Want to hike in the mountains without knocking yourself out? The Eagle Falls Trail, near Lake Tahoe, has a wonderfully lopsided work-to-reward ratio.
I have taken this trail or the adjacent Bayview Trail many times as a relatively painless route to gorgeous lakes in Desolation Wilderness, a federally managed wilderness area. In June, I hiked Eagle Falls Trail 5 miles to Middle Velma Lake, where I set up a tent and spent the night before returning home the next day. The hike also can be done as a 10-mile day trip, or even a shorter trip to Eagle Lake and back. My round trip to Middle Velma took six hours of hiking.
The first 3 miles will make you break a sweat, climbing about 1,000 feet. The views are motivating as you pass Eagle Falls and Eagle Lake in a valley of glaciated granite. Then you enter an even more dynamic landscape of craggy mountains. The rest of the hike is relatively flat or downhill. After about 4 miles, take the Velma Lakes Trail on the right. Proceed to the lake. This is alpine hiking at its finest.
Weekend hike: Eagle Falls and Velma Lakes trails
Distance: 10.1 miles
Directions to trailhead: Take Highway 50 to Highway 89 in South Lake Tahoe. The Eagle Falls trailhead is 10 miles from the 89/50 intersection. The parking lot fills up quickly on weekends. Or park in the Bayview Trail lot and take the Highway 89 shuttle less than a mile north to Eagle Falls. Day hikes in Desolation Wilderness require a free permit, available at the trailhead kiosk. Overnight permits are required: $11 at www.recreation.gov.
Route: From parking lot, go 4 miles on Eagle Falls Trail. Take the Velma Lakes Trail on right and continue north. A half-mile down, across a creek, continue northwest to Middle Velma Lake.