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