Granite mountain-scape, superb sunset views, crystal lakes, and shoreline campsites … the trip to Paradise Lake in Tahoe National Forest lives up to its idyllic name. Just a few hours from the Bay Area, this 15.6-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike or backpack overnighter along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) delivers pure Tahoe wilderness: big forests, amazing views, and alpine lakes.
The Paradise Lake trail starts with a steady climb on Castle Valley North Road to the PCT, passing through meadows of wildflowers, fragrant forests. After 2 miles you’ll be at an exposed ridgetop offering views of distant alpine lakes. Descend into a meadow and hop across a creek before stumbling upon the Peter Grubb Hut, frequented by through-hikers on the PCT. The stream can be a great spot to filter water before continuing a steady climb for a few miles.
At mile 7 you’ll reach a junction with a sign reading “Paradise Lake! 0.8 mi.” Woo-hoo, you’re close! As you near the lake, keep your eyes peeled for cairns created by fellow hikers which clearly mark the path over the sparse granite landscape to the lake. Take a dip in the cool waters and relax on the granite slabs to warm back up. Hit the eastern shore and pitch a tent where you like. The shoreline is dotted with multiple true backcountry locations.
Campsites along the eastern shore are within sight of each other, so if you’re looking for more seclusion, a quick hike to the western shore will get you away from the handful of others camping at the lake. The best campsite is found on the largest island, but only those who make it to the lake first get to call it their home for the night (and it’s easily walkable with packs on).
TIP: If arriving late in the evening the day before your hike, camp at Donner Memorial State Park with a reservation ($35 per night). The trailhead is only a 7-minute drive from the campsite.
Paradise Lake Trailhead parking can be found on the north side of I-80 at Exit 176. Parking at the trailhead, follow the dirt road 0.5 mile until you meet a turnoff to the right where you will cross a creek, which will allow you to link up with the Pacific Crest Trail earlier in the hike. If you have a high-clearance car, you can drive the first 1.5 miles and link up with the Pacific Crest Trail or you can hike the road all the way to the PCT, which will save approximately half a mile each way when parking at the main trailhead parking lot. A map can be found at the start of the hike for reference. A fire permit is required for backcountry camping and can be applied for here. Dog-friendly!