If you’re looking for a great view of Lake Tahoe, hiking in Van Sickle Bi-State Park might just be for you. What’s a bi-state park, you ask? It’s a park that crosses state borders – between California and Nevada, though Nevada’s park service does most of the management. It’s an easy hike in South Lake Tahoe that takes you partway up the mountain for a perfect view of the lake.
I hit the business trip jackpot when I landed a customer along the shores of Lake Tahoe, and I was determined to see as much of the surrounding scenery as possible. Because of the fact that I have to work during the day, I’m limited to evenings which makes day-long excursions off-limits. (Someday I’ll write about the exquisite torture that business trips like this bring to a travel junkie like me.) The hike in Van Sickle was perfect for me because it was both beautiful and relatively quick.
Why hike Van Sickle Bi-State Park?
Lake Tahoe is beautifully nested in the Sierra Nevada mountains. While I’ve seen more dramatic alpine lakes before, Tahoe stands out because of its large size. Sanding on the shore, you can enjoy the view of its impossibly clear blue waters, but getting an aerial view is a bit more of a challenge.
The lake is surrounded by think evergreen forest in most places, so even hiking uphill doesn’t guarantee you a view of anything but tree trunks. However, Van Sickle Bi-State Park contains a bare area that resulted from a wildfire several years ago that was caused by someone dropping a cigarette out of the Heavenly Resort chairlift nearby. (Just don’t start wildfires, people. Or smoke, really.) The fire thankfully didn’t kill anyone, but it did leave a scar running diagonally across the mountain.
While some vegetation has returned, a short hike to the burn scar still offers what my local contacts say is one of the best views of Lake Tahoe. Unlike most other sots away from the lake shore, the lack of thick tree cover means that there’s nothing standing between you and a gorgeous view of the lake.
Van Sickle Bi-State Park has a few trails, but the one you’ll want is the Rim Trail Connector. It winds up from a parking lot, through the burn scar, and all the way up to the Tahoe Rim Trail, a lengthy hike that circles the whole lake. There’s no need to go that far to enjoy the view of Lake Tahoe though. Just go as far as you need to in order to get a clear view and then turn back.
We hiked a little less than a mile on the Rim Connector Trail before stopping. The trail features a few switchbacks, and you gain some elevation, but I didn’t find it to be too strenuous. Though there were several rock formations that gave me flashbacks to the overly intense hike I did in the Rockies that sent me up 1.5 miles of stairs, I didn’t find the trail here to be too strenuous. It’s well-worn, so you should be able to follow it fairly easily, though if there’s snow on the ground it may be more difficult. Watch your footing as you get higher, as there were some small drop-offs along the switchback section. The trail is also open to mountain bikers, and we had to step aside to let several pass, so pay attention as you walk.
The ease of access to the trailhead at Van Sickle Bi-State Park is one of my favorite things about it. it’s located right behind the busiest tourist section of town, so if you’re staying in that part of South Lake Tahoe on the California side or Stateline on the Nevada side, you don’t even have to drive. We walked right from my hotel a couple of blocks away. Just follow Park Ave/Heavenly Village Way southeast from Lake Tahoe Boulevard and the road will curve around and take you straight to the parking area and trailhead. Just note that walking from the Heavenly Village area will add a little over a mile to your round trip.
Check out more hiking posts here, and stay tuned for more Lake Tahoe coverage!
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