Loch Leven Lakes Trail

One thing I love about the Sierra Nevada mountains is the number of small, hidden lakes tucked away in the pines and granite.  This is one of the most scenic hikes around Truckee and it will take you to some of those lakes, and they offer a number of camping areas on the rocks overlooking the lakes.  They make a great destination on hot summer days.

  • top trails tahoeTrailhead: Hampshire Rocks Rd, 20 miles west of Truckee off of I-80 – Open in Google Maps.
  • Length: 8 miles round trip; 4 hours.
  • Difficulty: Moderate with only about a 1,000′ gain in elevation, but the trail is rocky and difficult to follow.
  • Usage: Hikers, horses, mountain biking.  Free.
  • Best Time for Photography: No specific time of day; wildflowers are abundant in the spring and there are great fall colors along the rivers.
  • Trail Info Current: May 13, 2015
  • Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
  • Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
map

Plots created using digital topographic map data, not actual GPS logs. Distance and elevation profiles are approximate.

loch leven lake

Reflections in the small pond on the east side of Middle Loch Leven Lake.

Loch Leven Lakes Trail Narrative

To find the trail, take the Interstate 80 Big Bend/Rainbow Rd exit 20 miles west of Truckee.  Hampshire Rocks Rd is on the south side of I-80; take that west for 1 mile along the Yuba River and you’ll see a parking lot with pit toilets on the right side.  The trail starts across the road at a small wooden sign labeled “Loch Leven Lakes Trail”.

loch leven hike

Hiking the large granite slabs about a half-mile into the Loch Leven Lakes trail.

The trail starts off heading west on some granite slabs and quickly enters a wooded area.  A few switchbacks finally lead up to some larger granite slabs and the trail is easily lost here; keep an eye out for cairns and follow them up and slightly to the right.

loch leven hike

The small pond just over a half mile into the Loch Leven Lakes trail.

At the top of the granite you’ll head slightly to the right (west) and get to a small pond.  The trail continues around the north side of this pond and enters the granite again, then quickly descends back into a wooded area.

One mile after the start of the trail you’ll cross a wooden bridge over one of the forks of the Yuba River, then climb for approximately 1/4 mile up to a railroad crossing.  Look for a wooden sign on the other side of the double tracks.

train

Watch out for the trains! They’ll get ya…

After crossing the tracks you’ll have a nice, moderate climb up some switchbacks for one mile through the forest.  After this one mile climb, the trail flattens out and is a very nice hike to the lakes.  It’s not until this point that the noise from Interstate 80 finally fades away!

loch leven trail

The Loch Leven Lakes trail passing through a mixed forest.

Lower Loch Leven Lake is just under three miles from the start of the trail.  The trail continues south along the west side of the lower lake.  Just when you lose the lower lake, the middle lake will show itself to your left.

loch leven lake sign

The old wooden sign announcing your arrival to Middle Loch Leven Lake.

The trail follows the west shore of the middle lake, and on the south side enters the granite trail again – watch for the cairns and orange spots of paint.  The trail will bend back to the north along the east shore of the middle lake and take you to a small pond with a campsite on the south shore.

loch leven evening

Evening reflections in the pond on the east side of Middle Loch Leven Lake. Taken from my campsite.

Follow the trail to the north, up and over the granite slabs to High Loch Leven Lake.  This lake has many campsites scattered in the woods surrounding the lake, though they’re not as close to the lake as the other campsites in the chain.

loch leven morning

The sun rising through the clouds on the Loch Leven Lake trail.

Tips for the Loch Leven Lakes Trail

  • Even though this can be done as a day hike, the lakes are just too pretty to not camp when you get there!
  • Did I mention it before?  That the trail is difficult to follow?  You need to pay close attention or you’ll end up way off the trail (take my word for it!).  It’s marked with scattered small cairns and rocks arranged in lines to mark the trail but it all really blends in to the terrain.
  • Though much of the trail is packed dirt, there are a lot of big rocks to navigate.  Trekking poles make it much easier.
loch leven morning

Early morning haze reflections in Middle Loch Leven Lake.

Corrections, suggestions, or questions?  Please leave a comment below!

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