Culture

The Trails of Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe isn’t just for snow bunnies. The running trails at this high-altitude escape will take your breath away.


Every winter, millions of mountain lovers descend upon Lake Tahoe for fresh powder and downhill slopes. Take to the trails, however, and you’ll find a vibrant running scene. The region boasts thousands of miles of dirt roads and singletrack, making this high-altitude region a hit with weekend warriors and professional ultrarunners alike.

“I love the varied terrain,” says marathoner Danielle Zick, who has lived in the North Lake Tahoe area for more than 10 years. “It keeps me on my toes! I also love how I see way more women on the trails than men.” Whether traveling to Lake Tahoe for a family vacation or a luxurious resort weekend, pack your trail kicks for an unforgettable off-road experience.

Tahoe Rim Trail

More than 150 miles of amazing views and perfect terrain await Tahoe Rim runners. Encircling the Tahoe Lake Basin, this well-marked trail is a local favorite. Start at the Brockway Summit East trailhead, located off the east side of Highway 267, following the light-blue trail markers toward the Mount Rose Summit. For the first few miles, you’ll traverse thick forest, and then encounter wide, sunny meadows with fantastic views of the Sierra Mountains.

Donner Lake

The paved 7-mile loop around Donner Lake allows runners to work on their speed without fear of rolled ankles. Beginning at West End Beach in Truckee, follow South Shore Road south, then east for two miles until the road ends at a paved trail to Donner Memorial Park, where you will encounter a gradual descent to West End Beach.

Desolation Wilderness

Don’t let the name fool you. With more than 63,000 acres of forest, glacially formed valleys and alpine lakes, this trail is an unspoiled runner’s paradise. Located off Highway 89 is one of the area’s most popular trails, Eagle Falls, chock-full of waterfalls and lush mountain scenery. Though many tourists stop a mile from the trailhead, take pictures and turn around, runners should continue to Eagle Lake, where the trail cuts into a glacial shelf and winds through fields of wildflowers in the springtime.

Squaw Valley

Runners in search of bragging rights should take to the trails at Squaw Valley. The resort area, known for offering some of the best skiing in the United States, is also home to the holy land of ultrarunning. The Western States 100, one of the world’s most prestigious trail races, begins at the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. For a little slice of endurance history (and a big slice of humble pie), run or hike the first segment of the Western States trail from the start line to Watson’s Monument, the highest point of the race. In just 5 miles, you’ll gain almost 3,000 feet of elevation!

Emigrant Trail

Located a short drive from historic downtown Truckee is the Emigrant Trail, a 15-mile stretch of smooth single-track. For an easy-to-navigate route, begin at the Hobart Mills Trailhead and follow the trail west along Prosser Creek, then north to the Stampede Reservoir. For a flat run, turn around at the paved road crossing four miles into the run. Looking to tackle some hills? Keep going—the trail gently rolls another five miles to the Stampede Reservoir.

Buddy Up!

Trails are way more fun with friends. Buddy up with the Tahoe Mountain Milers, who often have organized runs on Saturday mornings (facebook.com/tahoemtnmilers)

After a day full of running the trails of Tahoe, there are plenty of ways to relax, refuel, and recharge.

Wanderlust Yoga Studio: At this light-filled studio in Squaw Valley, guests strengthen their mind, body and spirit. Peek between your feet during downward dog to view beautiful mountains through the floor-to-ceiling picture windows. squaw.wanderlustyoga.com

Drift to Sleep Massage at Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe: After receiving a calming body exfoliation and soothing milk bath, an 80-minute massage ensures a good night’s sleep so you can hit the trails again tomorrow. ritzcarlton.com

Full Belly Deli: Is your tummy growling post-run? Take it to the Full Belly Deli for breakfast and espresso. In addition to freshly baked breads and bagels, this popular eatery uses locally sourced items in its delicious breakfast items like green eggs and ham, made with fresh chorizo and homemade pesto. fullbellydelitruckee.com

Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company: Opened in 2012 by a home-brew enthusiast, the beers this company crafts pair perfectly with the pub fare at the adjacent restaurant. Try a Ranch Dog Red Ale with the Wild Mushroom Flatbread pizza, a handmade crust piled high with fungi, shallots and sun-dried tomato sauce. tahoebrewing.com

Granlibakken: The Norwegian word for “hill sheltered by trees” perfectly describes this hideaway’s ambience. This European-style resort is also home to Treetop Adventure Park, an aerial maze of more than 50 bridges and platforms connected by sky walks and zip lines. granlibakken.com

The Village at Squaw Valley: In addition to spacious, comfortable rooms, the Village offers plenty of opportunities for “cross-training.” Think pool in the billiards room, shopping at boutique stores or toasting marshmallows at one of the many bonfires roaring on-site. squaw.com/the-village

Higher Love

If you’re running at altitude for the first time, take it easy! Those who live and train at lower elevations are often surprised by how difficult running at altitude can be. Running coach Jack Daniels estimates a 5,000-foot increase in altitude slows a runner’s pace by about 20 seconds per mile, even though the intensity feels the same. Difficulty breathing thin air, sleep disturbances and a faster rate of dehydration may make even the strongest sea-level runner feel sluggish in the mountains. Run slowly and carry extra hydration until your body adjusts to the high elevation, and contact a doctor immediately if you experience severe dizziness, an unsteady gait or nausea—telltale signs of advanced altitude sickness.