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Granite Lake

South Lake Tahoe

October 25th, 2008

2.0 miles
980 vertical feet
Total Time: 4:24

Starting elevation
6425 feet
Max elevation
7715 feet

Rating: 8/10

Directions: From South Lake Tahoe, drive north on Highway 89. You'll pass Cascade Lake on the left, with Emerald Bay visible on the right. Just after passing Cascade Lake, you'll see the large paved parking lot for Inspiration Point on the right (usually full), and a road leading up to the Bayview campground on the left. Park on the dirt on the left, just before the campground road. Alternatively, if the campground is open you could try driving up to the trailhead, which is at the top of the campground. Unfortunately there are only 2-3 parking spots at the trailhead, so they may already be taken.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

There was plenty of space in the large dirt area next to the entrance to the Bayview campground when we got there around 11am. The campground itself was closed, so we had to park there or across the street at the crowded Inspiration Point parking lot. It was almost November, but the skies were clear, there was no snow, and the temperature was in the 60's (maybe closer to 70 later in the day).

We walked around the gate at the campground entrance, then followed the campground road slightly uphill toward the trailhead. My GPS got confused for some reason so I had to reset it. So the route listed in the map above actually starts about halfway into the campground. There are bathrooms in the campground, as well as some across the street at Inspiration Point.

At the trailhead, I filled out the card for the permit to hike in the Desolation Wilderness. There's no fee and no reservation required for day hikes. There was also a note here that the front gate to the campground, while closed, was actually unlocked. I didn't check, but that implied that we could have driven all the way to the trailhead, where the 2-3 parking spots were not taken. But it's a short walk, anyway.

I'd taken the left fork twice before on hikes to Cascade Lake. Instead, we took the right fork into the Desolation Wilderness and toward Granite Lake. The trail immediately starts climbing through the forest. In fact it gets quite steep -- one of the steepest trails I've been on, gaining about 500 feet in four-tenths of a mile.

Thinned forest above Lake Tahoe

The first point of interest was a grouping of large rocks with views through the trees down to Emerald Bay below and Lake Tahoe beyond. This is a great place for kids to boulder or just play around on the rocks. It's like nature's playground for them.

Emerald Bay through the trees

Rocks above Emerald Bay

More rocks above Emerald Bay

We continued on the trail and shortly came to an even better viewpoint with unobstructed views of Emerald Bay below. We could even spot small bits of lingering fall color in the forest below. We enjoyed the views here before turning left and continuing straight into the Desolation Wilderness, at a slightly gentler incline. The forest is not as thick here, and the trail not as steep.

Highway 89 above aspens and Emerald Bay

Nathan and Jared checking out the view

Fannette Island in Emerald Bay

One downside of this hike is that, possibly because of its proximity to Inspiration Point (or at least its proximity to South Lake Tahoe), it's quite popular. We saw lots of people on the trail. The boys were getting tired, and we asked an oncoming pair of hikers how far the lake was. Only 10 minutes, they said! Soon enough, we reached Granite Lake on our left, about 1 mile from the start of our hike.

Judy at Jared at rocky shore of Granite Lake

Opposite shore of Granite Lake

Granite Lake reflection

The lake is ringed by forest pretty much all the way around. The land tilts steeply up from the shores on the trail side of the lake. We found a relatively flat spot next to the water and settled down for lunch. While it at first appeared that we had the lake mostly to ourselves, we later found that there were several groups of hikers around the lake. In fact, after lunch I discovered that there was a pair of hikers sitting not 50 feet to our right; we didn't hear them because they were around a corner.

Granite Lake shore

Granite Lake shore

There are lots of rocks to throw into the water, and large rocks to climb on. The kids did both, and were occupied for quite some time. They could also see fish jumping occasionally out of the water.

Granite Lake

Granite Lake

Granite Lake between the trees

After a long break we packed up and returned the same way we'd come. The return trip was of course much easier, although we did have to take care not to slip on the steep downhill section. We made it back to the parking lot, where we found that it was now completely full.

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