Tahoe’s Isolated Gem
Story and photos by Tim Hauserman
When it comes to world-class hiking, the Tahoe Basin is truly blessed. Desolation Wilderness and the Tahoe Rim Trail are just two well-known examples that come to mind. Lesser-known, but still quite inspiring, Granite Chief Wilderness is a worthy alternative for those looking to escape the crowds and explore new terrain.
The 25,000-acre Granite Chief Wilderness is bordered on the North by Granite Chief peak, to the east by the Pacific Crest Trail above Squaw Valley, to the South by Barker Pass, and to the west by Mt. Mildred and Hell Hole Reservoir. It is a mostly volcanic land of huge firs, hemlocks, western white pines, lush meadows, giant slopes of mule ears, and sparkling streams. There are miles of trails winding through vales of trees, and climbs leading to spectacular views of the Pacific Crest.
Here are two recommended Granite Chief hikes noted for beauty, terrain, isolation, and a gorgeous swim at Five Lakes that serves as a post workout reward.
Beat the crowds by hitting the Five Lakes Trail early, and then breeze past the lakes and descend to Whiskey Creek. You will pass lush wildflower displays and scattered junipers to a junction, where you have the option of continuing on the Pacific Crest Trail over towards Donner Summit, or take a left and head quickly down to Whiskey Creek. Cross the creek to find several old cabins. Continue onward and upward, and in just a mile of deep forests of red fir, you emerge into the sunlight and panoramic views of the Pacific Crest, reaching from Granite Chief in the north to Twin Peaks in the south.
The low notch between Squaw and Alpine, where you were walking a few miles earlier, now reveals views of Mt. Rose in the distance. Continuing on the trail takes you past a junction with the Picayune Valley Trail, and then more climbing eventually brings you to spectacular volcanic rock formations. More climbing is followed by a steep downhill run through a forested canyon to Shanks Cove, and eventually to Five Lakes Creek, where you turn left and head upstream for two miles. Now you have come full-circle back to Whiskey Creek camp. Just four more miles completes your sixteen-mile
hen it comes to world-class hiking, roundtrip through the hub of Granite Chief Wilderness. Make sure you stop at Five Lakes for a much-deserved swim.
Powderhorn Trail/Diamond Crossing/ Five Lakes Creek
This is a point-to-point hike on a lightly used trail through extensive groves of old growth trees. Thirteen miles in length, it starts on the Powderhorn Trail about a mile past the PCT crossing on Barker Pass Road, and ends on Alpine Meadows Road at the Five Lakes Trailhead.
Along the Powderhorn Trail you pass lava formations reminiscent of Devil’s Postpile, and dramatic evidence of avalanche pathways. In four miles you reach Diamond’s Crossing, an open meadow, and a mostly gentle ascent begins. Now you are following the path of Five Lake’s Creek through some of the most isolated terrain in the Tahoe Sierra. At nearly nine miles from the Powderhorn trailhead, you reach Whiskey Creek. Another four miles of hiking takes you past Five Lakes and out to your shuttled car. Don’t forget to swim!
Tim Hauserman wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail. The third edition is set for August publication.