Sunday, August 31, 2014

Best Hikes In Tahoe - Bayview Trail To South Maggie's Peak, Southwest Shore

Category - Strenuous - This hike is only for experienced hikers in good shape
View Rating - 10 out of 10!
Distance - 5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain - 1800 feet
Highest Point - 8700 feet

Do you want to know what may well be the single most spectacular hike in Tahoe? Better, even, than Mt. Tallac or the Sand Harbor Overlook near Herlan Peak? A hike the summit of which is almost deserted? Try the Bayview Trail up to South Maggie's. 

"Wait," I hear you saying. "What could possibly be more spectacular than hiking Mt. Tallac?"

A reasonable question, especially since Mt. Tallac's summit is 1000 feet higher. But Mt. Tallac is twice as far from Lake Tahoe as is South Maggie's. And South Maggie's looms directly over Emerald Bay, which many people think is the most spectacular part of Lake Tahoe. Ask people who've done both hikes, and you'll find that many agree with me. South Maggie's Peak simply offers a more dramatic view, which happens to also include a great look at Mt. Tallac!

This is what Maggie's Peaks look like from the highway just south of Emerald Bay. The north peak is the one on the right. Our target is South Maggie's on the left. It is only 200 feet higher than the north peak, but it has a nicer summit and is much easier to get to.

The beginning of this hike from the Bayview Trailhead is in most trail guidebooks. But the end - the last portion up to the summit of South Maggie's Peak - is not. The likely reason is that the final portion isn't a well-constructed trail, and the Forest Service doesn't like hikers to go just anywhere because that leads to erosion. In fact, they won't like that I'm telling you about this hike. (But I'll also tell you how to mitigate your impact so you don't have to feel guilty!)

Here's where to go. At Emerald Bay, don't park at the Vikingsholm lot or the Eagle Falls Trailhead lot. Instead, drive to the southernmost part of the highway around Emerald Bay and pull into the Bayview Campground lot directly across from the popular vista point overlook.

Drive in past the campground and go to the end where the trailhead parking is. (Remember to avoid weekends and always get there early. 8 a.m. is a good time to arrive if you want to find a parking place.)

This hike goes into Desolation Wilderness, so you'll need a permit. Because you're just going for a day, you can fill out your own permit at this sign. They're in the box to the right. (Bring your own pen.)

When you get to this sign, go right. (The Cascade Falls Hike is detailed here.)

The initial trail is a strenuous single track that climbs up a forested slope. It is work and it doesn't have a lot of views, setting you up for the big surprises to come.

Soon, you will pop out at the top of the Rock Slide, where a big chunk of mountain slid down into Emerald Bay in 1955. Don't worry, you can walk up and look down at the view without fear of falling. (This area was featured in Tahoe Deathfall.) Fannett Island (Tahoe's only island) with its stone Tea House is easy to see. The big boat on the left side is the Tahoe Queen, hovering just out from the Vikingsholm Castle, which is hidden in the trees just in from the swimming beach.

Here's a zoom shot of the Queen.

Continuing up the trail, you come to Granite Lake, hiding at 7500 feet below Maggie's Peaks. Granite Lake is a great place to take off your shoes and cool your feet on the way back down.

As the trail rises above Granite Lake, you move into a forest of giant California Red firs. These grow to 6 or more feet in diameter as you approach 8000 feet of elevation (their climate sweet spot).

Here's a Red fir with a giant burl that allowed me to pretend for a moment that I was King Louis the Sixteenth, sitting on his throne.

The trail zig-zags up a serious slope to the saddle that lies between North and South Maggie's. To the north and west, you can see much of Desolation Wilderness spread out below you. Don't go too close to the overlook (BE CAREFUL!)  

Here, I'm trying to channel John Muir. 1000 feet below me is Eagle Lake, a popular destination up the Eagle Falls Trail. PLEASE NOTE THAT ONE CAN FALL FROM ROCKS LIKE THESE! HANG ONTO YOUR CHILDREN IF YOU GO NEAR DROPOFFS!

From the saddle, the trail continues southwest. In just 100 yards or so, we are going to leave the trail and strike up the open forested slope to the left.

Turn left off the trail and just head up. If you only go up, you can't miss the summit. Because there isn't a formal trail, erosion is a concern. You can avoid creating a path that would channel water and cause erosion by simply walking carefully up at a gentle angle, zig-zagging up the slope as you would if you were climbing on cross-country skis. It is the more direct, steeper paths, caused by hikers and mountain bikers alike, that contribute to erosion. A "Leave No Trace" philosophy prevents erosion just as it prevents litter.

When you near the summit of South Maggie's, head for the north (left) portion. The views are better, and the perfect lunch spots more numerous. To the left rear is Lake Tahoe and the town of South Lake Tahoe adjacent to it. Front left is Cascade Lake, a private lake where John Steinbeck once wintered and wrote (and did some serious drinking!). Rear right is Fallen Leaf Lake. In the distance is Heavenly in the center left and the Freel Peak massif on the right. At 10,880, Freel Peak is the highest mountain in Tahoe.

Speaking of lunch...
Turkey, tomato, spinach, and cheddar on a whole wheat ciabatta roll. 
If that sounds too healthy, don't worry, we took the edge off the health
quotient with a whole lotta chips!

As you look down from the summit, Granite Lake is 1200 feet below you, and Emerald Bay is 1300 feet below that.

After lunch, plan to take some time to memorize the view. And what a view it is!


  1. Great blog! Thanks for sharing. A quick question if you don't mind? Is the trail 'safe' for younger children. My boy is 8 and in good shape, but I was wondering if it's easy to fall of the trail (literally)... Are there a lot of spots were you could fall and go spiraling downhill rather quickly. We are thinking this Saturday, but can't get there early.. Think we will try anyway... Again, great blog with lots of great tips.. Great stuff!

    1. Hi Rob,
      Good question!
      Most of the trail is safe and well-graded, and the trail itself is not especially slippery. BUT YES, THERE ARE A FEW PLACES WHERE A KID OR ANYONE ELSE COULD FALL OFF! These are especially at the top as well as at the saddle. See the photo above where I'm looking down at Eagle lake 1000 feet below.
      Personally, I would take a kid up the trail, but I wouldn't let that child out of my sight, and I would hold the child's hand whenever I came close to those areas.
      Think of it like walking with a child in a busy city. You hold the kid's hand whenever you cross the street.
      If you are vigilant, the Bayview Trail is a great hike for anyone.
      Have fun!

  2. Great! Thanks Todd, looking forward to this!

  3. Do you think it is maintained during the winter?

  4. Hi Linda,
    Thanks for your question.
    No Tahoe trails/hikes are maintained during the winter. This one is currently buried under 12 feet of snow, and last I checked, the road to Emerald Bay was closed due to avalanche danger.
    It was an oversight on my part not to mention that most of the hikes I write about are only accessible beginning in May or June or even July. Too much snow.
    Sorry for the omission. Tahoe locals forget that other people don't know that.
    I hope you enjoy the hike come July!

  5. Replies
    1. Good question. Yes, this hike and others in the Desolation Wilderness are dog friendly! However, your dog needs to be under vocal control or on a leash. If your dog bothers other hikers or horses or other dogs, you can be ticketed. Dog waste needs to be packed out or buried 8 inches deeps at least 200 feet from any water. And, like most hikes in Desolation Wilderness, this hike goes over rocks, so your dog needs tough paws. If you have any doubts about your dog's feet, bring dog boots and check your dog's paws frequently on the hike. We've known people who went too far and their dogs bloodied their paws necessitating carrying the dog out. If your dog weighs very much, that can be difficult if not dangerous. With care and preparation, wilderness hikes are fantastic places to bring dogs.