Tunnel Creek to Twin Lakes
The Twin Lakes hiking trail near Incline Village is one of those trails you must do following good winters. In recent dry years, Twin Lakes were nothing more than cracked, dry fields of mud with sparse grass growing in them. But in years like this, they’re full of emerald-clear water and a great place to soak the feet after the hike up.
- Trailhead: Tunnel Creek Rd, near Highway 28 and Lakeshore Blvd in Incline Village.
Open in Google Maps.
- Length: 8.5 miles round trip; 3-4 hours.
- Difficulty: Moderate due to steady, respectable climb in the beginning. Elevation gain is about 1,400′, all in the first couple of miles. The climb shallows out after that.
- Usage: Hikers, horses, and pets allowed. Heavy mountain biking use. $1 for walk-ins at the self-service station.
- Best Time for Photography: The best time to photograph across the lake is in the morning, and it’ll be cooler then as well. However, this trail also affords some outstanding sunset views.
- Are Drones Allowed: No, lies within Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.
- Trail Info Current: June 24, 2017
- Further Reading: Top Trails: Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
- Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map
Tunnel Creek Rd & Twin Lakes Narrative
The route to Twin Lakes follows Tunnel Creek Rd most of the way, a very popular trail and one way to access Marlette Lake. The trailhead starts behind the Tunnel Creek Cafe, on the east end of Incline Village at the site of the Ponderosa Ranch. Parking in the lot is limited to cafe & bike shop customers, so you’ll have to park on the shoulder of the highway if you won’t be patronizing the cafe (which does offer some great breakfast & lunch options).
The trail is mostly an exposed, steady climb for the first two miles, with some short steep spurts. It can get hot in the middle of the summer, but also has some of the best views of Lake Tahoe!
There is some reprieve from the heat once the trail approaches Tunnel Creek, as it alternates between stands of aspens and pines. The trail is mostly shaded from here until the very end, and stays cool when there’s good flow in the creek.
You’ll come to a shaded trail junction at approximately three miles. Going straight will take you to Marlette Lake via the Flume Trail, and left takes you up to Twin Lakes. There’s another climb here, but it’s short and the last climb you’ll encounter until getting to Twin Lakes. You’ll get to a clearing and cross the Tahoe Rim Trail a couple of times after the climb, but keep straight and don’t make any turns unless you see signs for Twin Lakes. At almost four miles in, you’ll get to a sign that directs you in different directions to either Upper or Lower Twin Lakes. Take your pick, or do both!
Twin Lakes are fed by snow runoff and don’t have any outlets. The Tahoe Rim Trail follows the shore of Lower Twin Lake, and an old logging road climbs above Upper Twin Lake with access to Herlan Peak.
Expect to have some solitude here; these lakes aren’t nearly as popular as Marlette Lake. I honestly wouldn’t even make the effort in dry years as there’s not much to see at the end of the trail when there’s no water in these shallow depressions.
Tips for the Twin Lakes & Tunnel Creek Hike
- For photographers – I never have any need to carry the weight of a telephoto lens on this hike.
- Tunnel Creek in general is a busy spot during the weekends, so make this hike during the week if you’re looking for solitude.
- Bring plenty of water when it’s hot – the exposed, dusty trail will dehydrate you quickly.
- And finally, again, I’d really only recommend this hike after good winters. Snow can linger until July; in other years there’s no water at all in these shallow lakes.