Star Lake Hike (via High Meadows)
The Star Lake hiking trail is a very accessible, scenic hiking trail near South Lake Tahoe. Star Lake is part of the Tahoe Rim Trail, and from the lake you have many peak-bagging opportunities, including Freel Peak, the tallest peak in the Lake Tahoe Basin at 10,881′. There are a few ways to get to Star Lake, and this post will focus on the trailhead nearest South Lake Tahoe at the High Meadows trailhead.
- Trailhead: End of High Meadow Trail Rd – Open in Google Maps.
- Length: 11.2 miles round trip; 5-7 hours.
- Difficulty: Moderate with about a 2,500′ gain in elevation.
- Usage: Hikers, horses, and mountain bikes; vehicles too on the first section. Free.
- Best Time for Photography: Sunsets at the lake are spectacular, you’ll also get some good lighting on Star Lake and views of Lake Tahoe at mid-day.
- Are Drones Allowed: Yes but be aware it’s on the edge of TVL Class E SFC.
- Trail Info Current: August 4, 2015
- Further Reading: 500 Miles of South Lake Tahoe Hikes
- Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
High Meadow Trail to Star Lake
To find the trailhead, take Pioneer Trail Rd in South Lake Tahoe towards Sierra House School. Turn at the school onto High Meadow Trail and take that all the way to the end. You’ll see a small parking area and a gate at the end of the paved road, and a sign advising that passenger vehicles aren’t recommended. You can park here and add one mile to the round trip distance or continue on this dirt road to a very small parking area a half mile down.
The first three miles of the trail are along a service road composed of hard packed dirt and sharp pebbles – great on the feet! The trail is mostly exposed here and you’ll share it with mountain bikers and vehicles. It’s rather steep in places too, which makes controlling your descent a little painful on the way down. You’ll climb 1,200′ in these first 2.5 miles and get to a trail intersection with some great views of the Carson Range to the east.
Turn right at this signed intersection, the official signage only says “Trail” but someone wrote “Star Lake” on the post. The first half-mile of the trail here is also dirt service road along a ridgeline, with occasional peeks of Tahoe to the northwest and the Carson Range to the east.
You’ll soon get to a large rusted pipe, remnants of the mining days, and the end of the dirt service road. At the end of this road and off to the right you’ll see a small single-track trail continuing south along the mountainside. This is the Star Lake Trail.
The trail now follows the mountainside with views of Tahoe through the trees. It’s exposed at times, but shaded by furs and pines at other times, with sagebrush, manzanita, and aspens mixed in with the taller trees. You’ll cross a few streams that, even in a big drought year, still have water in them. A few series of switchbacks will eventually take you up to a small meadow full of lupine and Freel Peak towering over it to the south. From here, Star Lake is only another half mile.
You’ll come over a hump in the trail and around a corner, and BAM, Star Lake is right in front of you. If you’re going to camp here, there are some sites along the north shore of the lake (if you take a left) and a few sites off the trail if you go right. But if you go right (now on the Tahoe Rim Trail), the trail quickly climbs in the next 100 yards and access to water becomes more difficult. Look for campsites tucked away to the right, above the trail.
Star Lake also has fish if that’s your thing. It’s a good place to call home for a night if you plan on bagging Freel Peak (10,881′) or the closer Job’s Sister (10,823′). It can be crowded during the summer on weekends.
Tips for the High Meadows to Star Lake Hike
- Your feet will thank you if you walk on the shoulder of the service road – the small rocks seem to penetrate your boot soles after a while!
- Water availability is not an issue on this trail, even in drought years.
- There is limited camping at Star Lake. You can continue past the lake to multiple sites later on the Tahoe Rim Trail, but if you want to camp at the lake, get there early in the high season.
- Star Lake elevation is 9,200′, and can hold snow well into summer following heavy winters. If you see that Freel Peak still holds snow, there’s a good chance that Star Lake does as well.