The Five Lakes Trail starts on Alpine Meadows Rd on the west side of Lake Tahoe and ascends 1200 feet over 2.5 miles between the Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley ski resorts to the Five Lakes Basin, located in the Granite Chief Wilderness. The Five Lakes Basin is named for the five lakes that are scattered at the top of the hill. The trail is the perfect length for a half day hike, but you can also camp near the lakes or travel another 2 miles past the lakes to the Whiskey Creek Camp Area if you prefer to go a little deeper into the woods. There is no fee to park on the side of the road, but the spot is popular with locals, so it's better to hit the trail on a weekday or arrive early in the morning (before 9:00 a.m.).
The beginning of the trail winds uphill through a pine forest for about .5 miles.
After walking through the pines, the forest thins out, and you start to encounter beautiful granite rock formations popping up out of the forest floor.
After about mile, the trail exits the forest and hugs the side of a granite mountain (shown in the photo below).
Once you get to the top of the hill, you see this sign, and the trail flattens out.
After the trail flattens out, you wind up back in the pine forest. The trail eventually splits off. You can take the left fork to explore the smaller lakes or take the right fork to skip by them and go straight to the second large lake.
The first small lake has a bunch of algae growing in it and is a bit funky to swim in, but it is still beautiful to look at.
We walked around the two small lakes and the two large lakes. The first of the large lakes is pictured below. You can swim in this one, but the second large lake has easier access for swimming and seemed to be cleaner than this one.
The second large lake is pretty clean, and the water was nice and warm in mid July.
We ended up backtracking to check out one of the lakes (the medium-sized one) we missed on the way in. It was worth the half mile trek from the second large lake just to check it out.
There is a granite cliff near the medium-sized lake where you can see for miles off into the distance.
If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, you can also hike about 2 miles past the second large lake onto the Pacific Crest Trail and head down to the historic Whiskey Creek Camp Area. The Whiskey Creek Camp Area has some dispersed camping spots and a few historic structures, including a small cabin that was once used as a bunkhouse for shepherds. You know you are on the right trail when you see this sign.
The trail to Whiskey Creek gradually descends down the back side of the Sqauw Valley ski resort through pine forests and prairies and connects with the Pacific Crest Trail.
The trail to the Whiskey Creek Camp Area is marked pretty well with signs, but it helps to have a map and the Alltrails app, as there are several trails that shoot off to the right and left of the main trail, which could lead you in the wrong direction.
After crossing Whiskey Creek, you are almost to the camp. Whiskey Creek runs year round, so it is a good place to fill up the water bottles if you have a water filter.
You know you have reached the camp when you see the old log cabin.
Things to note:
1) There are no restrooms.
2) There is no potable water. If you plan on camping, bring a water filter.
3) You are not allowed to camp within 600 feet of the lakes. It's a bit of a pain to find a decent campsite away from the lakes, but there are some that are scattered on the hill just past the second lake. We saw several campers disobeying this rule.
4) Campfires are not allowed during fire season. Check the Forest Service website by clicking HERE to see if they are allowed at the time you decide to camp.
5) The trail gets hot for dogs in the afternoon. Please don't bring a dog on this trail during the summer unless you plan on going in and out before noon.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. Click HERE to leave a comment and let me know you stopped by! Here's some more photos of my trip.