Guide to Hiking Shirley Canyon

Category: General

One of Lake Tahoe's best half day hikes, the Shirley Canyon trail takes you from flowing waterfalls and the high alpine Shirley Lake to huge granite boulders and blooming wildflowers with endless natural beauty for you to enjoy.

Please note: This is a guide to hiking from the base of the mountain up to Shirley Lake and High Camp, but you can turn around at any point! You can also take the Aerial Tram to High Camp, and hike the opposite direction downhill to the base. 

Getting Started 

To access the trailhead, go to the end of Squaw Peak Road and park on the side of the road. There is a large sign and trail map at the trail head. 

What to Bring
  • The trail alternates between shady and sun-exposed sections, so make sure bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a brimmed hat
  • There are steep and rocky sections along the trail, so sturdy hiking boots with good traction are strongly recommended
  • Stay hydrated and bring plenty of water (humans should never drink directly from the stream)
  • Snacks are always a good idea! Plus, there are many great spots along the trail to pull off and enjoy a picnic lunch. 
  • Bring your smart phone so you can follow along the trail and track your hike with our new summer mobile app

The Waterfalls

As the last patches of winter's snow continue to melt, the Shirley Canyon waterfalls are still raging! Follow the path and keep the flowing creek on your right as you pass the stunning waterfalls.  

Plenty of great photo ops along the way!

There are three main waterfalls to stop and take in along the trail, as well as plenty of flowing water, lush greenery and blooming wildflowers.

This trail can be difficult to follow, so remember the general rule is to keep the creek on your right and follow it up for about 2.5 miles until you come to giant granite rock slabs. 

Also pay attention to and read any yellow or orange poles you come across. They will point you ahead to follow the trail.

New Mobile Summer App

If you are confused at any point, check the Squaw | Alpine summer app for our new interactive hiking maps. You can see where you are along the trail, how much more you have to go, and also track your day! 

Granite Slab

After passing the last of the 3 major waterfalls, continue along the trail until you reach a large granite slab, approximately 2.5 miles up from the base of the hike. Be prepared to take tall steps on rocks, and possibly use your hands to help hoist you up. 

The section of the trail is a steep and somewhat strenuous as you head towards Shirley Lake. It is also the most sunny and exposed section of the hike, but there are few trees along the side to take a break in the shade. 

Penstemon (above) are found on rocky slopes, ledges and ridges at higher elevation along the trail.

You will see a wide array of wildflowers along the way: Mule's Ears, Lupine, Paintbrush, Mariposa Lillies, Penstemon and more! 

Shirley Lake

You've made it to Shirley Lake! Cool off from your hike by taking a dip (water can be cold) or find a shady spot to sit down and enjoy the view. 

Dogs love Shirley Lake too! It's the perfect spot along the trail for your furry friend to rehydrate and cool down.

After you've gotten your fill of lakeside relaxation, continue on to High Camp. Head back to the trail where you entered the lake area, and head uphill. There will be a fork in the trail to either take the Solitude Trail or continue on the Shirley Canyon Trail, which passes under Shirley Canyon Express. Both options are approximately the same distance and will lead you to High Camp.

High Camp 

When you make it to High Camp you will be rewarded with more wildflowers and stunning views of the Sierra and Lake Tahoe. Now that you've made it to the top, enjoy a dip in the pool, a drink at the Granite Bistro Cafe, or simply download the Aerial Tram for free!

Other Hiking Tips

  • In case of emergency, dial "0" from phones at the base or top of any lift, or (530) 584-6204 from your mobile phone.
  • During thunderstorms, stay away from ridge tops, tall trees, lift towers and large rock outcroppings as they can attract lightning strikes
  • Stay off chairlifts! During maintenance, lifts may start without warning
  • No smoking. Fire danger in the area is high during summer months
  • Be aware, company vehicles travel on Summer Road