Tahoe's smaller lakes offer crowd-free hiking and swimming
Lake Tahoe may be the largest lake in the area, but it's not the only lake. Though they hardly draw the same level of attention, the hundreds of smaller bodies of water scattered around Tahoe are a beauty unto themselves. From water skiing to backcountry swimming, there are tons of ways to enjoy these quiet mountain lakes. Below are a few that are well worth skipping a trip to Lake Tahoe for.
This pair of lakes is at the southern end of Desolation Wilderness on Lake Tahoe's west side. Dozens of small cabins dot the rocky shoreline, but it's easy to find a secluded spot for fishing or swimming. The Pacific Crest Trail/Tahoe Rim Trail follows the eastern shore and makes a fantastic hike in the summer. Also in the summer, a boat operated by the Echo Lakes Lodge will take passengers who want easy access to Desolation to the far end of Upper Echo Lake for a small fee. In the winter, the snowshoeing is amazing and occasionally ice skaters will find miles of smooth Echo ice.
Also located on Lake Tahoe's southern end, Fallen Leaf Lake is primarily a summer destination. Popular with water skiers for its early morning glass, you'll often see boats slicing across the surface. Though there are many summer homes on the lake, there's also a campground and dozens of hiking trails. The popular climb up Mount Tallac starts from near Fallen Leaf's western end. Hikers often take a dip in the water to cool off after a long day. In the winter, the road closes and the lake becomes the domain of cross country and backcountry skiers.
The North Shore's popular Tahoe alternative is easy to get to and fun to be at. There are tons of things to do at Donner Lake, whether you're interested in fishing, water sports or history. The lake is home to several special events, including a triathlon and its own spring standup paddle race. There are plenty of public boat docks for fishing and 154-site campground, if you're looking to stay the night. Of course, the lake is the site of the Donner Party's famous winter stand, so history buffs can enjoy several statues and an interpretive trail that has information about the tragedy.
Though not far from a major thoroughfare, Spooner Lake is hardly noticeable. The shallow mountain lake is just off Highway 50, near Spooner Summit, on Lake Tahoe's east shore. It's small size limits the boat activity (no gas motorboats allowed), but that makes it perfect for others who want a quiet day near the water. The big attraction at spooner lake is the fishing. Because of its shallow depth, the lake is easily fished from shore or a float tube. There's also some amazing trails for both mountain biking and hiking. Bikes can be rented at the concession and Aramark offers a handful of summer cabins that are available for overnighters.