It’s been a while since my last post but I wanted to get this one out before the end of the year. Over the summer, we took a camping trip to Lake Tahoe with Sierra. First things first, if you enjoy camping with your dog, Tahoe needs to be at the top of your list of places to go in California. There are trails, two dog beaches, rafting adventures, and dog friendly restaurants everywhere. Most of the trails are dog friendly and there are so many to choose from, you will never be able to get to them all. They range from easy to difficult, which means there is something for every type of hike you are in the mood for. Some trails require a leash but others allow your well-trained dog to wander off leash to explore. The two beaches are on opposite sides of the lake, so you are never too far from one. The restaurants that are dog friendly have patio seating and some even provide doggie menus as well. We were even able to go river rafting with Sierra, which was one of the highlights of the trip and the whole Tahoe experience wouldn’t have been the same without her. As anyone who has a Husky, or any other high energy dog knows, they are almost impossible to tire out. This was the first trip where I think we actually accomplished this seemingly impossible feat. I couldn’t believe it. There are so many options for dog friendly activities in Tahoe, you could spend all summer here and still barely scratch the surface. In this blog, I will go into detail about everything we were able to cram into the 1 week we spent there.
We started or trip in the wee hours of the morning and got on the road at 4:30am. We did this for two reasons: 1) to avoid LA traffic 2) to get to our campground as close to check-in time as possible so we could maximize the time spend in Tahoe. My wife, Kelly, was opposed to this early morning, but I convinced her by taking the first shift of driving so she could continue sleeping (she would be thanking me later for the extra couple hours of relaxation we got once there). We took Sierra to dog day care for two days straight leading up to our departure so she would be nice and tired for the 9 hour car ride and it worked much better than we expected. As with all trips where we have long distance driving, we stopped at a dog park that was about 7 hours into the trip to help get some of her, and our, pent up energy out. This way, when we arrived at the campsite, we could get camp set up without Sierra losing her mind. The dog park we stopped at was located in Stockton, CA and was called BarkleyVille Dog Park. They have separate sections for small and large dogs and they also have a separate area in the middle that contains a dog agility course that Sierra enjoyed checking out. After stretching our legs for about 30 minutes, we hopped back into the car to finish the trip into Tahoe.
Fallen Leaf Campground
We pulled into Fallen Leaf campground located on the south side of the lake a little after 1pm. This campground has decently spaced campsites and you won’t feel cramped when you start to settle in. We chose this specific campground because it was within walking distance of Kiva Beach, one of the most popular dog beaches in Lake Tahoe, and it backs up to the relatively secluded Fallen Leaf Lake, which is another dog friendly area. It is also away from the main road so you don’t really hear the traffic that can sometimes spoil a good camping trip. Fallen Leaf Lake is a great spot to spend some time away from the crowds and take in all of the scenery that Tahoe has to offer. We will definitely use this campground next time we are up there.
Kiva Beach is 1 of 2 dog friendly beaches in Tahoe. This beach is a little less than a mile away so it’s within biking and walking distance from the Fallen Leaf campground. Because of all the hiking we were already doing, we ended up just driving there for most of our visits. They have a small parking lot so as long as it’s not a crowded day, you can usually find parking. The beach itself is a soft sand beach with a beautiful backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on one side and Lake Tahoe on the other. Even when crowded, this beach has plenty of space for everyone that wants to visit. Dogs that are well-trained can be off leash but make sure that you have good recall training because there is nothing but open space and forest behind the beach. If your dog has a high prey drive, you might want to keep them on a leash. There are plenty of squirrels and waterfowl that can lead your dog into places where you will have a hard time getting them back. If your dog likes the water, you can bring a raft, inner tubes, kayaks, or other floatation devices to paddle out into the water with the dog swimming behind you. If you plan on being out there for a while make sure you buy a lifejacket for your dog so they don’t tire out too quickly. On the days we went there was a headwind that prevented us from really floating out onto the lake but if you have paddles it’s still doable.
Fallen Leaf Lake
Fallen Leaf Lake is only about 1/8th of a mile away from the campground. We brought our bikes with us because Sierra has that natural instinct to pull everything she is attached to, so it took us less than 2 minutes to get there from our campsite. This is a great place to spend an afternoon laying on the beach and taking in the quiet serenity that the lesser-traveled areas of the Lake Tahoe have to offer. Fallen Leak Lake doesn’t have a sandy beach so make sure you bring the appropriate footwear. We both had water shoes that made it easy to get in and out of the water without constantly stepping on sharp rocks. This lake also allows rafts, kayaks and other inflatable boats but be warned: because of the high mountains on the other side of the lake, the wind comes down the mountainside and right across the lake. When it picks up, it makes it hard to paddle out onto the lake.
Hike from Echo Lake to Aloha Lake
We saved this hike for the middle of the week so we had some time to acclimate to the higher elevation as well as giving ourselves a few days to relax after the hike. The hike was a total of 14 miles and it was an out and back trail. There are literally hundreds of trails that are dog friendly in the Tahoe area and all have their unique views and terrain to experience. We chose the Echo Lake to Aloha Lake trail because of the many changes in scenery and the plentiful amount of water throughout the trail so that we could reload on water if needed.
CAUTION: If you are planning on taking your dog with you on this hike 1) make sure they are in good shape, this is not an easy stroll through the wilderness, a good majority of the trail consists small granite rocks. You and your dog will have to constantly look where your feet are going to be placed to avoid tripping and falling or twisting an ankle. 2) Because of this harsh surface, I highly advise you to invest in a pair of hiking boots for your dog. I always assumed Sierra wouldn’t have any problems with this type of trail but by the end her feet were sore and she had a hard time walking on any rocky surfaces for two days after. We even applied Musher’s Secret at the beginning of the trip but it was no match for all of the sharp granite rocks we encountered.
REI has the best selection of dog hiking boots that I have seen at any physical retail store, so it might be a good idea to start your shopping there. They will allow you to bring your dog in to test fit them to make sure you buy the correct size. Just like human boots, make sure you get your dog used to them by breaking them in before you head out on a major hike. We had already purchased Ruffwear’s hiking boots but we didn’t think to bring them on this hike because we didn’t know the terrain was going to be so ruff.
The trail begins at the general store and fuel refill station of Echo Lake. There is some parking available in the store parking lot, but if it’s full you might have to park in the overflow lot back up the hill but it’s not too far away. Before you start the hike you need to register for a wilderness pass at the trailhead. These passes are free and they just require your name, the trail you plan on taking, and how many days you will be gone. The pass needs to hang on your backpack or somewhere visible during the hike.
You have two options to start the hike. You can start the trip at lower Echo Lake or you can pay for a ferry to take you to Upper Echo Lake to cut 3 miles off your total hiking distance. You can also do this on the way back down if you get there before the ferry stops running, which would cut a total of 6 miles off the hike if you did it both ways. We elected to do the whole trip on foot so we started from the trailhead in the parking lot. The first 3 miles, you are walking on relatively flat terrain that overlooks the lake. The views on this trail start right away, granite rocks on the right and a beautiful lake on the left. I think it’s worth the extra 3 miles to take this route just for the scenery alone.
Between mile 3 and 5, you will encounter the largest ascents, but also one of the best lookouts of the hike. This increase in elevation isn’t horrible, but it will make you sweat, or pant heavily, depending on species :).
Because we went on the hike during the end of June, the next few miles were full of different types of wildflowers. This portion of the hike also had a decent amount of shade so it was great for body temperature control.
After a few more miles, we started running into patches of snow right before we got to our destination on Aloha Lake. I’m pretty sure the snow was Sierra’s favorite part. Check the video out here.
When we arrived, we sat down next to the water to admire the scenery, have lunch, and rest our feet and paws. Due to bad weather earlier in the day, we started the hike later than we were planning so we were only able to stay at Aloha Lake for a short period before starting the return trip back.
The way back was definitely a challenge due to our already tired legs and the seemingly never-ending odd shaped rocks under our feet we had to consistently navigate through. If we were to do the hike again, we would pack our high-top hiking boots for better ankle support because all three of us were definitely sore the next day. Overall, it was one of the most scenic hikes we have ever been on and it was also the longest hike Sierra has ever done. The only thing that would prevent me from doing this hike again, any time soon at least, would be the fact that there are so many other hikes in the area to chose from, all with their own unique landscapes and views. If you are interested in this hike but think it might be a little too much, try using the ferry to cut 6 miles off the trip. This would make the total hike a much more manageable 8 miles.
Dock for the ferry
In case anyone is interested I also took pictures of the equipment we use when hiking with Sierra.
The combination of the Ruffwear Palisades Pack, ROK strap elastic leash, Mad Rock Ultra triple lock carabineer, and a skijoring belt is perfect for letting Sierra pull us on any hike we take. The locking carabineer does a great job at making sure the leash and the belt are secure. The elasticity in the ROK leash helps keep any sudden jerking motions Sierra makes from straining our backs. The Ruffwear backpack comes with two platypus type collapsible water bottles and can hold at least another two more for the longer hikes. It also easily holds a full meal of kibble, treats, poop bags and almost anything else you might need to take on a trip with you when you hike with a dog. I also purchased Ruffwear’s beacon light to attach to the front of the harness which I leave on during hikes. I do this so just in case she gets free for some reason, she is easily spotted at night. I also leave this light on during the evening hours at our campsite. It makes it really easy to find her in the dark when we want to check to make sure she isn’t off chasing rodents.
Truckee River Rafting
The other highlight of our trip to Tahoe had to be the Truckee River Rafting. Dogs that are well behaved, and can swim, are welcome to come along with you on this relaxing trip down the river. There are a few minor rapids, so you want to make sure that you are always looking downstream if your dog is swimming next to the boat. However, the rapids are easily visible or well marked, so they should never be a surprise. The company we used does have a 50 lb. max weight restriction for dogs on their website, but if your dog is well behaved just call ahead to ask if it would be OK to bring them and they will usually say yes. Sierra weights about 65 lb. and they let her on without any hassle after we called ahead. Speaking of calling ahead, you need to make reservations for this, so make sure you book them in advance. I called about a week before the trip and got in no problem, but the earlier the better. They also have a release form on their website that you can print and fill out to bring with you to speed up the rental process when you get there. They charge $30 a person for the trip and the rafting usually takes about 2-3 hours to wind down the 5-mile stretch of river. The trip starts in the town of Truckee were you check in and then launch the raft in the same area. Everything is provided for you, including the raft and paddles. They also allow you to bring food and drinks (alcoholic included) in the boat with you in case you want to pull over somewhere to eat lunch or have snacks. You float down the Truckee River and, at the end, they have a building that collects that rafts. You are then shuttled in a bus back up to where you started, so there is no need to arrange for transportation. Because you are given your own raft, you can float down the river at your own pace and as long as you finish the trip before the last bus pick-up at the end of the evening, you can take as long as you want and explore at your own pace. Check out Sierra trying to chase ducks while swimming here.
Because we were camping, we ate most of our meals at the campsite, but from looking at restaurant reviews as well as some first hand experience, I can say that most food places that have patio seating will allow dogs. There were two burger places, one in South Lake Tahoe and one in North Lake Tahoe that we visited with Sierra and both were great. Char-pit was on the North side, allowed dogs, and even had a dog menu and dog water bowls that they brought out.
Burger Lounge was on the South side and was just as delicious.
Kayaking on Tahoe
The week we went to Tahoe it was a little winder than usual so the Kayak rentals were closed down for a few days. The one thing we didn’t get to do but that was available was to kayak on Lake Tahoe with the dog. So if you are in the area and try it out, let me know how it was — I have that on our list of things to do next time!
Tahoe Dog Park on the way out
The day we left Tahoe, we took Sierra to the Bijou Dog Park located in South Lake Tahoe. It was a little difficult to find because it was inside a larger community park, but if you are looking for a safe place to take your dog off leash and socialize while on your trip, check it out. They have a small and large dog section and both are pretty spacious. As I stated at the beginning of this, Sierra was more tired after this trip than we have ever seen her before, which to me, proves that she had a great time and we are already looking forward to going back again! We might even try visiting in the winter to do some snow shoeing and to see what else Tahoe has to offer for us and the dog during the snowy season.
If you read this, and have other recommendations for things to do with your dog in Tahoe, please feel free to comment! I would love to get more ideas for next time 🙂