Five Lakes · Granite ridges & snow-fed pools

The Five Lakes Trail climbs through multicolored granite and volcanic rock formations, then delves into a deep forest of firs and pines to reach Five Lakes. Still have energy in your tank after the 2.5-mile climb? Continue past the lakes another 1.5 miles to find true seclusion at Whiskey Creek in the heart of the Granite Chief wilderness.

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Dramatic views of Alpine Meadows greet you as you climb toward the lakes.

The Five Lakes Trail begins about 2 miles up Alpine Meadows Road, just across from Deer Park Drive. Alpine Meadows in the summer is a quiet enclave away from the mad bustle of summertime in Tahoe City with one exception: the Five Lakes Trail. It can be a busy place, especially on the weekends. The reason is simple. It’s a quick and gorgeous 5-mile round trip with a host of lakes at the end.

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“It’s a steady ascent across a volcanic ridge of brush and scattered trees.
A highlight of the climb is the contrast between the pink granite
and black volcanic rock.”

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While the trail is short, it’s a workout with plenty of climbing. But, it’s also one, long, High Sierra ohh-and-ahh-fest of spectacular views. The 2-plus miles before the trail flattens in the forest are largely treeless, giving the hiker abundant opportunity to gander at the slopes of Alpine Meadows, Ward Peak, Munchkins and the granite ridge that the lakes sit on.

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Find your perfect spot for a quick, refreshing dip or a scenic picnic.

Right from the start, this trail is not messing around. It’s a steady ascent across a volcanic ridge of brush and scattered trees. A highlight of the climb is the contrast between the pink granite and black volcanic rock. High above sits the ridge separating Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows. About halfway to the lakes, the trail winds under ski-lift towers installed by Troy Caldwell. Past the towers, the trail follows a pink, granite-topped ridgeline high above a deep canyon. On the other side of the canyon, a massive, gray-granite face is topped by the unseen Five Lakes. The trail levels off, heads into forest and reaches the border of the Granite Chief Wilderness area.

A few minutes walk through a forest of red fir, Western white pine and hemlock brings you to a junction. A left turn heads to the biggest of the Five Lakes, a right turn descends quickly toward Whiskey Creek.

The largest lake is partly surrounded by trees, with a section of smooth, steep granite. It’s a popular place, pleasant for swimming. To the east of this largest lake, use paths to wind past the other lakes, which are all close by and vary from shallow and marshy, to shallow and granite lined. While pretty to gander at, none match the biggest for beauty or swimming opportunity.

 

Explore Whiskey Creek

An additional 1.5 miles brings the hiker to a quick crossing of Whiskey Creek and the Whiskey Creek Camp, an old Basque sheepherder’s camp in a pleasant, grassy opening. Why go to the creek? It’s a gentle downhill through open terrain near the banks of Five Lakes Creek. You pass lovely ancient junipers and in the spring, it’s a showplace for wildflowers. The trail is also much less crowded since the vast majority of hikers stop at Five Lakes. The truly adventurous can keep going past Whiskey Creek toward Picayune Valley and Shanks Cove. These trails are so lightly used, in fact, that hiking them is a service to keep them from disappearing. You will find miles of solitude, red fir and hemlock and ridge-top views of the Pacific Crest.

Much of the trail is exposed to the sun, so wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water. Mosquitoes can be an issue close to the lakes. Pick a windy spot in the granite for the best chance of avoiding them. If you are hiking past Whiskey Creek, be sure to bring a map and tell a friend where you are going.

 

For more information on Granite Chief Wilderness, visit fs.usda.gov.