Tahoe’s lesser-known state parks: North Shore gems

View from the Lakeview Ridge Trail in Burton Creek State Park. | Tim Hauserman

Tahoe’s popular state parks on the West Shore — Emerald Bay, Sugar Pine Point and Bliss (closed this year for a major remodel) — and Sand Harbor on the East Shore, are renowned for spectacular views and access to Tahoe’s lakeshore. They are worthwhile destinations but are also busy in the summer with parking lots filling early and beaches and trails packed with visitors. Instead, you could follow a rule I’ve been following for the last few years: Go to the less busy, but equally spectacular, state parks for a more relaxing recreational experience.

A quote often attributed to Yogi Berra said it best about baseball, but it works for Tahoe as well: “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

Burton Creek State Park
Burton Creek State Park outside Tahoe City includes about 1,800 acres of state land. It borders U.S. Forest Service, Tahoe Conservancy and Tahoe City Public Utility District lands making for a much larger chunk of forest to explore. There is a large network of trails through forest, meadows and ridge lines that provide something for every ability level from leisurely dog walkers checking out the waves of mule ears and lupine, to every level of mountain biker. A bit of climbing will bring you to nice views of Lake Tahoe.

Many of Burton Creek trails in the winter are groomed for cross-country skiing by Tahoe XC. The ski area becomes a mountain-bike rental location in the summer and fall and its trailhead is one of the prime access points to the trail network until the snow flies. In addition to bikes for rent next to the trail, Tahoe XC also sells snacks and provides maps and information on the trail network. 

While the easiest access is using the Tahoe XC trailhead, other access points include the Dollar Creek paved bike trail parking lot on Dollar Hill, the road next to Tamarack Lodge and the top of Jackpine Street in Tahoe City. Those last two are steep access points. | parks.ca.gov

Ward Creek Park Property
Ward Creek Park Property is a small piece of state land abutting against U.S. Forest Service land that even a lot of locals don’t know is a state park. It borders Ward Creek on the north, Timberland Lane on the south and National Forest land to the west. About 2 miles of easy walking trails meander along the creek and through the open forest of large Jeffrey and sugar pine. A highlight is a section of trail on boardwalk passing through a meadow that is full of purple camas lilies and yellow buttercups in the spring. This year, wildflowers have been blooming almost continuously thanks to the heavy snowfall.

The trail network connects to the 5-mile-long, mountain bike/hiking trail up to Stanford Rock and access to Tahoe Rim Trail. This trail is not for beginners, but if you are up for the challenge of several thousand feet of tough climbing, it dishes out some amazing mountain and lake views once you get close to the top. You can loop back to Ward Creek Boulevard via Tahoe Rim Trail (a technical downhill).

The West Shore bike trail passes along the edge of Ward Creek Park Property. Kilner Park, with parking and toilets, is just a few hundred yards to the north where you can park and follow the bike trail across Ward Creek. There are maps showing the trail network at access points to the park after crossing the bridge. | parks.ca.gov