Meandering creeks full of wild trout, granite on the ground and looming above, dense forest, open meadows, lush foliage, and signs of fall—the hike to Lake Margaret has it all. And the lake is even more spectacular than the trail getting there.
On this relatively easy nearly 5-mile round trip hike through the Eldorado National Forest in Alpine County the senses are heightened with the changing terrain. This is one of those rare excursions where the landscape has a little bit of everything. With the seasons changing from summer to fall, even the smells are different with the decaying leaves.
In mid-September the colors were just starting to change, with the underbrush the most notable. A few aspens were beginning to turn yellow. With all the green aspens, this location would definitely be a hike to do during peak foliage season in October.
This is one of those treks where you need to be looking up and down. Up to see the cairns because the route is not always discernible by looking down. A few trail markers posted to trees at critical locations were welcome. Looking down is essential to avoid tripping because a good part of the path is full of embedded rocks and tree roots climbing across the trail. Other times it is hardpack dirt.
Starting off there is a slight descent, but don’t let this alarm you. It’s not long. Looking at the elevation data on my hiking app the route was definitely a bit up and down most of the way. But there were plenty of times when it was flat. Granite stairs are in a few spots. Poles would be welcome in some spots for those with knee or ankle issues.
Most of the slabs of granite were easy to traverse, though in a few locations I needed my hands. This was a bit of a conundrum for Sue who was using poles. At one point she threw them ahead of her in order to scootchy down the rock with the use of her hands.
I was most surprised to see a large number of dead trees in various locations. While the trail is in good condition, this section of the forest needs to be thinned and better maintained. Even so, it’s so lush in some places that ferns are growing.
Caples and Kirkwood creeks add to the scenic beauty. They eventually hook up and spill into nearby Caples Lake in two locations. Even late in the hiking season it’s necessary to cross the water once via logs that span the creek. In other locations the dry waterbed makes it easy to get from one side to the other without testing your balance.
The best part about being the first vehicle in the parking lot was that it meant we were the only ones at Lake Margaret to begin with. A foursome showed up as we were leaving, and we met others along the trail on our way out. The solitude and tranquility would be reasons to start early; but that could be said for any hike.
Granite dominates the view at the lake, with plenty of rock to sit on as a lunch spot or just to take in all the scenery. A distinct line is visible on boulders indicating the high water mark more than a foot from the surface. In summer or on a warm day don’t be surprised to see people swimming in the lake.
- From South Lake Tahoe, go west on Highway 50. At the roundabout in Meyers, head toward Highway 89. At the T intersection in Hope Valley, go right onto Highway 88. Two-tenths of a mile after the Caples Lake spillway will be a small sign on the right for the trailhead.
- Dogs allowed.
- Elevation gain was 505 feet, with minimum being 7,554 feet and maximum 7,774 feet.
- For more ideas about where to hike in the greater Lake Tahoe area, check out The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes or Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks.