Granite Chief Wilderness in California

Lake Tahoe
> Nature
> Granite Chief Wilderness

Granite Chief Wilderness

Granite Chief Wilderness is on the west side of Lake Tahoe and offers outstanding scenery, with its towering mountain backdrops, fir and pine forests, as well as premiere outdoor recreation. Read More

  • Enjoy the Granite Chief Wilderness with its towering mountain backdrops
  • On the west side of Lake Tahoe
  • The best time to visit the wilderness here is in the summer
  • Hike any of the trails through the forested landscapes
  • Fish in a mountain lake for healthy trout


Right next to Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada vacationer can find a picturesque spot of wilderness land, a place to explore and discover. Granite Chief Wilderness provides something for everyone, with more than 25,000 acres of forest woodlands, lush valleys and quiet meadows. Recreational opportunities include hiking, fishing and camping.

Location & Information

Granite Chief Wilderness is to the west of Lake Tahoe. You can reach the trailheads into the forest from along California Highway 89 by taking Squaw Valley Road, Blackwood Canyon Road, Alpine Meadows Road, Barker Pass Road or Ward Creek Boulevard.

Because of the high elevations, the best time to visit this wilderness area is in the summer, with the mild temperatures and dry climate. But snow is possible even in summer months so always come prepared. Start no earlier than May or even early June, as hiking trails could be inaccessible prior to this time due to deep snow.

Contact information:
Tahoe National Forest
631 Coyote Street
Nevada City, CA 95959
Truckee Ranger District


Many people go to Granite Chief Wilderness to view the picturesque mountains and to get as close as possible to its many lakes. But there are many recreational opportunities here besides sightseeing.

Many trails move through the wilderness, and you can find major trailheads that give you many options for hiking adventures.

  • Shanks Cove Trailhead
    This trail will take you to Johnson Monument, Five Lakes Creek and on Shanks Cove. Hunting here is very popular.
  • Granite Chief Trailhead
    Known for its spectacular views, the Granite Chief Trail is northwest of Lake Tahoe and is an 11.2-mile roundtrip hike. Strenuous with an elevation gain of 2,850 feet, it’s still well worth the effort, due to the beauty of the area.
  • Talbot Trailhead
    Talbot Trailhead is located close to a no-fee campground, Talbot Campground. A path through logged forest to the wilderness boundary, it’s an interesting one-mile hike.

Fishing for lake, brook and other trout is great at these high elevations. There are a number of lakes where you can throw in a line.

  • Needle Lake
    This small lake has a stock of lake trout and you have to hike to this location, for an added adventure.
  • Little Needle Lake
    Another spot where you can find fingerling brook trout and reached only by hiking or horseback riding.
  • Middle Mildred Lake
    To reach this lake, you climb from the Picayune Valley to the Mildred Lakes. Middle Mildred Lake is the largest of the three small bodies of water.

Camp out on the shore of the Hell Hole Reservoir and enjoy a true wilderness experience. You’ll find two campgrounds with a total of 25 sites available. Boat ramps are nearby.

Fun Facts

In the Granite Chief Wilderness, you will find events occurring in June and August pitting runners and riders against each other in endurance contests. The Western States Endurance Run is a 100-mile ultramarathon takes foot racers from the base of Squaw Valley Ski Resort to Auburn California on mountain trails. It happens on the last weekend of June. The Western States Trail Ride (The Tevis Cup) is similar to the Western States Endurance Run but is accomplished on horseback. Typically held in August, this race crosses the crest of the Sierra Nevada and earns the winner a silver Completion Award Buckle.