The Five Lakes Trail provides access to the Five Lakes which are located within the Granite Chief National Wilderness Area. The Five Lakes are beautiful and quite peaceful. While parts of the Lake Tahoe area are quite crowded in the summer months, this area is not very busy. You likely won't have the mountain to yourself, but you won't be battling the crowds that some of Lake Tahoe's more popular trails have.
The trail begins right off of Alpine Meadows Road. The trail winds through a scattering of pine and fir with Manzanita down at ground level. The trail heads up a number of switchbacks. After clearing the switchbacks the trees disappear and the trail is exposed for most of the remainder of the hike until you reach the lakes. With the hike ranging in elevation between 6,500 and 7,600 feet, wear sunscreen. With the absence of shade, you'll burn quickly without sun protection.
Much of the early part of the hike is on private property. While you should always respect the land that you are hiking on, the consequences of not respecting the private property you are hiking on here could cost everyone access to this beautiful place.
There is an interesting story about the property owner that unfolds as you head higher up the trail. About half way up the trail there are ski lift towers that come into view. The towers have no support wheels, cables or chairs on them. These towers have been like this since the early 2000's. If you are familiar with Alpine Meadows Ski Area, just up the road from the trailhead, then you know that the ski area doesn't extend into this area. However, at the top of the ridge to the right of the top of the unfinished lift is another lift. That lift is KT-22 at Squaw Valley Ski Area.
It turns out that part of the Squaw Valley Ski Area is on the property owner's land that you are hiking on. The property owner gave Squaw Valley permission to build KT-22 on his land. In exchange, Squaw Valley had to give him one of their chairlifts when Squaw Valley needed to replace it. The property owner had a great idea that he could build a lift on his land that would connect Alpine Meadows to Squaw Valley. He could sell a lift ticket that would enable skiers to ski between the two ski areas. All he needed to do was get Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley to agree to an interchangeable lift pass. Squaw Valley would have nothing of it. So the lift remains unfinished to this day.
As you climb higher up the mountain the trail enters the Granite Chief Wilderness, leaving behind the private property. Trees come into view at the top of trail. You can't see any of the five lakes yet, but the lakes are just beyond the edge of the tree line.
The official trail only passes near lakes 1 and 5. However, there are well worn paths that will take you past lakes 2, 3 and 4 in a circuitous route. Each lake has a slightly different look to it. Lakes 1 & 2 are the smallest. Being small has its advantages. The water tends to be smoother making for better reflection photography. Lake 3 is larger with a rocky western shoreline (where the trail passes) and nice views of the ridgeline that separates the two ski areas. Lakes 4 and 5 are also larger with granite slopes dropping into the far sides of both lakes.
After making the circuit around all five lakes you will be able to pick up the main trail which is not too difficult to locate. Just make sure to head northeast on the trail to get back to the trailhead. If you are heading southwest you are going the wrong direction and should turn around.
Enjoy! - Mar 07 2011 slegal