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North Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails: Five Lakes

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Five Lakes Trail

At only two miles and one hour one-way, with a variety of cool, shaded destinations at the end, Five Lakes is a great hike to beat the north Lake Tahoe summer heat if you’re near Truckee or Tahoe City.  Here’s some photos and information about the Five Lakes hike.

  • dayhikestahoeTrailhead: Alpine Meadows (Alpine Meadows Rd & second Deer Park Dr intersection).
    Open in Google Maps.
  • Length: 4 miles round trip; can explore longer.  Took me one hour to get to the lakes.
  • Difficulty: Moderate due to climb in the beginning.  Elevation gain is just under 1,000 feet (highest point 7,500′).
  • Usage:  Free.
  • Best Time for Photography: Early morning.  Most of the photogenic terrain is east-facing and the granite glows orange with the rising sun.  And it’s not as hot!  The lakes photograph well in late afternoon as well.
  • Are Drones Allowed: For the most part, No upon entering Granite Chief Wilderness at the end.
  • Trail Info Current: April 20, 2015
  • Further Reading: Best Easy Day Hikes Lake Tahoe
  • Go back to Lake Tahoe Hikes map

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

Five Lakes Trail Narrative

The Five Lakes Trail near Alpine Meadows lies on both private property and in the Granite Chief Wilderness.  It’s a great day hike and can be completed in two hours if needed, but you can spend all day up there at the many lakes.

The hardest part is at the beginning when a series of switchbacks climb through mostly exposed scrub with just a few areas shaded by pine.  The views at the beginning aren’t spectacular either.  But wouldn’t you like to get the hard, boring part out of the way first?

Five Lakes Trail

The start of the Five Lakes Trail. Morning light hitting Alpine Meadows.

The next section opens up into an impressive granite canyon.  You’ll pass under some ski lift towers and then leave them behind as you start a gradual, pleasant climb along the canyon wall.  This too is exposed and it can get hot early in the day, especially during the summer.

Five Lakes trail

granite chief

Thunderstorms building over the Granite Chief Wilderness and moving towards the little snow remaining at Alpine Meadows.

Your reprieve from the heat will come in at just under two miles.  The forest line also marks the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness.  You’ll see one small lake through the trees if you stay on the trail, and will shortly arrive at another lake.  This marks the end of the Five Lakes Trail and it joins up with the Pacific Crest Trail.

Five Lakes Trail

A sign at Mile 2 of the Five Lakes Trail. From here you can continue to another one of the lakes nearby or go to Mexico – or Canada – via the PCT.

Five Lakes

Finding the Other Lakes

I thought you said there were five lakes?  You’ve only talked about two.

Yes, the other three can be a challenge to find.

The first one can be found if you get off the trail at the Granite Chief Wilderness sign and head south onto the granite plateau.  There are no real obvious signs of a lake there, but if you stay on the granite and keep going south you should run into it.

Five Lakes Trail

One of the Five Lakes that is slightly more difficult to find – it requires identifying a small trail that’s not too easy to follow.

The other two can be found via a small trail at the first lake visible from the main trail.  When you get into the forested area, keep an eye out to your left and you’ll see the water.  A small trail leads down to the lake, and then continues along the west side and then south to the other two lakes.  The trail can be hard to see so not many people come back to these lakes.

Tips for the Five Lakes Hike

  • I didn’t see a need to bring a telephoto lens.  A wide zoom and standard zoom (24-105mm) should do just fine.
  • The most difficult parts of the Five Lakes trail are of course the most exposed to the elements!  Sun protection and water are mandatory.  It’s better to hike this in the spring or fall, and in the summer go early.
  • The snowmelt and stagnant water in the forest make the area ripe for mosquitos in spring to early summer.  You’ve been warned.
  • In seasons of very light snowfall, this trail can be accessed as early as April (it tops out at 7,500′).  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until at least late May.
  • Most of the Five Lakes hike is on private property so please stay on the trail.
five lakes reflection

Like a mirror. Five Lakes hike, Granite Chief Wilderness near Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley.

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

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