In bloom

Lake Tahoe wildflowers

The volcanic soil in Carson Pass trailhead area creates a rich environment for wildflowers.

The volcanic soil in Carson Pass trailhead area creates a rich environment for wildflowers.


It’s true that Tahoe locals are devoted to winter, but one of the best things about living near Lake Tahoe is the dramatic changing of the seasons. Each season has its own flair and, in the summer, as the snow melts in the high country, the mountains come alive with a fantastic display of wildflowers that is unparalleled.

The wildflower bloom is a short-lived season, only lasting from July to mid-August. But there’s an astonishing variety of wildflower species in the Tahoe Basin, and they largely bloom at once. From iconic flowers, like purple lupine and golden mule’s ear; to the lesser known but equally beautiful varieties, such as alpine lilies and sulphur buckwheat; myriad plants explode with color in unison.

Many Lake Tahoe trails offer wildflower viewing, and you don’t have to be a hardcore hiker to enjoy the show. Some trails are short and lead to verdant meadows and secluded beaches, while others climb ridgelines, each hard-earned mile revealing another colorful vista. Whether you’re into a relaxing stroll or a sweaty trek, here are some of the best hikes around Lake Tahoe to experience wildflowers:

Carson Pass to Winnemucca, Round Top and Fourth of July Lakes: Unlike much of Tahoe’s stark, granite wilderness, the volcanic soil in this area creates a rich environment for wildflowers, and the trail is great for families and backpackers alike. Start at Carson Pass trailhead off of Highway 88 and ascend along a gentle ridgeline to Lake Winnemucca (2.5 miles) where an array of vibrant wildflowers blanket the landscape. Photographers rejoice because with 10,000-foot Round Top Mountain as a backdrop, it’s hard to get a bad shot. Ambitious hikers can take the trail farther to Round Top Lake or Fourth of July Lake (10 miles roundtrip) for an unforgettable wildflower walk.

Meiss Meadow: Just opposite of the Carson Pass trailhead is the Meiss Meadow trailhead. More secluded and less popular than its sister trail, Meiss Meadows still provides plenty of opportunities for wildflower spotting, without the crowds. A short ascent reveals vast alpine meadows swathed in colorful blooms. Boasting a multitude of blooming plant varieties, this area is a garden of the gods. Take the trail all the way to Showers Lake (10 miles roundtrip) for spectacular vistas and waist-high wildflowers.

Lake Forest Beach: This is one of the few places in the Tahoe Basin where you can enjoy the wildflowers while you play on the beach. Lake Forest Beach in Tahoe City is a small strip of sand that erupts with purple lupines in early summer. This jaw-dropping setting is undoubtedly one of the best spots to capture the lake fringed by violet alpine blooms, and reaching Lake Forest Beach couldn’t be easier. In Tahoe City, take Bristlecone Street and park along the road. Stroll down a short path to the beach, and behold the glory of Mother Nature.

Big Meadow: This hike provides ample opportunity for wildflower spotting and is relatively easy. Reminiscent of the Swiss Alps, Big Meadow boasts blankets of wildflowers, has a small creek bubbling in its center and snow-capped mountains in the background. The trail begins with a steep ascent but quickly levels out. Reaching Big Meadow is a short 1.5 mile hike, and the reward is one of unmatched beauty. Continue on the trail to Round Lake (6.5 miles roundtrip) or Dardanelles (eight miles roundtrip) for a great day hike.