4 Beginner Winter Tahoe Hikes to Try this Week

Tahoe has been stuck in a dry weather pattern for over a month. While this doesn’t make for pristine skiing or snowboarding conditions, it does open up trails to more accessible winter hiking. Without new winter storms, the existing snow on the trails becomes firm and packed down. This allows for hiking with microspikes, which is much easier than relying on snowshoes to keep you afloat in deep snow.

If you aren’t familiar with microspikes, they are a simple accessory that fits over your hiking boots and provides traction on slippery terrain. The microspikes that I use are the Diamond Grip by Yaktrax. These microspikes are under $40 and provide plenty of traction for most easy to moderate hiking trails in Tahoe’s current winter conditions. In addition to proper grip, it’s also a good idea to hike with poles in the winter to give you extra stability. The poles I use for winter hikes are the LEKI Voyager poles. I prefer these because they are collapsable and budget-friendly at $59.

Once you have your traction and stability dialed in, you’re ready to tackle winter hiking. Below I’ve outlined four great winter hikes that are good for true beginners. All of these hikes have relatively short distances without too much elevation gain and offer rewarding features and views for your efforts.

Johnson Canyon Overlook

Located in Tahoe Donner, Johnson Canyon Overlook offers a gentle hike leading to excellent views of Donner Lake and Johnson Canyon. This is a casual hike that most people with a moderate level of fitness can do. The total distance of the hike is around 4 miles. However, if you’re new to winter hiking and worried about making it that far, don’t fret because the view in the photo above is right before the 1-mile point. You can cut this hike in half and still get to see the incredible views.

Access to the trailhead is on Glacier Way Road off of Skislope Way. There is a small parking lot, but be aware that it gets busy on the weekends, even in the winter, so I recommend an early start if you plan to head out on a Saturday or Sunday.

Length: 3.9 Miles
Elevation Gain: 410 ft.
Difficulty: Easy
Trail Type: Out and Back
Features: Views of Donner Lake and Johnson Canyon
Water on Trail: No
Dogs Allowed: Yes

Eagle Falls

Eagle Falls is a 0.6 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near South Lake Tahoe. This hike is suitable for all ability levels and features a vista point with views of Emerald Bay at the 0.2-mile point and a semi-frozen waterfall at the 0.4-mile point.

Although Eagle Falls is typically hiked as a loop, the descent after the waterfall can be very steep and slippery in the winter. Because of this, I usually hike the trail as an out and back after the waterfall, returning the way I came to avoid the steep section. This alternate route doesn’t add distance to the hike because you can skip the vista on the return.

Pro tip: since this hike is quite short, I usually add on the hike to Emerald Bay afterward because the trailhead is only a short walk from the parking area for Eagle Falls. Further details about the Emerald Bay hike are below.

Length: 0.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 144 ft.
Difficulty: Easy
Trail Type: Loop* (see my notes about making this hike an out and back above)
Features: Views of Emerald Bay and a frozen waterfall
Water on Trail: Yes – although it may be frozen in the winter
Dogs Allowed: Yes

Emerald Bay Vikingsholm Trail

If you want to check out the beach at Emerald Bay, this is the most accessible trail that will get you there. The trail is a paved path that zigzags 0.8 miles down to the beach. Although the route is paved, it’s likely to have snow and ice in the winter, so it’s important to remember your microspikes. Also, keep in mind that while the path to the beach is downhill and will be pretty easy, you will have to hike back uphill on your way out. The effort will be worth it, though, because you will get an up-close view of Emerald Bay and the exterior of the Vikingsholm Castle at the beach.

In the winter, the parking lot next to the Emerald Bay Vikingsholm trailhead is typically closed due to snow. Instead, just a short distance to the south, there is a parking area on the side of the road by the Eagle Falls trailhead. It is just a quick walk from this parking area to the start of the trail.

Distance: 1.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 344 ft.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Trail Type: Out and Back
Features: Views of Emerald Bay and Vikingholms Castle (closed to tours in the winter)
Water on Trail: Yes
Dogs Allowed: No

Eagle Rock Trail

The last hike on this beginner winter hiking list also happens to be my favorite. Eagle Rock is short, only about 0.35 miles one way, and the view of Lake Tahoe at the top almost seems too good for such a short trek. This hike is popular on the weekends, so I recommend coming here for sunrise on a weekday if you want to really enjoy it. Eagle Rock is located on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, making it the perfect location to watch the sun come up over the mountains across the lake.

Distance: 0.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 239 ft.
Difficulty: Easy
Trail Type: Out and Back
Features: Views of Lake Tahoe
Water on Trail: No
Dogs Allowed: Yes

I hope this list encourages you to get outside and try winter hiking. Have fun out there!

*This post contains affiliate links that I may receive a small commission for.

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