Beyond Big Blue: Other alpine lakes worth exploring near Tahoe

Claire McArthur / Tahoe Daily Tribune
Caples Lake, and the Carson Pass area in general, is a great place to explore because of its variety of flora.
Provided/Claire McArthur

The Sierra Nevada is dotted with hundreds of lakes that even the most intrepid hiker could spend a lifetime discovering. For the nature enthusiast, seeking out the varied blue hues of their waters, unique surrounding rock structures and diverse fauna is the ultimate treasure hunt. Whether you’re up for a strenuous hike or a short drive, there are lakes to be explored beyond Tahoe’s shores — just take your pick. 

Caples Lake 

Take a scenic drive from South Lake Tahoe, through picturesque Hope Valley, and on to Caples Lake. At 7,800 feet, the 600-acre, brilliant-blue reservoir has 6 miles of shoreline for hiking, swimming, trout fishing and paddling (man- and gas-powered watercrafts are available to rent at Caples Lake Resort). To get a full grasp of the landscape around Carson Pass, climb 1,200 feet and 2.5 miles up to Little Round Top Summit for views that are more than worth the burning thighs. Alternatively, choose your own adventure on the 6-mile loop around the lake. 

Start the trek to Marlette Lake from Spooner Lake or Chimney Beach.
Provided/Claire McArthur

Marlette Lake 

Located on the northern end of the East 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 just under 8,000 feet, the lake is now a brood for rainbow and cutthroat trout. Start your adventure at Spooner Lake (10.2 miles out-and-back) or Chimney Beach (5.8 miles out-and-back) and prepare to climb as you meander through towering pines and aspen stands. Once you reach the lake, there are ample areas to swim, fish or explore further. A peninsula jutting into the lake is a popular destination where you’ll discover a stone chimney, a restored remnant from a cabin built on the rocky point in 1933. 

By taking the Spooner Lake route, hikers are treated to sweeping views of Marlette Lake as they near their destination.
Provided/Claire McArthur

Echo Lakes

Just a short drive from the South Shore, head out on a 5.3-mile, out-and-back trek along Lower Echo Lake to Upper Echo Lake. The trail takes you from the lower lake’s edge, where you can pick up supplies from the Echo Chalet and Marina, to a narrow trail cut high into the granite basin surrounding the cobalt lake. As you make your way along Lower Echo Lake, look down at waterfront, off-the-grid cabins owned by families for generations. For a fun alternative, take the water taxi for a leg of the journey and save roughly 3 miles of walking along the lower lake. 

Take a dip at the far end of Lower Echo Lake before continuing on to the upper lake.
Provided/Claire McArthur

Five Lakes 

Nestled in the Granite Chief Wilderness near Olympic Valley, the Five Lakes Trail gives you bang for your buck when it comes to visiting alpine lakes. The 5-mile, out-and-back trail is rated as moderate and takes hikers past five unnamed lakes as you meander through the classic Sierra landscape of pines, granite slabs and sweeping views. 

Lake Genevieve and Crag Lake

For an all-day adventure, make the nearly 10-mile, out-and-back trek to Lake Genevieve and Crag Lake in Desolation Wilderness. Starting from the Meeks Bay Trailhead on the West Shore, head out on a flat dirt road before hitting the trail, which winds along Meeks Creek as you ascend the mountain. With a permit, this is a popular one-day backpacking trip with Crag Lake — a half mile past Genevieve — as the preferred spot to pitch a tent.

Editor’s note: This story appears in the 2022 summer edition of Tahoe Magazine.

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