beautiful mountain views and vistas overlooking Donner Lake. If exploring the train tunnels, then a good pair of hiking shoes and ski pants are often enough, though exercise caution, since the tunnels are often icy during the winter months. Additionally, I recommend taking a headlamp or lantern. Another alternative is Donner Memorial State Park, which has several cross-country ski and snowshoe trails around Donner Lake.
Fallen Leaf Lake. I know, just how many other lakes are there around Lake Tahoe? Well evidently a lot, but perhaps none that are more beautiful than Fallen Leaf Lake, which nearly touches Lake Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe. The easy snowshoe trek is at the lake itself, where you can park near the campground entrance and make the short hike to the lake. However, the hike above Fallen Leaf Lake, atop Angora Ridge, is second to none. Here you'll hike past a meadow, through the woods, and by the Angora Fire Lookout before being greeted to an amazing view overlooking both Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe. It's about a 5-mile hike round-trip, so give yourself 3 hours to complete it. Parking is at the entrance of Angora Ridge (which is closed during the winter) at the intersection of Tahoe Mountain Road and Angora Ridge Road.
Vikingsholm Castle. Yes, Lake Tahoe has its own castle. Vikingsholm, dubbed "Tahoe's Hidden Castle," is a 38-room stone mansion on the shores of South Lake Tahoe on what I believe is the most beautiful Lake Tahoe bay, Emerald Bay. During the summer, Vikingsholm is where hikers often end on the 6.5-mile Rubicon Trail that connects D.L. Bliss and Emerald Bay state parks. During the winter, it's a great snowshoe trail, providing beautiful views of Lake Tahoe both from above Emerald Bay atop rocky vistas and on the shore level. For a real treat, get there at sunrise, as Emerald Bay is my go-to place, no matter what season, for shooting sunrise photographs of Lake Tahoe.
Northstar California. Last, but not least, is Northstar California, where (wait for it...) you can not only snowshoe, but take a stargazing snowshoe tour (hell yes!). Northstar's stargazing snowshoe tours are led by star expert and poet, Tony Berendsen, who regularly leads Tahoe Star Tours (no, not like L.A. star tours). The excursion begins after sunset at the Cross Country Ski, Telemark & Snowshoe Center, meandering through the forest of Northstar and exploring the beautiful night sky above Lake Tahoe with the help of state-of-the-art Celestron telescopes. The icing on the cake is the grand finale at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, where you can enjoy imbibing hot cocoa and cider by the fire pits. Additionally, there are twilight and afternoon family snowshoe tours. Each Lake Tahoe stargazing tour takes place on several dates throughout the winter. (Photo by Ryan Berendsen)
I'm an ambassador this winter for Northstar California but all thoughts and opinions are my own.