Mary West: Exploring Granite Chief Wilderness, Five-Lakes Trail
Every summer I used to take my sons up to Tahoe for a hike in the Granite Chief Wilderness in the Tahoe National Forest. We park at the trailhead near the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort to the Five-Lakes Trailhead. The first mile or so is uphill with a few switchbacks to get you up high to enjoy the panoramic views. Once up and into the wilderness area, enjoy the sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. To fit the scene, my sons will start to sing a song like the opening credits to an epic adventure movie. They will then laugh at me as I take 20 pictures of the same flower. The variety of rock formations and native plants will make you wish you were a botanist or geologist and could identify all that your eyes survey.
Taking the drive along Interstate 80 to 89 to get to the Granite Chief Wilderness is well worth the time. The natural beauty near and far is spectacular. From the wildflowers and towering trees covered in bright yellow/green lichen, to sweeping views on the canyons, everywhere you turn is a picture-worthy sight to behold. The Five-Lakes Trail connects to many other trails in the 19-thousand-plus acres of wilderness area. The trail continues around the ski resort, or you can connect to the Pacific Crest Trail to the west or south.
Taking 10 to 20 degrees off valley temperatures is the number one reason I hike up high in summer. The other is the trails are passable where they often are not with winter snow.
Five Lakes Trail is a 4.7-mile day hike. This is a heavily trafficked out and back trail. Dogs and horses are also welcome.
The lakes don’t offer much in the way of beach area, but you can usually find a log perfect to sit and enjoy the view. I would call the hike moderate. There are exposed areas, so sun protection is advised. There is brittle stone under foot in some areas that could be a slipping hazard. Quick moving thunderstorms are also common.
On one visit, my youngest son found a pine tree that had the most wonderful citrus scent, like an orange (Concolor Fir). What a great way to learn about the world around us firsthand.
Mary West is author of the book series Day Hiker – Gold Country Trail Guide I, II and III (2nd edition Available on Amazon). The books are a collection of the Day Hiker columns where West shares her longtime love of the outdoors, favorite hikes in Northern California’s Gold Country and beyond. West was the recipient of the 2017 and 2019 CRAFT Award for Best Outdoor Column and the 2020 Craft Award for her second book in the series-Day Hiker Gold Country Trail Guide by the Outdoor Writers of California. You can follow West on Facebook and Instagram
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