The Five Lakes Trail is a breathtaking adventure for hikers, horseback riders, and trail runners alike. Located just off of Alpine Meadows Rd, this trail is extremely accessible and doesn’t require any bushwhacking to get to the trailhead. Experience part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) without doing the full thing and simultaneously fall in awe with the views of the snowless Alpine resort portion of Palisades Tahoe. In about three hours and fifty minutes, you’ll have viewed five pristine alpine lakes amidst rugged slabs of granite and begin to fathom just how much snow we need to cover some of these massive natural features. Here are some essential bits of information as well as a few tips to make the most of your experience:
The Five Lakes Trail is a moderately challenging hike that spans approximately 4.8 miles round trip. While it’s accessible to hikers of various skill levels, a reasonable level of fitness is recommended due to some elevation gain (just over 1,000 feet) and rocky terrain. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect on your journey:
1. Lake One:
The trail begins off of Alpine Meadows Rd. near Olympic Valley. It’s the turn at the River Ranch Hotel. The trail is on the right-hand side and there is street parking a little ways up. Begin your trek and you’ll eventually land at the first of five lakes. Lake One is perfect for a picturesque rest stop or a refreshing dip on a warm day…or a cold plunge on a cooler day.
2. Lake Two:
As you continue along the trail, you’ll reach Lake Two, nestled between towering pine trees and granite boulders. Take a moment to soak in the tranquility and the reflection of the surrounding landscape on the water’s surface.
3. Lake Three:
The trail meanders through beautiful, forested sections and opens up to Lake Three, offering breathtaking vistas of the Sierra and Granite Chief Wilderness. This is an ideal spot for a picnic lunch and wildlife watching.
4. Lake Four:
As you ascend further, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of Lake Four, perched at a higher elevation. The crystal-clear water and the rugged backdrop make this lake a must-see on your journey.
5. Lake Five:
Finally, the trail leads you to the crown jewel of the hike, Lake Five. Surrounded by dramatic cliffs and boulders, this lake is the perfect culmination of your adventure. Spend some time here, taking photographs, enjoying the serene atmosphere, and maybe a refreshing swim after all of your hard work.
Photos by Blake Kessler
- Timing: Start your hike early to avoid crowds and to ensure you have ample time to explore each lake.
- Trail Conditions: Be prepared for varying trail conditions, including rocky terrain, potentially muddy sections, and creek crossings. Sturdy hiking boots are recommended.
- Dogs: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash. Please pick up after your fur babies!
- Weather: Check the weather forecast before your hike and be prepared for sudden changes in mountain weather. Dress in layers and bring rain gear if needed.
- Leave No Trace: Respect the natural environment by following Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash and avoid disturbing wildlife.
- Safety: Let someone know your hiking plans, carry a map, and have basic navigation skills. Stay on designated trails to avoid getting lost.