Your first mountaineering trip, you will never forget it. This is the moment when you have decided to take the leap: hiking and climbing are not enough for you, you need more.
We’ll tell you right away, you will need a guide .
How to prepare for your first alpine outing?
The desire to embark on mountaineering generally manifests itself through long hikes which we think could have gone even further if we had the equipment, the technique and the courage to do so. In order to travel in the mountains and the varied terrain such as glaciers, ridges, and loose rock , make sure you are ready.
If you are used to long outings and bivouacs in the mountains as well as rock climbing, and they go well, you are in the best physical condition to get started.
Gourd one liter minimum, groceries and picnic food;
Headlamp with batteries in good condition;
Hat or band under the helmet;
As for the rope, crampons, harness and helmet, your guide will be able to lend you some: if you are not yet sure that mountaineering or glacier racing will please you, wait before buying. Your guide can give you advice and direct you to the best equipment for your needs: after all, the mountains are their job.
How is a first alpine outing going?
Good. You will likely find it hard to sleep the days leading up to the inevitable excitement that inevitably precedes most mountain runs. We advise you not to aim too ambitious, to be honest with your guide and to go on a simple race. Usually, you are offered two possibilities.
A one day outing which will suppose a significant positive and negative elevation gain in a short time.
Or a two-day outing : climb to the refuge in the afternoon of day 1 and start in the cool (3 or 4 a.m.) on day 2.
Since the vast majority of mountaineering outings are done first by a hiking approach, I would advise you to opt for the second solution. Not only to soak up the atmosphere as well as possible, but also to have time to chat with your guide and ask all your questions.
Regarding the risks, we will share with you an article entirely dedicated to the dangers of the mountain and the high mountain but be confident. For a first mountaineering outing supervised by professionals, you will only have to worry about putting one foot in front of the other and starting over.
Home to some of that California granite you’re always dreaming about as well as a variety of volcanic rock types, the Lake Tahoe area has plenty to offer both sport climbers and Trad climbers alike. While spring summer and fall offer the best conditions for rock climbing here, you can get some sunshine mid-winter that allows for some year round climbing. Granite cracks can be found throughout the region at places like Donner Summit, Lover’s Leap, Woodfords Canyon and Eagle Lake. Clipping bolts is also very accessible here and you’ll want to check out Big Chief, Star Wall + Space Wall on Donner Summit, and the Emeralds. Many of the crags have relatively short approaches but there is still some adventure to be had. Muti-pitch areas include place such as Black Wall on donner summit and many routes in Lover’s Leap.
Fall is possibly the best time to climb but like spring, a freak snowstorm is definitely possible. Summer can be a great time to climb but you’ll want to start early or chase shade to beat the heat. There are plenty of gear shops located all around the lake and Truckee so you won’t have a hard time finding the tools you need for the job.
Locals are friendly and happy to hand out beta as needed – This is California after all. Guidebooks can be found for the entire North Shore and South Lake Tahoe, with other online resources such as Whympr being a great place to source beta.
We’re going to outline some tops spots in the Tahoe Basin and some must do routes. Have fun, climb hard, and be safe!
Plentiful high quality, granite crack and sport climbing in Truckee. This area, while different in some ways to Yosemite style cracks, will still help you hone in those skills needed for a trip to the Valley. Beautiful crack climbing exists all over the summit but a couple of crags that really shine are Snowshed Wall and Black Wall. These areas are dense in quality climbing and Black Wall offers multi-pitch routes up to 4 pitches long. The other thing climbers love about this area other than the amazing alpine views above Donner Lake, are the casual roadside approaches at most crags.
For sport climbing you can find great granite face climbing at Snowshed, Space Wall and Star Wall with plenty of other gems spread out on the summit. With over 400 routes in this area alone you’ll have plenty to come back for time and time again.
Here are a few highlights not to miss.
“Rated X” – 5.7: This route climbs large and long flake that feels more like a face climb than a crack climb for the most part. It protects with a mixture of cams and bolts and you have to option to continue on for a second pitch, or set up a top rope for other routes nearby. Located at Black Wall.
“Black September” – 5.9: One of the best handcracks on donner summit at the grade, this route protects well with cams and will have you smiling from ear to ear. Make sure you bring a 70m rope for this one as a 60m will not reach the ground. Looking for multi-pitch 5.9? Walk five minutes and jump on “One hand clapping” for a stellar outing. Located at Black Wall
“Bottomless Topless” – 5.10: A Bombay chimney and a finger crack in the back takes you up the first 30 feet of this route. Take an airy step out onto the face as you exit the Chimney and head of a mixture of face features and hand jams. Classic. Located at Snowshed Wall
“Farewell to Arms” – 5.10b: Another classic at Snowshed Wall, this one packs a finger locking punch at the top. Don’t worry, you’ve got bomber gear so just go for it!
“Made in Japan” – 5.11a: Possibly the best 11a sport route on the summit, you’ll be pulling airy face moves on a steep arete for close to 100 feet. If you’re looking for harder, quality face climbing there are plenty of options here on Space Wall.
This might be the most well-known area in the Tahoe Basin and for good reason. Home to an abundance of multi-pitch routes on high quality granite, Lover’s Leap is a must-do when in South Lake Tahoe. Popular for many reasons, Lover’s leap has plenty of options for the budding trad leader as well as the seasoned hardman. Most routes you find here will be protected but nuts and cams but don’t always expect full on crack climbing as you will encounter face climbing, roofs, stem corners and much more. A full bag of tricks will be valuable when climbing at Lover’s leap.
Here are a few routes not to be forgotten when at “the Leap” – as locals say.
“Corrugation Corner” – 5.7: Accessible, popular and great for new trad leaders this route will introduce you to the style at Lover’s leap in 3-4 high quality pitches. A mixture of dikes and corner systems will come into play as you work your way up high above the ground with an amazing position.
“The Line” – 5.9: Another classic example of multi-pitch greatness at the leap, you’ll follow broken cracks straight up for 400ft. A tricky start will lead you to roof systems, crack climbing and face holds galore! Enjoy!
“Hospital Corner” – 5.10a: Some call this the best 5.10 in Lover’s Leap and we have to agree. Steep, beautiful corner crack climbing will lead you through 2 beautiful pitches. If you’re breaking into the grade this could be a great route for you as it protects well throughout the entire climb.
“Surrealistic Pillar Direct” – 5.10b: This is an alternate start to “Surrealistic Pillar” (5.7) and much more interesting if you’re looking to step up the grade. Steep hand jams lead to a fun, small roof where you will encounter the crux. Keep pulling it’s all there!
“Power Lust” – 5.11a: All over Lover’s Leap you’ll find horizontal dikes and this routes highlights them well. Steep dike climbing and mantles with keep you pulling hard until the end. This route is bolt protected and is a great challenge for any climber.
A few other areas not to miss in Lake Tahoe.
West Shore: With Plenty of crags scattered about as your work your way down the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, Eagle Lake Buttress is a must for granite crack climbers. Offering a range of routes from 5.8 to 5.12, these are some of the cleanest cracks in the Tahoe area and you’re sure to be pumped after a few pitches of well-protected climbing. The epic views of Eagle lake below will also give you a boost of energy needed to finish your project!
Truckee River Canyon: Looking for some great, varied sport climbing in the area? Big Chief will scratch that itch for anyone looking to clip bolts. A mix of moderate and hard sport climbs line this Volcanic rock outcropping and can be great on colder days as it sees a lot of sun.
If you’re heading to Lake Tahoe for a climbing trip you can expect high quality and plenty of variety for all levels of climbers. The great thing about Tahoe is that when you’re too worn out for another pitch, you’ve got a magical alpine lake waiting for you to take a dip at all times!
If you’re looking for endless mountain views, crystal blue alpine lakes, and even an opportunity to see a bear – you have come to the right place. Lake Tahoe is a hiker’s dream destination and you will have the opportunity to scramble along mountain ridges or take a casual stroll through mountain meadows.
Hiking can be found all along the lake and mid-week you will find few people on the trails, giving you the chance to enjoy the serene setting. One highlight of the area is that the Pacific Crest trail crosses through Truckee, and this is a great chance to check out a segment of this 2,650 mile trail.
Summer will be your safest bet for dry trails and sunshine but definitely be prepared for crowds. Spring is when you might find snowy patches along the trail as you get into the higher elevations, but it can still be a great time of year to hit the trail. Fall is our personal favorite, with Aspens changing colors, perfect temperatures, and fewer people out and about, it makes for a pretty special experience.
Below we are going to outline some highlights for hiking in Lake Tahoe from a local’s point of view. There are truly endless trail systems so get off the beaten path and start your adventure!
North Lake Tahoe
Short: Eagle Rock – .7 miles – This quick jaunt through the woods is a great place for a quick hike and amazing views. This trail is very family friendly and while the trail is steep in spots it is over quickly.
Long: Five Lakes Trail – 5 miles – Make sure you hit this one early in the day or midweek as it tends to get pretty busy. This out and back trail will take you, as the name suggests, past 5 beautiful alpine lakes giving you a chance for a swim to cool off in warmer months. Located in the Granite Chief wilderness very close to Squaw Valley, you will be rewarded with beautiful alpine views.
South Lake Tahoe
Long: Lake Aloha 13 miles – This 13 mile loop is almost as good as it gets in the desolation wilderness area. Abundant wild flowers, moderate terrain, and a dog friendly trail make this perfect for a longer day hike or a backpacking overnight. Once at lake Aloha it’s time to take a dip, rejuvenating you for the hike out.
Long: Mt Tallac 10.2 miles– Another popular choice for hiking near South Lake Tahoe, this 10.2 mile + 3200’ vert hike will make you work for the top notch views. As you pass cathedral lake, remember that you’ve still got a ways to go. Fellow hikers recommend starting early for this one, as it tends to heat up pretty quickly mid-summer.
Short: Spooner Lake Trail 2.5 miles – This quick loop is located in Spooner Lake State Park and is great family friendly hike in Lake Tahoe. With a mostly flat trail, lake views, and on-site facilities – you will have everything you need for a fun-filled day in the outdoors. Also, the State Park entry fee is $10 and you will need cash to pay.
Long: Flume Trail – 14 miles (one-way) – Hikers, biker and runners all use this trail frequently and for good reason – a constant high level view of Lake Tahoe. While the first part of the trail, starting at Spooner Lake, will take you through aspen groves and alpine lakes, soon you will be high above Lake Tahoe with a bird’s eye view. Most people choose to shuttle this trail in order to keep the 14 miles length.
Short: Eagle Lake 2 miles – If you want to maximize views in a short amount of time on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe this is the hike for you. During a 2 mile out and back hike you will pass multiple waterfalls and end up at a breathtaking alpine Lake surrounded by granite cliffs. If you’re a climber, it’s good to note that this area has some of Tahoe’s finest crack climbing. One other bonus is that the views start at the parking area which sits high above the well-known Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe.
Long: Rubicon Trail 16.4 miles – This trail might be Lake Tahoe’s most beautiful hike. You will wind in and out of tall pine tree forests as you wander along the shoreline in Emerald Bay. Crystal blue waters will be the theme of this hike and any time you’re getting to hot just pop in Lake Tahoe for a new burst of energy! Another busy trail, we recommend hitting this one early or mid-week to avoid crowds.
Short: PCT segment – Donner Summit – The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and it passes right through Truckee along its way. Head up to Donner summit and jump on for a few miles for awesome summit views, including a stunning view of Donner Lake. If, you’re lucky, the seasonal rope swing will be up and it makes for a great photoshoot.
Long: Donner Rim Trail (23 miles) – This trail covers the area above Donner lake and is the sister trail to Lake Tahoe’s rim trail. High above Donner lake and Truckee, you will find yourself gazing out into what seems like endless mountains on the horizon.
With options ranging from short jaunts to overnights on the trail, Lake Tahoe is well rounded when it comes to hiking. Make sure you do some research before you come to learn more about bear activity, fire regulations, and weather conditions to make sure you’re wearing the right apparel for variable alpine conditions. Have fun and see you on the trail!
When it comes to mountain towns in California, there isn’t much that compares to Lake Tahoe. With over 10 world class ski resorts, the largest alpine lake in the U.S., high quality rock climbing, and endless hiking, biking and running trails – Tahoe might just be your one stop shop for Adventure.
All of these options make it a great place to visit any time of year depending on what adventure activity you’re looking for, but it can be a but overwhelming to try and figure out where to start when planning a trip to the area.
To make things a bit easier for you, we’ve built a comprehensive guide for adventure in the Lake Tahoe Basin. This page will work as your logistics outline and big picture view of what to do in Lake Tahoe. From here, you can navigate your way through any sport category, giving you an in-depth view of the top spots in Tahoe to explore your favorite activities.
Let’s dive in!
Lake Tahoe: Quick Stats:
Lake Tahoe has 15 ski resorts and an estimated 840 kilometers of slope
Lake Tahoe, a lake that is over 2 million years old, is the second deepest lake in the US at 1,645 feet in depth. The lake also crosses state borders with approximately 1/3 of the lake being located in Nevada.
There are over 3,000 rock climbing routes in the Tahoe area.
Many ski resorts average over 400 inches of snowfall each year – allowing for plenty of powder days!
There are over 10 trail running races in Tahoe each year and endless trails for the recreational runner.
Hikers can challenge themselves to the 165 miles Tahoe Rim trail that loops the entire lake! Don’t worry, you don’t need to do the whole thing to have a great experience as there are broken up sections for more moderate outings.
How to get to Lake Tahoe:
The first thing you will want to determine is where in Lake Tahoe you want to go. Generally speaking the Lake is broken down between North Lake Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe, The East Shore and the West Shore. It will make a difference on the route you take. Luckily GPS pretty much does all the work for us when sorting this out, but here are a few directions for your reference.
From San Francisco: The San Francisco Bay Area heads out of town weekly to play in Tahoe so this route is heavily traffic both to Tahoe on Friday’s and out of Tahoe on Sunday’s. It’s generally pretty simple – If you’re heading to the North Shore you can take 80 East all the way to Truckee, which is a great mountain community right before you hit Lake Tahoe proper.
If South Lake Tahoe is your final destination you will start on 80 East, but eventually head onto Hwy 50, which will bring you straight to the Lake!
If you’re heading to the East or West Shore heading through Truckee also works well, although you do have the option of coming up through South Lake Tahoe as well.
From the Pacific Northwest:
Generally speaking, you are going to start your journey to Tahoe on Interstate 5 South. From there you can take a few different routes so make sure to reference your GPS.
We like taking 5 south to 395 south which will bring you to Reno. Once in Reno you will take 80 West for about 40 minutes to reach the Lake!
From Southern California:
Per usual, there are also a few ways to get to Lake Tahoe from SoCal. One option, from the LA area is to take interstate 5 North all the way to Sacramento and then hop on 80 East to access North Lake Tahoe or Hwy 50 to end up in South Lake Tahoe.
The other option, and this one will bring you through the Eastern Sierra, which is an amazing place , is to head up 395 North all the way to Carson City before heading up or down the lake depending on your final destination.
One great thing about Tahoe is you have a few options when choosing how to get there via air travel.
Reno/Tahoe International Airport will be your closest option, which will have you on the lake within 40 minutes. This airport has flights from major hubs and avoids the chaos of a larger airport.
Sacramento International Airport is another option nearby. Your drive will be about 2 hours to Lake Tahoe depending on traffic and time of day. This airport is slightly larger than Reno and might have cheaper flights and more direct flight options
San Francisco International Airport usually takes the cake on the cheapest flights and it also works out nicely if you want to check out this amazing city as an add on to your trip. It can take anywhere from 3-5 hours to get to Tahoe from here, so you will want to plan accordingly based on traffic and the day you are traveling.
Where to stay in Lake Tahoe: Many times, people make this decision based on what activity they are doing and what season it is. Are you heading to Tahoe mid-winter? Maybe you want to stay at one of the many ski resort villages around Lake Tahoe. Is it the fourth of July? Well, being located on Lake Tahoe can be great for this to enjoy the festivities right out your door. We will break it down into a few categories for you to make things a bit easier.
Truckee: This can be considered the Gateway to North Lake Tahoe. Located 15 minutes to the lake this town boast a couple of ski resorts, endless biking/hiking/running trails, high quality rock climbing and a quaint little downtown. It also has it’s own Lake – Donner Lake! Not as big as Tahoe but very impressive in its own right.
North Lake Tahoe: You might hear locals refer to this area as “The North Shore” and you’ll find plenty of activity going on along this part of the lake. Tahoe city, works a sort of a central hub for the north end of Lake Tahoe with a fun downtown, local beaches, farmers markets, and lots of access to outdoor activities.
East Shore: The East shore is known for its aqua waters and as long as it’s sunny outside you’ll feel a hint of the Caribbean in crystal clear waters. Also, as you travel down the Eastern side of the lake you will travel from California into Nevada as the Lake is located in both states.
West Shore: If you’ve seen pictures of Lake Tahoe you’ve probably see a picture of the West Shore – specifically, Emerald Bay. This side of the lake boasts ski resorts, rock climbing, wonderful water access and lakefront property that makes the mouth water.
South Lake Tahoe: If you’re looking for a bit more of a city feel you might enjoy South Lake Tahoe. Situated on the Stateline between California and Nevada, you’ll find music venues, casinos, and ski resort access right downtown!
There are over 15 ski resorts in Lake Tahoe ranging from previous winter Olympic destinations such as Squaw Valley, all the way down to small scale operations. Tahoe can see snow as early as October and as late as June. This makes for a pretty long season for those seeking snow when visiting the area. You can find more info on each resort, their location, and what type of experience to expect on our ski/snowboard specific page.
Seasons in Lake Tahoe: Determining when to come is best determined by the type of activity you are interested in doing. Once there is snow on the ground, usually starting in November, it might be Spring before you’re back at the crag or on the trail. Spring and Fall are amazing in Tahoe, especially with less crowds in the area. That being said, weather can be a little finicky during these months so plan to be a bit flexible as a winter storm in June is not unheard of. If you’re looking for consistent sunshine, July and August are your best bet and you’ll have plenty of outdoor adventures to choose from.
Camping in Lake Tahoe:
There is a pretty decent mix of camping in the Lake Tahoe area. From big group campgrounds to backcountry hike-in destinations, you will have plenty of options when seeking out a place to pitch your tent. Beware that summers are extremely busy here and best practice is to reserve as far in advance as possible for best availability. If you’re sleeping, you’re car you can get creative on forest roads throughout the area, but make sure its national forest land.
Adventure activities in Lake Tahoe:
Skiing: With 15 ski resorts to choose from and endless backcountry skiing opportunities, many associate Tahoe specifically as a world class ski destination – and that’s because it is. Read more in our Tahoe Ski Guide
Hiking: Ranging from big lake loops, to quick scenic overlooks and portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, you won’t be in short supply of hiking on your trip to Lake Tahoe. Read more in our Tahoe Hiking Guide
Climbing: Ever wonder where the famed Yosemite climbers came when it got too hot in the summers? Lake Tahoe. With over 3,000 routes in the area you could spend a lifetime climbing in the area. Read more in our Tahoe Climbing Guide
Via Ferrata: This isn’t Europe, but you can still test your nerve on a via ferrata adventure here in Tahoe! Check out Squaw Valley Resort for this fun family activity.
Backcountry Skiing: While thereare plenty of options for inbound skiing, you can truly explore in solitude here in Tahoe’s backcountry. From mellow and accessible glade skiing to steep couloirs, you can find it all in the Tahoe basin. Read more in our Tahoe Backcountry Skiing Guide
Trail Running: All of those hiking trails we mentioned are also great options for trail runners. There is a great mix of flat scenic loops and steep, technical mountain missions to be had. Read more in our Tahoe Trail Running Guide.
Mountain Biking: If you like Mountain Biking for the views, Tahoe might take the cake. Choose from long cross country trails along the lake or technical downhills throughout the region. If you’re looking for ski lift service and downhill, Tahoe also has a few options for you as well. Read more in our Tahoe Mountain Biking Guide
Ice Climbing: Many people might think that California and Ice climbing just don’t mix. Well, we may not have as much as Montana or Colorado but you can still swing the tools during cold winters in the Tahoe Basin. Read more in our Tahoe Ice Climbing Guide.
Water sports: The name Lake Tahoe says it all. This massive Alpine lake begs to be played in. Boating, fishing, floating, sailing, and much more – you’ll never get bored on the water in Lake Tahoe. Want to check out a smaller, more local lake in the area? Head to Donner Lake in Truckee. Read more in our Tahoe Water Sports Guide.
Tips from the locals:
Choose your season wisely. The obvious choices for when to visit are Summeer for the Lake and Winter for the skiing. Any local will tell you their favorite season are the shoulder seasons – portions of the Spring and Fall. This is because the weather is perfect and the crowds are at a minimum.
Everyone is friendly and will welcome you with open arms – but like many tourist destinations trash can be an issue. The motto in the Tahoe area is leave it better than you found it.
Float the Truckee River – While not technically on the lake, Truckee is a great kick off point for skiing, climbing, hiking and more. When you’re finished with the daily adventure grab a tube and take a ride down the Truckee river – very family friendly.