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Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

It’s always interesting to see what someone or something looks like without all the adornment - the fancy clothes, the makeup, the accessories, or in this case, snow. The naked Squaw Valley looks very different and less magical than the winter version with its beautiful white coat. Although, to be fair, Squaw looked a lot better than the other ski resorts like Homewood or Northstar.



After three hikes over two days and being so exhausted I could barely speak (and that’s true exhaustion for you!), Closet Granola said he would, in his words, “take it easy on me”. We would do a short hike before we headed back to the Bay Area. He chose a hike that was just 2.5 miles each way on an out-and-bike hike to Shirley Lake in Squaw Valley. On our way there, I read the description and practically hit the roof. His idea of “taking it easy” was to climb roughly 1,300 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles over rocky granite cliffs. This hike could barely be classified as a hike…it was more like rock climbing. I know I spent a good deal of time on all fours climbing over the rocks.

Shirley Lake Trail

Shirley Lake Trail

The first part of the hike was rather well-shaded, walking through a forest, climbing over fallen trees. In the spring, I would imagine that the creek would be full, but by September it was rather bare. In the winter, I would bet that this looks like one of Robert Frost’s poems about snowy woods on the way to grandmother’s house.

On our way out of the woods, we could hear a solo hiker mumbling about where the trail was. We soon learned why. The trail on the rocky section was extremely hard to find. I got my first lesson on looking for cairns (little stacks of rocks) and paint to find the trail. It was kind of fun and I was really bad at it, getting us completely off the “trail” many times. Good thing this wasn’t a night hike like Eagle Lake! While climbing up the rock, even if you’re scared of heights, don’t forget to turn around and look at the view. We could see Squaw Valley Resort at the bottom and it looked so small.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

After 1300 feet in elevation, we arrived at Shirley Lake about an hour before sundown duringthe magic hour. The reflection of the granite boulders in the lake was perfect for photography. We spent about half an hour taking photos and hanging out watching the chipmunks before heading back down.

Tip #1: Labor Day weekend in Tahoe is a great time to stop at Tahoe Dave’s. They offer great discounts on demo skis from the last season. If you’re lucky, you’ll get great skis for a fraction of the price.

Tip #2: Stop by the Starbucks at Squaw Valley before heading out and you’ll have enough energy to get up the mountain and back.

About two weeks before Labor Day weekend, we started the process of discussing where to go for the holiday. First on the list was Yosemite, but being just 2 weeks before Labor Day, all hotels were booked up, except for the $350+ nightly rate rooms. So I suggested camping as Craigslist had a few campsite for sale. Here’s how the conversation went:

City Girl: Maybe we should just camp. Otherwise, it’ll cost $1,000 to see dirt, trees, and dried up waterfalls.

Closet Granola (after a few seconds of speechlessness): Camping? I thought you said you would never go camping. I don’t know about this…

City Girl: Oh, it’ll be fine. I’d rather camp than pay that much money. Maybe it’ll be romantic.

Closet Granola: Ummmm, okay. Let me do some research.

City Girl: But I have a few questions first.

Closet Granola: Oh boy.

City Girl: Where do people take showers or baths? Do I have to share a bathroom?

Closet Granola: Maybe but people don’t usually take showers.

City Girl: What?! But you get all sweaty and dirty on the hikes, how can there be no showers?

Closet Granola: <<silence>>

City Girl: Well, how about food? How far are the restaurants? Within driving distance?

Closet Granola: There are no restaurants. You have to bring the food to the campsite and cook it there.

City Girl: What? No restaurants? What kind of food can you cook at a campsite? Can we bring a large cooler to plug into the car and keep food fresh? We can bring cheese and wine, some cold cuts, fruits, meat. We could bring some pots and pans and cooking utensils and a coffee maker or French press and a table stove…

Closet Granola: We’re not going camping.

And that’s how we ended up in Lake Tahoe, staying at a not-so-nice hotel but with running water and restaurants within walking distance. We ended up hiking all three days, despite the promise of easy days floating on a raft down Truckee River which was never realized.

Our first hike was in Emerald Bay on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe. It is, in my opinion, the best and prettiest of the hikes that we went on with postcard picture opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s not a well-kept secret and there are plenty of tourists at both the D.L. Bliss entrance and the Vikingsholm entrance. As you can imagine, the parking is a nightmare. After being turned away at D.L. Bliss due to a full parking lot, we drove further down to the Vikingsholm entrance. Due to some great parking karma, we found a spot immediately.

Although some guidebooks recommend doing the hike from Vikingsholm to D.L. Bliss, I think the views are prettier and the elevation gain easier coming the other way. So if you’re going to do this hike one-way and then take the free Emerald Bay shuttle back to your starting point, then I would highly recommend D.L. Bliss to Vikingsholm. Of course, taking a shuttle back is cheating in Closet Granola’s eyes and therefore we had to do the hike out-and-bike. Luckily for him, the hike was pretty enough that I didn’t mind. At almost 10 miles roundtrip and only 500 ft in elevation gain, it’s definitely doable if you have the time.

The hike alternates between being high above the lake and beach level so there are many different angles to take photos from. The water in the lake alternates between a sapphire blue and emerald green, which is just stunning…what girl doesn’t like sparkly sapphire and emeralds?

Vikingsholm is named for the house at the bottom of the trail originally owned by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight. It is apparently one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the West. I think it’s rather cute. Mrs. Knight also owned the only island in all of Lake Tahoe, Fannette Island. From the Rubicon Trail, we could see where she hosted her tea parties at “The Teahouse.” Oh, to be rich and eccentric…

Other than Vikingsholm and Fannette Island, the only “thing to see” on this hike is Emerald Bay itself. But despite the fact that you’re looking at the same thing for 10 miles, it’s still stunning with the mountains behind it, with dogs swimming or riding kayaks, with people lunching on the rocks or drinking cocktails on their boat.

I cannot recommend this hike enough for Lake Tahoe, although I don’t really want more people on this hike. The funniest part of the hike was when we saw a girl walking up from Vikingsholm with heels on! They were kitten heels, but heels nonetheless. Closet Granola and I just looked at each other, rolled our eyes and snickered. I wish I had gotten a picture of that! Perhaps I’m becoming a bit of a hiking snob.

Overall rating: Flip-flops (not even kitten heels)

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip: Staying in Truckee? Grab coffee and a lox bagel to go from Wild Cherries. We stopped by there every morning! Gift Guide