Many people never heard of the Loch Leven Lakes trail until a hiker went missing for several days in May. Nestled around the Donner Summit area near Lake Tahoe, the trail leads to some incredible small lakes and is very easy to access from Interstate 80. And although it attracts a full parking lot most weekends (it’s a small parking lot), it’s relatively easy to find solitude once you get there.

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The trail starts out across the street from the parking lot and meanders through granite boulders and slabs and then gets pretty steep. For the next mile, be prepared for a series of hogbacks and big open granite faces where the trail sometimes seems invisible. Good hiking boots are recommended and the drainage areas reveal loose rock (ankle twisters indeed)!

Along the way, the open granite slabs turn into tiny hidden meadows where more than a few folks (myself included) reported hearing children’s voices when there were no children around (Donner Party ghosts?). The trail gets to a plateau and you then cross the famous Transcontinental Railroad before starting another steep ascent.

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Once you climb 800 feet in the next mile, you gradually descent into the Loch Levon Lakes basin where you have the option to take a right and head to Salmon Lake or continue to one or all four of the lakes in the basin. Upper Loch Levon can get crowded but it’s only about a mile from the lower lake. There’s also a middle lake and a tiny lake in between. It’s all very beautiful.

Another thing to consider is your load. If you’re planning some luxury backpacking, you might want to think twice. Even though it’s only about three and a half miles to the upper lake, the vertical climb will make you wish you left those cans of chili in the car. Lighter is better on this trail.

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The trail is hikeable from May until October but as always, be prepared for sudden snow and thunderstorms. As a matter of fact, the day after the missing hiker was found up there, it snowed over six inches (I was stuck on the freeway). Make sure you bring adequate warm clothes and shelter during the spring and fall months. You never can bee too prepared.

Easy access and a relatively short distance makes the Loch Levon Lakes trail a nice getaway. It will test your legs and knees but is quite worth the climb. If you get a chance to come up during the week, you’ll have little company (usually). This trail has become a favorite for Sacramento and Bay Area folks. It’s a nice little side-jaunt on your way to Tahoe.

Photo credit: Flickr CC