6 trails for hiking and biking South Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Tahoe South

Happy Trails Explore the High Sierra by boot or by bike

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By Quincy Koetz

Lake Tahoe is the crown jewel of the High Sierra and a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. When the snow melts, Tahoe South’s glory continues to shine on thousands of alpine trails. Whether on two feet, two wheels, or four hooves, a venture into Tahoe’s exceptional outdoors will leave you with hundreds of picture-perfect memories.

Hike It

• Easy // Rainbow Trail // Family-friendly and wheelchair-accessible, the Rainbow Trail is an easy trek that doesn’t skimp on views or on opportunities for wildlife watching. Located near the Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Baldwin Museum at Tallac Historic Site, this 0.6-mile loop weaves through a lush forest and untrampled wetlands.

Keep a camera ready on this gentle stroll—you’ll want to snap some photos at the Stream Profile Chamber. This aquarium-like viewing panel gives a below-the-surface glance into a diverted section of the free-flowing alpine stream. October brings the yearly spectacle of the kokanee salmon run, when the bright red fish number in the tens of thousands on their upstream journey. Regardless of the season, pack a pair of binoculars and a wildlife guide, as this is also one of the best birding locations in the region.

The panoramic views along the ascent are worth the climb.

• Intermediate // Rubicon Trail // There is arguably no better view of the awe-inspiring Emerald Bay than from its crystalline shoreline along the Rubicon Trail. Most visitors choose to traverse this trail point-to-point, starting at the Vikingsholm Trailhead and concluding at Rubicon Point. The total distance for this one-way trek is 4.6 miles.

Start with a tour of Vikingsholm Castle, a striking example of Scandinavian architecture, built in 1928–29. From here, the trail follows the cliffy shore on its way to the bay’s entrance. Take a brief side trip at 2.2 miles to enjoy the view from Emerald Point, a favorite among photographers. Return to the trail and take a dip at one of Tahoe’s more isolated beaches. As the trail continues, it gains elevation and passes by a historic lighthouse before heading back down to the parking lot at the Rubicon Point Trailhead.

• Challenging // Rim Trail Connector, Van Sickle Bi-State Park // Intrepid and athletic hikers should certainly try the popular Rim Trail Connector hike. This five-mile, out-and-back trail begins in Van Sickle Bi-State Park, adjacent to Heavenly Village.

The steep route provides panoramic views along the ascent that are worth the workout. After 1.7 miles of climbing from the parking lot, hikers encounter a waterfall—a perfect spot for a snack break. Abundant solitude marks the remaining stretch of the trail as it continues its ascent. At its conclusion, the trail meets up with the Tahoe Rim Trail, a signature route in the region that circumnavigates all of Lake Tahoe.

Bike It

• Easy // Camp Richardson Bike Path // Biking trips around Lake Tahoe vary as much as the hikes—there are enough flat, paved cruises and daring downhill single track to suit every desire. A great warm-up ride is the Camp Richardson Bike Path, which starts on the west side of South Lake Tahoe and runs parallel to Highway 89 for 3.6 miles one way. The route is almost entirely flat and winds through characteristic evergreen forests of the Sierra Nevada.

Don’t worry about bringing a bike. Anderson’s Bike Rentals is just off the highway, and their fleet includes everything from beach cruisers to full-suspension mountain bikes.

• Intermediate // Corral Downhill // Mountain bikers who are new to backcountry riding should check out the Corral Downhill. It’s challenging for most and a dependable thrill for the experienced. Starting near the town of Meyers, this single track is a heart-pounding 2.2 miles of sharp turns, steep hills, and enough features to make the ride different every time.

If Tahoe’s views and altitude don’t take your breath away, this trail will.

• Challenging // Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride // Of the hundreds of miles of single-track trails in Tahoe, none is more iconic than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. If Tahoe’s views and altitude don’t take your breath away, this trail will.

The excitement of the ride comes from the 2,500-foot descent in just five miles. Almost immediately, the riding gets technical as bikers negotiate a controlled descent of boulder fields and rock gardens. Though challenging to novices, skilled riders love the innumerable jumps and airtime. The latter two-thirds of the trail softens slightly but continues with hairpin turns and steep drop-offs. This ride takes focus and preparation, making it a true rite of passage for High Sierra mountain biking.

Although intense, the trail is bathed in alpine glory as it whips through forest and meadow and follows Saxon Creek. Not wanting to miss out on the action, hikers also hit this trail for its pristine wilderness.

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