5 Best Tahoe-Truckee Fall Hikes

Fall Hikes in Tahoe Truckee // tahoefabulous.com

Fall is my favorite time for hiking in the Lake Tahoe/Truckee area! The air is clear and crisp, the trails are less crowded, and the aspens are turning colors. Here are my favorite hikes to do before the snow flies.

1. Donner Summit Canyon, Truckee: (6 miles round trip, 1,000 feet of climbing). This trail off of Old Highway 40 was purchased and conserved by Truckee Donner Land Trust, and it has some interesting history:

A trail up the canyon follows much of the old Dutch Flat/Donner Lake Wagon Road, which later served as the Lincoln Highway. Some of the historic features visible from the upper part of the trail include Native American petroglyphs, the China Wall, and the world’s first automobile underpass (1913). Look for the abandoned Turkey Truck that careened off the road in 1955, scattering 30,000 pounds of frozen turkeys down the 175’ drop and delaying Thanksgiving dinner for hungry Nevadans!

Park at the Donner Summit Canyon Trailhead, which is here, about one third of a mile up Old Hwy 40 from South Shore Road.

Donner Summit Canyon // tahoefabulous.com
View from Donner Summit Canyon Trail

2. Fallen Leaf Lake Trail, South Lake Tahoe (8 miles around the lake): This lake is just outside of South Lake Tahoe, and is a great place to get away from the busier beaches of Lake Tahoe. The water is crystal clear, and it’s a gorgeous place to hike around. While you can make the full 8 mile trek around the lake, the trail can be tricky to find in spots and turns into a paved road for several miles. The nice thing about the Fallen Leaf Lake trail, is that there are gorgeous spots almost immediately. You can just walk until you find a serene spot and then hang out there. Fallen Leaf Lake is super easy to get to, follow the directions to here.

3. Tahoe Rim Trail from the Brockway Summit Trailhead, Kings Beach (3 miles, 700 feet elevation): For a short hike with a gorgeous, view, hike up to this little spur off of the Tahoe Rim Trail. You’ll be able to see all the way across Lake Tahoe. For a longer hike, you can keep going to reach another view point at about mile 5.
Brockway Summit Viewpoint // tahoefabulous.com

The trailhead is on the south side of Brockway Summit – click here for a map. There are quite a few parking spots on the south side of 267.

4. Mount Tallac, South Lake Tahoe: (10 miles, 3,300 feet elevation). Fall is a great time to hike one of my favorite Tahoe Peaks, Mt. Tallac. This is a very strenuous hike, but it’s a super rewarding one. The hike takes you through varied ecosystems and the view from the top of the peak is expansive and incredible. The trailhead is a few miles west of South Lake Tahoe, click here for directions.

5. Tahoe Rim Trail from Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, Incline Village (~4 miles): This is another short and sweet hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail to some awesome views. Be sure to check out the humorous leave no trace signs, addressed to wildlife.
Tahoe Meadows TRT View // tahoefabulous.com

To access the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, head up Mount Rose Highway from Incline Village for about 6.5 miles, and it will be on your right. Click here for directions.

Donner Summit Railroad Tunnel Snowshoe

One of my Winter Bucket List goals was to try new winter activities. I went on a fairly typical snowshoe earlier in the winter, but a couple of weeks ago, I had a pretty unique snowshoe adventure!

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On Donner Summit, there are some old train tunnels that the train used to run through. The train has since been re-routed and the tracks have been pulled out, making it an interesting destination for a snowshoe (winter) or hike (summer). The tunnels are technically on railroad property, but I didn’t see any “no trespassing” signs, and my friends have visited dozens of times over the years. Just be warned! They’re pretty easy to get to – we parked at the pull out a few hundred yards below the Donner Summit Scenic View Area (on your left when you’re heading up hill). Even in the winter, there was parking for at least 10 cars, but it is a popular sledding area and can get full.

view
View from Donner Summit

Most of our group had snowshoes and poles – it gets icy in the tunnel so you’ll want something with grip. Greyson just wore hiking boots and carried poles and made it pretty well, but I wouldn’t recommend this to people not used to hiking on ice. It was warm for February when we headed up; it was in the 50’s and sunny, but the tunnels are at least 20 degrees colder inside. I appreciated by soft shell and gloves on the return trip. We all brought headlamps and flashlights, but didn’t need to use them. There’s enough light in the tunnel to see fairly well during the day.

It’s pretty straight forward once you’ve gotten out of the car – put on your snowshoes and head up towards the very obvious train tunnels. It’s a pretty steep climb, but the only hard part of the whole hike.

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Heading into the tunnels.

Since there’s not a lot of scenery inside of the tunnels, the natural ice sculptures and human made graffiti are the attractions.

graffiti 1

greyson ice sculpture

I was really surprised by how much light made it into the tunnels! There are some sections with windows cut into the concrete, and sunlight travels far from the openings. I was expecting the whole inside to be concrete, and loved that many of the tunnel walls were simply exposed granite that the tunnel had been cut through.

kelly in tunnels

Along the way, there are several spots where you can pop out of the tunnels and enjoy the view.

pano view

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Myself, Reyna, and Kelly pose outside the tunnels, overlooking Donner Lake.

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The entrance back into the tunnels looks more foreboding than it actually is. After less than a mile of hiking (which is slow going on all the ice), you’ll get to the end of the accessible tunnels. We hiked around on the snow some, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, before heading back towards the cars.

other side

We hiked back the same way we came, through the tunnels, but we did see other groups snowshoeing along the outside. I imagine it would depend on snow levels if there is enough room on the outside to do that. Of our group of five, Greyson was the only person who had been to the train tunnels before, and we all had a great time. To be honest, Greyson had suggested doing this snowshoe or hike a couple of times before, but I didn’t really have much interest. In my head, it was just going to be a cold, slippery walk in the dark where I couldn’t see anything. It definitely was not on my Tahoe bucket list. I’m happy to report that I was totally wrong! While not exactly strenuous, action packed or filled with “best of” views, this hike is totally unique and worth doing!