Winter Dog Friendly Trails in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is one of those destinations that can be visited year round. In the summer, visitors can take advantage of the lake and hiking trails. The winter attracts downhill skiiers, snowshoers, and cross country skiiers alike. Most visitors come to Tahoe in the winter for the world renowned ski resorts, but our family doesnt ski so we spend most of our time exploring snowed in trails. We’ve been able to enjoy snowy trails in North Lake Tahoe until mid-april. Here’s a list of our favorite winter hikes in lake tahoe:
- South Lake Tahoe
- Van Sickle Bi-State Park & Heavenly Mountain Resort
- Fallen Leaf Lake
- Echo Lake SNO Park
- North Lake Tahoe
- Pacific Crest Trail to Peter Grubb Hut
- Pacific Crest Trail to Mount Judah
What do you need for a snow day in Tahoe with your dog?
- Hiking Backpack
- Water Bottle
- Snowshoes (if you don’t have snowshoes, you can rent them)
- A warm hat, gloves, snow pants, snowboots, wool socks, warm jacket
- Musher’s Secret (dog paw balm)
Can dogs walk off leash on the snowy Lake Tahoe trails?
The answer to this question depends on how heavily trafficked the trail is. During the summer, our dogs remain leashed as the trails are officially open and trafficked. During the winter, trails are often on closed roads , and the areas around the trails are closed. Our rule of thumb on the Tahoe winter trails (and the rule that dog owners follow in Tahoe) is that the dog must always be on leash when passing by other hikers or dogs. If the dog does not come to a heel immediately when another hiker or dog is visible, then the dog cannot be off leash. We have never had any issues with off leash dogs in Tahoe – we have always found that trail dogs tend to be under voice control and our dogs are immediately called back to a heel and leashed for the comfort of passing other winter hikers.
Map of [Snowy] Dog Friendly Trails in Lake Tahoe
The Town of South Lake Tahoe is Dog Friendly!
Before we bought snowshoes, we would rent them from Snowshoe Thompson’s Ski and Snowboard Rentals. Check out brunch at Ernie’s Coffee Shop next door. During winter months, we sit by the window and leave the pups in the car while we grab a quick bite to eat.
South Lake Tahoe – Explore Heavenly Mountain Resort with your dog then check out Van Sickle Bi-State Park
South Lake Tahoe is home to the popular Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort – grab some hot chocolate and take a walk with your dog around the resort. During the winter months, the area around Heavenly is bustling with people but we found the Van Sickle Bi-State Park trails to be relatively quiet as most visitors are hitting the ski slopes. The trailhead starts just a few hundred feet from parking (we parked in the Heavenly parking lot). In the deep winter snow, the trail isn’t clearly marked so it’s best to follow the paths that have been paved by prior visitors.
If you visit the day after a large storm, you’ll have to blaze the trail with your snowshoes but luckily there isn’t much of a risk of getting lost – the resort is nearby and cellphone service is available throughout the area. When we visited after a storm, we explored different paths until the snow got too deep for the snowshoes.
South Lake Tahoe – Winter at Fallen Leaf Lake with your Dog
Fallen Leaf Lake Trail is another well trafficked trail in South Lake Tahoe. The road to the trailhead is closed during the winter so it is best to park on Emerald Bay Road and then follow Fallen Leaf Road to the trailhead (see map above). The Fallen Leaf Lake trail was heavily trafficked by snowshoers so it was easy to follow.
South Lake Tahoe – Hike to the frozen Echo Lake with your dog
During the winter, the road to Echo Lake is closed and snowed in. The road turns into a 1.5 mile trail to the lake with the optionality of continuing the trail around the lake. Since Porcuine/Echo Lakes Rd (Forest Rte 11N05) is snowed in, parking is available across the street from Lincoln Hwy. Navigating to “Echo Lake SNO-Park” should bring you right to the parking lot. We used Snowshoes for this entire hike as the powder can get deep. The trail starts where Forest Route 11N05 meets Lincoln Highway – you can see the exact path we followed on this google map.
The trail begins follows along cabins (most of which are abandoned for the season) on the left side and eventually comes upon the closed campground on the right. Even though trail markers are hidden by the snow, the trail is clearly marked by footsteps. The trail to the lake follows a slight incline for about a mile until it curves around a hill.
After about a mile, the trail curves around a hill and then opens up into a large open field of snow. As it turns out, this snow meadow is actually a covered parking lot that is used during summer months when the road is open. The dogs loved zooming through the open field, and we enjoyed the view of the lake peaking in through the trees.
At this point, the final destination is visible through the trees. Continue walking down the trail and it will lead you directly to the snowy beach and docks. During the middle of winter, the lake is frozen solid enough to walk on, but when we visited, the lake had already started thawing so we did not attempt to walk on it. Proceed with caution.
The trail continues across the bridge to the right of the lake and can be followed around the lake. If you choose to continue the trail, be sure to come equipped with snowshoes and poles as the snow is especially deep if you continue along the lake.
North Lake Tahoe – Follow the Pacific Crest Trail to Peter Grubb Hut
The Pacific Crest Trail to Peter Grubb Hut is the most picturesque of the Tahoe winter trails. The trail goes through open fields, wooded areas, and up a ridge that leads to panoramic views of the Tahoe valley. Parking is available on Bunny Hill Drive (buy a “Donner Summit California State SNO Park” permit online or in person to avoid a ticket). The trailhead is directly on the other side of the freeway underpass.
The trail to Peter Grubb Hut is almost 5 miles out and back, and crampons/microspikes are definitely required for this hike. The trail is crowded so the best time to start is in the early morning. Like the other winter trails, it is difficult to spot trail markets in the snow. The best way to find Castle Peak (the first destination) is by following the footsteps in the snow – once you reach the incline, Castle Peak is at the top of the ridge. The Peter Grubb Hut is about a 30 minute walk downhill from Castle Peak.
North Lake Tahoe – Trek through the deep snow on the Pacific Crest Trail to Mount Judah
The Pacific Crest Trail to Mount Judah was covered by so much snow when we visited that we were unable to find a trail. Instead, we explored the area for about an hour before heading back to the car. The snow is very deep and snowshoes are definitely required for exploring this area. The trail is frequented by cross country skiers and snowboarders making their way down from the top of Mount Judah.
Enjoy the Tahoe Snow!
-Your Pal Cal