Great Snowshoe Hikes in North Tahoe

Loch Leven Lakes
The location of the summer trailhead is shown incorrectly on the 1955 topo map — the trailhead was relocated a half mile to the east, where the snowshoe description begins.

Described in an early edition of Jeffrey Schaffer's classic guide The Tahoe Sierra as"probably the best constructed trail in the Tahoe Sierra," the path to Loch Leven Lakes is a very popular summertime trip for hikers. However, a winter excursion along the same route provides the antithesis to the summer experience. Although some cross-country skiers approach High Loch Leven Lake from the east via a marked trail, few winter enthusiasts accept the challenge of a snow trip along the summer trail's route.

There are a couple of obstacles to surmount on the way to the lakes. First of all, during years of heavy snows, you may have to shovel some steps into the snowbank at the highway just to get started. In addition, you must cross the frequently traveled Southern Pacific Railroad tracks and face the same problem with the snowbank on the far side. This trip also requires some basic route-finding skills, but reaching the lakes is not particularly difficult.

Along with the solitude, snowshoers will find the Loch Leven Lakes to be quite scenic. Each of the three lakes possesses its own unique charm. The open terrain near the beginning of the trip and around the lakes periodically provides fine views of the surrounding countryside.

How to Get There

From Interstate 80, take the Big Bend exit (1-1/2 miles east of Cisco Grove and 6 miles west of the Soda Springs exit). From the exit ramp, follow old Highway 40 for 0.9 mile to the plowed parking area on the north side of the road. A Forest Service block building with a pit toilet is at the west end of the parking area.


On a generally southward course, head directly up the moderately steep hillside amid scattered pines, firs, and cedars, attempting to anticipate a course that will result in the least amount of elevation loss on the far side. Beyond the top of the hill, you must descend into deeper forest and, three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead, cross a creek, which eventually feeds into the South Yuba River.

Past the creek, you begin climbing again, quickly reaching a double set of railroad tracks near a trestle. Keep an ear out for approaching trains — those chugging uphill are easily heard, but the ones descending from Donner Pass make far less noise and can sneak up on the unwary. If gaining the slope above the highway was difficult, you may have similar problems negotiating the snowbank on the far side of the tracks.

From the tracks, resume a moderately steep climb south through forest cover of pine and fir. Heading to the right of some bare cliffs, make a steady ascent southeast toward the top of the ridge. Near the crest you have nice views to the north of the Donner Summit area, thanks to a covering of lighter forest. For the next half a mile you will find gentler territory between the top of the ridge and the first of the Loch Leven Lakes. Open, rolling terrain characterizes the area, the granite of summer softened considerably by the snows of winter. From the first lake proceed over a low hump, where you have fine views of the surrounding countryside, to the second and largest of the lakes. To reach High Loch Leven Lake you must travel another quarter mile, bearing east through a notch.

Come in from the Cold

Rainbow Lodge, a quarter mile east of the trailhead, offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a comfortably rustic mountain style at moderate prices. They also have a bar menu with appetizers and hot drinks, as well as a bed-and-breakfast package. Phone: (530) 426-3871.

View: Trail Map


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