Favorite Fall Trails at Lake Tahoe

Visiting Tahoe in the fall is a must. The summer crowds have fled and the skiers are still waiting for that first major winter storm…trails that only weeks prior, buzzed with hikers have become seemingly abandoned. Even the weekends remain relatively quiet. The vehicle traffic dies down to minimal and the whole area seems to take a collective sigh of repose.

If you’re lucky enough to visit Tahoe in the fall here are a few trails you simply must see. All the hikes listed are easy and family friendly.

Autumn colors begin appearing by late September in the Tahoe Basin

Autumn colors begin appearing by late September in the Tahoe Basin

Taylor Creek Area Trails

A stop at Taylor Creek Visitor Center will delight nearly anyone traveling through South Tahoe. Whether you have an hour, or the entire day, you’ll find plenty of entertainment as well as beach access and picnic opportunities.

If limited on time, you’ll want to hit the Rainbow Trail. This short paved trail takes you on a well signed educational journey through a marsh area, eventually leading to an enclosed structure officially named The Stream Profile Chamber, which hosts a large viewing window allowing an intimate anatomical view into Taylor Creek. Stand at the window long enough and you may find yourself standing face to face with a Lahontan Cutthroat Trout or a Kokanee Salmon.

Introduced to Tahoe in 1944 the landlocked Kokanee Salmon is a much smaller version of the coastal Sockeye Salmon but its coloration and life cycle are just as dramatic. The majority of their lives are spent as lake dwellers, until they begin their final journey up the creek of their birth to live out their final days spawning future generations. The Kokanee spawn takes place in the fall. Their bodies turn bright red while the tail takes on a fluorescent green. Whether viewed from the large window at the Stream Profile Chamber, or just from along the shore of Taylor Creek, the migrating schools of Kokanee are one the best sites of the Tahoe fall. Human visitors aren’t the only ones attracted to the annual Kokanee spawning run, black bears gather here too in order to eat salmon in preparation for winter hibernation—so be sure to use caution if you spot one in the area.

If time allows, the Forest Tree Trail and Lake of the Sky Trail are certainly worthwhile excursions

Catching a close up glimpse into the world of the Kokanee requires patience and a little stealth

Catching a close up glimpse into the world of the Kokanee requires patience and a little stealth

and also educational. The wildlife voyeur will find a potential of more than 30 different species populating the area. The aspiring botanist will not be disappointed either with a plethora of plants to identify.

If you are planning a trip the first weekend in October is a great option, especially if you’re bringing kids. The annual Kokanee Salmon Festival, now called the Fall Fish Festival, goes both Saturday and Sunday with activities facilitated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, treasure hunts for kids, informational booths, and food and beverage vendors.

If you are interested in the festival be sure to check out: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/ltbmu/FallFishFest.

Eagle Falls Trail

Eagle Lake in Tahoe's Desolation Wilderness Area

Eagle Lake in Tahoe’s Desolation Wilderness Area

This short but sweet hike draws big crowds and for good reason. It has all the classic elements of a Tahoe hike. Dramatic sweeps of Granite, big views of Tahoe, a rough and tumble stream cascading alongside the trail, and the destination itself Eagle Lake is a high Sierra lake idyllic. The advantage of hitting this trail in the fall is that you might actually get parking.

The trailhead during the summer season resembles nothing short of a traffic circus. Beginning after Labor Day it’s a different story. You can usually get a spot with no trouble and will not have to share the trail with swarms of people. Even if you can’t make it here in the fall, this two-mile roundtrip hike is considered a rite of passage for any Tahoe visitor and if a summer visit is your only option don’t be discouraged, just go very early and choose a weekday whenever possible.

Spooner Lake Trail

This trail on the East Shore of Tahoe is a great venture for children and adults looking for a leisurely stroll rich with great photo opportunities. The short 1.8-mile trail circles the entirety of Spooner Lake and is abundant with wildlife. In the fall a resident grouping of Aspens located at the lake’s inlet reflect the magnificence of autumn on the water and will surely draw the attention of even the most reserved shutterbug.

Be sure to carry cash as there is a fee for entering Spooner Lake State Park. The park contains full facilities including running water, BBQ pits and a plentiful amount of picnic tables. Bikes can

A familiar sign to local mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike

A familiar sign to local mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike

be rented here, too, for anyone looking to ride the famous Tahoe Flume Trail nearby. For those wanting to extend their stay the area does have a few rental cabin options. Guided nature tours are available – be sure to call ahead for dates and times.

Fall is a great time to fish Spooner and there are plenty of trout to be had. According to the Nevada Division of Wildlife, 6,000 Rainbow and 4,000 Cuttbow trout will be stocked in Spooner in 2014. The lake is best fished from small watercraft including canoes, kayaks, and float tubes but fish can certainly be caught from the shore.

Spooner Lake also serves as a great starting point for other nearby hikes including the scenic trip to Marlette Lake and access to the Tahoe Rim Trail, amongst others. Don’t forget once winter arrives this area provides some of the East Shore’s best Snowshoeing and Cross Country opportunities.

For more information on Spooner Lake State Park and rental options be sure to check out: http://parks.nv.gov/parks/marlette-hobart-backcountry/

Chimney Beach Trail

No list of Tahoe hiking recommendations would be complete without mention of a trail leading to the shores of Tahoe itself. Chimney beach is recommended here because getting a parking spot

Hikers will encounter this rustic classic at Tahoe's aptly named Chimney Beach

Hikers will encounter this rustic classic at Tahoe’s aptly named Chimney Beach

at the trailhead during the summer season can require divine intervention. The hike into Chimney is short, especially if you’re only going as far as the lakeshore which is only about a half mile in. Most people will want to continue on further down that shore line another half mile or more making for about two miles roundtrip. On a warm autumn day hikers may be tempted by a swim in the lake. Tahoe water reaches its warmest temperatures of the year in September. Averaging somewhere typically around 70F degrees which in later September, and certainly in October, can be higher than the air temperature. The clarity levels at Tahoe (though declining) are spectacular and a trip to Chimney Beach will certainly testify to why Lake Tahoe is one of the world’s premier destinations.

Getting There and Further Reading


A dip in Tahoe’s frigid waters will certainly tempt visitors on warm fall afternoons.

A quick Google search will yield directions to any of the places listed above. To find more hikes for the area you should consider picking up a copy of Afoot and Afield Reno-Tahoe by Mike White. Published by Wilderness Press this trail guide is indispensable for the Tahoe hiker.

About the author

Luke Harris

Luke Harris is a Reno/Tahoe based freelance writer. His passions include fly fishing, snowshoeing, hiking and just generally spending time enjoying the outdoor world.

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  • Great information and some new places to check out! I agree that Taylor Creek is a great spot to visit and I look forward to visiting the others in beautiful Tahoe! -AW