South Shore’s stunning summer lake escapes

Sunset on Middle Velma Lake in Desolation Wilderness. | Priya Hutner

There’s a moment just before jumping into a mountain lake in Tahoe when I realize the chill of the water will wake me up and change my perspective on life on a hot day.

August brings hotter summer days and many of us crave feeling the sun’s warmth on the body. Sometimes it’s good to explore smaller lakes to enjoy that are less crowded than Big Blue.

As the planet warms up — July was the hottest month on record — the need to cool off is essential. Finding a body of water in which to recreate is part of summer fun in Tahoe. And while Lake Tahoe is spectacularly beautiful, there are many other lakes to explore.

Some are easy to get to, while others require a walk or hike to relish the quiet beauty. Last month, we explored lakes around Truckee; in this edition, we look to South Lake Tahoe where there are many lakes to dip your toes into. For detailed trail maps and directions, we recommend using the AllTrails app.

Easy outing to Echo Lakes
Desolation Wilderness is one of Tahoe’s treasures. It is wild, open, vast and contains 130 lakes stretching along the southwestern side of Lake Tahoe. Day trips are possible to reach some of these lakes. Overnight backpacking trips require a permit.

A day trip to Echo Lakes at the southern end of Desolation is an easy outing. Echo Lakes is comprised of two lakes Upper Echo Lake and Lower Echo Lake. There is a fishing hole near the dam off Lower Echo Lake and the stretch of trail along the lake is easy and reasonably flat.

Hike, swim, fish or ride a water taxi on the lake. The water taxi runs seven days a week in the summer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., depending on the weather. Take Highway 50 to Echo Summit and turn onto Johnson Pass Road. Stay left and the road will lead you to the parking area by Lower Echo Lake.

Favorite lakes of Desolation
I love hiking out to Velma and Dick’s lakes. The lakes are a bit of a longer journey. I start at Eagle Falls Trailhead. The granite steps at the start of this hike are a workout. The hike to Middle Velma Lake is 4.5 miles with a 1,600’-elevation gain. The largest alpine lake in the Desolation Wilderness is Aloha Lake. It’s a bit of a workout hiking the 12 miles out and back but it’s worth it. Eagle Falls can be extremely crowded, so I recommend saving this one for an early trek (think sunrise) or wait until after Labor Day.

Desolation Wilderness is one of Tahoe’s treasures. It is wild, open, vast and contains 130 lakes.

If you crave a short and steep hike, go to Granite Lake at 7,650 feet above sea level. It offers spectacular views. It’s a 2-mile out and back that will give your quads a good workout before jumping into this cool alpine lake. Bayview trailhead is currently open but the parking area is closed and under construction. For day hikes, the U.S. Forest Service suggests either get dropped off at the trailhead or parking across the road at Inspiration Point. Arrive early as parking is limited.

Fallen Leaf Lake
Fallen Leaf Lake, west of Tahoe between Emerald Bay and Camp Richardson, is another place to paddle, swim, fish or hike. It is home to Kokanee salmon, Mackinaw trout, brown trout and rainbow trout.

The glacier lake offers stunning views of Mount Tallac. It’s a perfect place to chill out on a hot day. Take Highway 89 and turn onto Fallen Leaf Lake Road. The Fallen Leaf Lake Trail is approximately 3.6 miles out and back hike along the lake. The trailhead is located on the southern end of the Fallen Leaf Campground. There is a marina for boat rentals and a nearby beach at the south end of the lake to take a swim.

Read Part I on the lakes of Truckee at

Angora Lakes
Located nearby is Angora Lakes, which is technically two glacial lakes, a lower and an upper lake. At one time, Angora goats grazed in this area, which is how the lake got its name. Swim, paddle and play; the majestic views and cool waters benefit the soul.

This easy hike to the lake is 1.4 miles roundtrip. The parking area is managed by a concession and there is a $10 cash fee.

Lily Lake & Grass Lake
Lily Lake is also above Fallen Leaf Lake. Hike or bike or sit by this small lake with magnificent views. The hike is considered an easy 2-mile hike to enjoy the abundant patches of lilies. Access the lake from Fallen Leaf Road. Drive about 4.5 miles until reaching the Glen Alpine trailhead sign and turn left. Trailhead parking is across from Lily Lake.

Looking for more lake adventures, Grass Lake is about 3 miles beyond Lily Lake. Enjoy Alpine Falls about halfway along the hike to Grass Lake.

Lake Baron
The last lake on this list is Lake Baron, located in the upper part of Tahoe Paradise Park in Meyers. The lake is ripe for fishing, paddleboarding and kayaking. There is a beach that is the perfect place to take a swim. Make sure to visit the 1,000-year-old juniper tree in the park after relaxing by the lake. There are also trails for hiking and mountain biking. Don’t forget to check out the weekly farmers market and the ongoing live music series.