Tahoe National Forest

Tahoe National Forest, located in northern California northwest of Lake Tahoe, is a 1,208,993-acre woodland that provides water to the towns of Rocklin, Auburn, and Lincoln, CA. This massive reserve supports the nation’s wealth by contributing large amounts of timber, water, minerals, grazing, and other natural resources. Of the acreage that borders Tahoe, the USDA only manages about 67% of it as a national resource. The rest belongs to private owners and companies. Most of this sectioned off land has been privately owned since before the forest became a national refuge.

A small, peaceful lake in Tahoe National Forest
A peaceful Lake in Tahoe National Forest – Photo by David Pizzo on Unsplash

Tahoe borders several other national forests — Plumas to the north, Eldorado to the south, and Humboldt-Toiyabe to the east. The foothills of Sacramento Valley lie to the south. Because Tahoe is surrounded by other forests and wildlands, it seems to stretch on forever when you look out across it from any of its peaks on the Sierra Nevada’s crest. Headquarters are in Nevada City, CA. Ranger districts are located in Foresthill, Truckee, Sierraville, and Camptonville.

About the Forest

If you visit this forest, you’ll see hundreds of mountain lakes and peaks, giant sequoias, valleys carved into granite bedrock by ancient waters, old-growth forests undisturbed by human hands, and loads of both recreation and relaxation! About 84,000 acres of the forest is “old-growth” or “virgin” forest. These areas contain ecosystems that are hundreds of years old, and, for the most part, remain unaltered by human development.

 Tree species that thrive in Tahoe’s old forest include various firs, pines, and cedars, which have supported the surrounding communities of native organisms since before the settlers. These massive trees give off an evergreen fresh-air aroma that soothes the soul as one travels through the forest trails decorated with fallen pine needles, berries, and cones. Also present are juniper and oak species. Everything from bats and bobcats to wolverines and great horned owls call the forest home. With the right binoculars and a light enough step, you might just spy a fantastic species or two on your journey through these magical woods!

History of Tahoe National Forest

Tahoe has a long history that stretches into the heart of the gold rush era. This particular forest likely has more mining sites in it than any other California forest. The main mineral mined here is, you guessed it, gold! In fact, people still find gold in Tahoe today. Besides gold, chrome, silver, and magnesium are also common. The forest has seen mining activity for 140 years and. Regulations exist to strategically mine the land without overharvesting. Therefore, mining companies still work there today; sometimes, the land even serves as a rock quarry.

While exploring the grounds, you will come across various historical sites. For example, there are trails from the native people Nisenan and Washoe. You may also explore old mining towns, now ghostly in their eerie emptiness. Or, look for construction sites of old railroads from the 1860s (has anybody spotted a ghost train yet?) Enjoy and learn from everything you find. Remember though, all historic and archaeological sites are protected and should never be damaged or removed from the forest.

A view of Devil's Peak in Tahoe National Forest
The iconic Devil’s Peak in Tahoe National Forest – Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

Recreation in Tahoe National Forest

There are honestly too many things to do in this forest to list. Everything from hiking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding to hunting, skiing, and rock climbing are at your fingertips in Tahoe.

The official homepage of the forest boasts the land as a “mountain biker’s paradise,” and for good reason. There are 48 different mountain biking trails available, cutting around dense cedar forests and winding around open grasslands and lakeshores, up green hills and down dusty valley roads, all on rough, undeveloped trail terrain. Make sure your tires are up to the task, and don’t forget your helmet! You can view these 48 options here, where they are broken down by location. Still unsure of where to ride first? Here is a list of the most favorited biking trails with reviews and pictures on AllTrails.com.

As for road cyclists, forest officials suggest Sierra Valley, which sees only light to medium usage on average. This area features multiple looping routes. In fact, you can choose from twenty-mile loops all the way up to sixty. You will be in the open plane of the valley, mountains in the distance, surrounded by gold rush era farmhouses and ranches, not to mention grasslands and wetlands alive with wild game and rare birds. Your closest towns will be Sierraville and Loyalton.    

A no motorcycles sign with bullet holes - Tahoe National Forest
A no motorcycles sign in Tahoe National Forest – Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

Wilderness Areas

Tahoe contains seven wilderness areas. These are portions of the land designated to never be cut down or built on. This way, they too may one day be considered “old growth forest.” The trails in these areas are both the most peaceful and the most lively. Encounters with all kinds of wildlife are the norm. To see details of each area, check out the links below:

Upon arriving at a wilderness area, you will need to get yourself a wilderness permit from any of the self-serve stations at the trailheads. Don’t worry, they’re free! To enjoy popular trails without as much foot traffic around you, the forest service suggests visiting in the middle of the week.      

Visit Tahoe National Forest

We hope you enjoy your unforgettable visit to Tahoe. Whether you’re a frequent visitor or just planning your first trip, keep this Alerts and Notices page handy so you can stay in the know about the forest’s regulations, events, closures, and permit requirements. And of course, if you love all of America’s national forests, keep The National Forests.com on your reading list!

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-Heaven Morrow  

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