Lake Tahoe

The greater Lake Tahoe area offers spectacular opportunities for Nordic and Backcountry skiing from  Donner Summit to  Carson Pass.


A view from North Lake Tahoe

The Lake Tahoe area offers some of the best and and most diverse nordic and backcountry skiing and snowshoeing recreational opportunities. From steep chutes to broad meadows to long river valleys, and, of course, views of  “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”  (Mark Twain)

Nordic resorts are frequented by skate skiers, families, and athletes and can provide wonderfully long, quiet days of kick and glide covering large expanses of terrain. Although there are SnoParks that provide backcountry access, most popular backcountry routes start from unmarked or minimally-marked roadside parking.  The highest Sierra highway open year-round, the Mt. Rose Highway, Hwy 431, above the northeast shore in Nevada, is justly popular, as is the Desolation Wilderness above the southwest shore.  To the northwest of the Lake are the classic peaks of the Sierra spine from KT-22 at Squaw to Castle Peak north of I-80. Just south of the lake is the wonderful backcountry of Carson Pass.

Winter comes in big storms that can follow each other bang-bang-bang, with ridgetop winds at hurricane force (literally), but sunny days can also rule the skies for weeks at a time. Spring in the Sierra is world-class.  The maritime snowpack generally turns continental (and thus colder and drier) as storms from the Pacific push to the east side of the ranges.  Early- and late-season rain is very possible, though you can generally climb (or ride) above it. The area has many dedicated winter enthusiasts and many unmarked areas will have established tracks soon after each storm.

Please assess your abilities and what sort of activity or adventure you can safely pursue. No warranty is made regarding the accuracy of this information and all your activity is at your own risk. Check avalanche advisories, weather reports, trail conditions, etc.  Be prepared and educated for the risks.

See Kickapedia for explanation of terms.

Nordic Resorts

North Shore/Truckee Area


  • Royal Gorge – a very big cross country mecca, on the forested slopes west of Donner Pass off Interstate 80. It will take strong skiers three days to ski all the trails this resort offers.  The property was recently acquired by a land trust and the ski area is managed by Sugar Bowl.
  • Near Boreal Ski Resort (near Donner Pass), the Auburn Ski Club maintains 20K of groomed nordic trail.

  • Tahoe-Donner – many fast skaters frequent this resort near Truckee with nordic trails descending into the pretty Euer Valley
  • Lake Tahoe X-C – This resort in Tahoe City adjoining Burton Creek park, provides a heart pumping day to beginners as well as the expert.
  • Northstar California – Grooms 35K of skate and classic tracks for all skill levels.  Stocked warming huts and picnic tables dot the course to provide an enjoyable day.
  • Squaw Valley – Grooms 17K of trails in the meadow for the beginner to advance skier.

South Shore Area




Carson Pass/Kirkwood Area



  • Kirkwood  – Grooms 80K of spectacular trails, incorporated into three interconnected trail systems.  The trails, which wind through the Alpine Valley, are designed for every ski level.  Warming huts reward and restore the hard work. Two of the three systems allow dogs.

Community Areas

  • Hope Valley Outdoors, a cross country ski concessionaire in Hope Valley (south of Lake Tahoe), grooms 25 miles of ski-only trails around the junction of routes 89 and 88, offering touring across open meadows and along a creek.  This area is maintained by user donations.  Also, by parking near the yurt, you can ski the Burnside Road that is closed to snowmobiles, although they may be heard nearby.

State Areas

  • Complete listing of SnoParks.
  • Sugar Pine State Park on the west side of Lake Tahoe offers 20K of marked trails that are groomed as funding allows.
  • The SnoPark at Blackwood Canyon on the west side of Lake Tahoe is groomed for snowmobile traffic but you may be able to avoid the machines by skiing on the far side of the meadows that adjoin much of Blackwood Canyon road.
  • The SnoPark at Taylor Creek, on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe, offers access to skiing along the beach and, although open to snowmobiles, they are generally not a problem.  This SnoPark also provides access to the steep backcountry skiing on the east side of Mt. Tallac, though many skiers prefer to find parking closer to the slopes.
  • Nevada Nordic Organization operates the grooming in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, at Spooner Summit (where route 50 heads down to Carson City).  The area provides great skiing.
  • Donner Pass, with a popular trail going to the Sierra Club’s Peter Grubb Hut below Castle Peak.   The trail has a lot of use and can quickly get icy; additional cross country trails are needed.
  • Echo Summit, provides access to Echo Lake and the Desolation Wilderness on the north side and, on the south side, the “Echo to Kirkwood” trail (unmarked and often untracked). The area is very popular with meadow skippers, crossing Echo Lake and heading up towards the stunning Lake Aloha, and with backcountry skiers putting in some serious mileage to earn their turns.
  • Carson Pass, with trails to Winnemucca Lake and Round Top to the south.  Very popular with backcountry skiers earning their turns.
  • Meiss, on the north side of Carson Pass, with trails into the expansive Meiss meadows and Round Valley.  Also popular with backcountry skiers earning their turns on Red Lake Peak and surrounding terrain.
  • Burton Creek State Park on the north shore of Lake Tahoe and the adjoining North Tahoe High School adjoin the Tahoe XC ski area.
  • Grover Hot Springs State Park south of highway 88 offers cross-country skiing and the opportunity to soak in a hot pool afterwards.
  • The Hope Valley Trailhead at Blue Lakes Road is groomed for snowmobile traffic but can provide an enjoyable long-distance cross country ski on weekdays crossing a series of large meadows on the eleven mile trek into the Blue Lakes.

NOTE:  SnoPark passes ($5/day, $25/season for California residents $30/season for non-residents) are sometimes available at some areas but it is best to buy your permit in advance at shops, gas stations or online.

Other Areas

  • There are pull outs on most roads throughout the region from which one can explore, and many have well-packed trails due to extensive use, in particular on highway 89 between Hope Valley and Truckee and off the Mt. Rose highway.  Many of Lake Tahoe’s summer forest service and state park campgrounds and beaches offer shorter touring opportunities (when the snow level is low enough).  Parking on roadside pullouts during snow removal is generally prohibited.
  • Several of the mountain passes in the greater Lake Tahoe area provide highly popular ski opportunities, including Donner Pass, Mt. Rose summit, Echo summit, Luther Pass and Carson Pass.
  •  The Tahoe Meadows off highway 431 (Mt. Rose highway) is not a SnoPark (among other reasons, because this is Nevada, which does not have SnoParks) but are one of the most popular recreation destinations in the Tahoe Basin, with extensive parking along the road and in large turnouts.  The meadows themselves and the ridge line south of the road (Chickadee) offer spectacular cross country touring opportunities and the terrain north of the road (on both sides of the pass) is very popular with backcountry skiers earning their turns.  The Mt. Rose highway is the highest pass in the Sierra that is plowed year-round and this makes it a premiere spot for winter recreation.  Snowmobiles are permitted in several areas off the highway and their noise is a presence in much of the area;  reliable clean and quiet recreation (and some of the most popular backcountry slopes) are found on the Reno side of the pass.
  • Each of the national forests in these areas publishes several guides to cross country ski areas: Tahoe National Forest, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and the Eldorado National Forest (Strawberry Canyon off Highway 50; Highway 88 west of Carson Pass, and Carson Pass).  The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest provides a fold-out winter recreation guide to nordic  ski tours off Highway 88 in the Carson Ranger District.
  • Echo Lakes off of Highway 50 on the South Shore has beginner to intermediate trails.  Sno Park permit is required, $5 per day or $25 for a season.
  • Also useful are the forest winter recreation guides which designate areas closed to motorized travel:  Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Tahoe National Forest.
  • Some popular areas mentioned in these guides include:
    • On Highway 20 about ten miles east of the intersection with I-80, the Steephollow viewpoint provides a parking area for trails that run along the ridgeline.
    • On Highway 89 about ten miles north of I-80, the Kyburz area provides relatively flat touring past an important waterfowl nesting area.
    • When the snow is right, several National Forest beaches and campgrounds on the south shore provide lakeshore touring opportunities.
    • Southeast of Lake Tahoe, the trails from Echo Summit access the Desolation Wilderness, and the trails from Carson Pass access the Mokelumne Wilderness.
    • North of Carson Pass, the Meiss meadows offer solitude.  Many skiers access this area with a car shuttle, skiing the bacckountry route from Echo Summit to Kirkwood.  Route-finding skills are a must!
  • The Brockway Summit area (route 267, near Northstar) had been a popular cross country ski area (on both sides of the road), but is largely dominated by snowmobile traffic, at least on weekends.
  • The Forest Service has designated the Pole Creek area (off highway 89, between Truckee and Tahoe City) as a nonmotorized cross country ski area.  There is great touring if you go all the way to the Sierra Club’s Bradley Hut.  Parking is limited.


North Shore/Truckee Area

  • The historic Rainbow Lodge is affiliated with Royal Gorge and just off Interstate 80 and short drive from skiing areas.
  • Granlibakken Conference Center & Lodge in Tahoe City, CA off of Hwy 89 grooms trails for use of its guests, with a full service rental center.

South Shore Area

  • Camp Richardson Resort, on the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe, offers lodge rooms and private cabins.  Although there are few groomed trails, the lodge is in a wonderful location for both easy lakeside cross country touring and more serious adventures on the slopes of Mt. Tallac.

Carson Pass/Kirkwood Area

Wilderness Lodges

North Shore/Truckee Area

  • Lost Trail Lodge is a newer, well-appointed lodge in the Coldwater Creek area, close to Truckee, below Mt. Judah and Mt. Anderson.  It is an easy four mile ski into the lodge, which sits near some very steep terrain.
  • The Claire Tappaan Lodge, operated by the Sierra Club and located west of Donner Pass, with a trail to Royal Gorge ski area, offers dormitory style accommodations and group meals.  The Sierra Club also operates nearby Hutchinson Lodge, which is more primitive.
  • The Sierra Club maintains several ski-in huts in the Donner Pass/west Lake Tahoe area, including (from north to south) Peter Grubb hut (below Castle Peak north of I-80); Benson hut a few miles south of Sugar Bowl ski resort; Bradley Hut about five miles off highway 89 north of Squaw Valley  and Ludlow Hut on the north edge of the Desolation Wilderness off McKinney Creek.  These huts are popular with winter backcountry skiers and generally must be reserved in advance (well in advance for weekends) and offer primitive cook/warming areas and communal sleeping lofts.  No running water and limited woodstove heating.

South Shore Area

  • The Eldorado National Forest offers several huts off the Loon Lake road that can be rented for a very modest fee by groups, including the Loon Lake Chalet, the Robbs hut and the Van Vleck bunkhouse.  It can be an adventure just driving to the trailhead!


Rental Shops

North Shore

  • 9 Lives Lake Tahoe Used Winter Gear, Tahoe City, CA
  • Tahoe Daves, Tahoe City, Kings Beach and Squaw Valley CA
  • Tahoe Eco Sports, Kings Beach, CA


South Shore


Carson City

  • Carson Valley Sports

Guide Services

  • Alpine Skills International has mountaineering skills classes and guided excursions into the Sierras and beyond. Learn from the masters who have been teaching since 1979.

Other links

%d bloggers like this: