Shirley Canyon Hike

After thinking about it a little bit I realized that the name of the hike prepares you for it. It’s a mix of a relatively common name with another word that conjures up the unknown, the possibly dangerous, and definitely the wild: Shirley Canyon.

This is one of the most deservedly popular hikes in North Tahoe. It’s great because you can do it the easy way, the moderate way, or the really difficult way – put a kid on your back and you’ll feel accomplished when you’re back down. The easy way is to ride Squaw Valley’s Cable Car to High Camp, 2000 feet above the parking lot. The moderate way is to hike up and take the tram down. Of course the most difficult way is to hike up and down the canyon. The other great thing about this hike is that it’s a real backcountry adventure boiled down into 3 or 4 hours. You’ll follow a river, tramp under huge cliffs, see crazy views, and probably get a little lost along the way – everyone does! It’s a great hike with just the dog or with a big group. It can be especially interesting for groups because of the route-finding and decision making that has to happen along the way. Think of it like a ropes course in which your feet don’t leave the ground….

It starts in the curious little condo neighborhood behind Squaw’s tram building. You’ll follow Squaw Creek for a little ways – there are all sorts of swimming holes and pools all along it. Then you get into a beautiful forest before hitting the steeps where you go up in a hurry. Next you pop out into the wide open and you’re on one of the biggest pieces of granite you’ve ever seen. This is where I (and supposedly lots of other people) do what one could call “freelancing.” There are a number of rock cairns that mark the way – kind of. I noticed that there are distinctly different styles and sizes to these little piles and they go up in distinctly different routes. Once you get to the top of this massive crag it’s only about 15 more minutes to get the locally infamous watering hole (no pun) of Shirley Lake. It’s more like a graduated beaver pond and it’s beautiful. Most people picnic here then turn around. Continuing on attracts an interesting mix of personality types – adventurous and spoiled rotten. The former is needed to press on and over the steep hill which leads to the meadow above High Camp. The latter is in heaven upon arrival to High Camp with it’s huge swimming ‘lagoon’ and hot tub, and of course the Poolside Café’s smoky grill. From here you might as well ride the Cable Car down- it’s just too easy not to, plus the hike you just did is worthy of a little treat….


Squaw Creek waterfall

Groups with folks who aren’t avid trampers can skip the hike entirely. A Cable Car ride is a great group activity by itself. It’s extra fun when you can stand in fresh clothes and greet dirty friends as they arrive to High Camp from the trail.

For a more organized adventure you can book a hike with Tahoe Trips & Trails.

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