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Sugar Pine Point State Park

General Creek Trail

4.5 mile loop with 300-foot elevation gain; to Lily Pond is 6.5 miles round trip
with 500-foot gain; to Duck Lake is 14 miles round trip
and to Lost Lake is 14.5 miles with 1,300-foot gain

Sugar Pine Point names a forested promontory perched above the western shore of Lake Tahoe, as well as a state park that offers ten terrific miles of trail.

Sugar pines are, alas, a bit scarce these days. In the 1870s, there was lots of logging in this part of the Tahoe Basin in order to supply Comstock Lode miners with lumber and firewood.

One of Lake Tahoe’s first permanent residents was “General” William Phipps, who homesteaded the land we now call Sugar Pine Point in 1860. Phipps protected his 160 acres from being logged.

Turn-of-the-century banker Isaias Hellman built “the finest High Sierra summer house in California” a rustic, yet elegant three-story mansion overlooking the lake. Now known as the Ehrman Mansion (for a later owner) the house is open for guided tours during the summer months. Exhibits about the natural history of the Tahoe Basin can be viewed in the nature center, located in the Ehrman Mansion’s former power-generating plant.

While the state park has about two miles of lakefront, most of the park— and the best hiking—is inland along General Creek. Trails lead along the creek through a forested valley to the state park boundary, then into the El Dorado National Forest. The park is often used by long-distance hikers to gain access to the northerly part of the Desolation Wilderness, as well as to intersect the Pacific Crest Trail and other paths leading into the High Sierra backcountry west of Lake Tahoe.

Trees are one attraction of a hike through the state park. Besides the sugar pine, look for Jeffrey pine and stately white fir. In autumn, the black cottonwood and quaking aspen are something to behold.

Directions to trailhead: From Tahoe City, drive nine miles south on Highway 89 to Sugar Pine Point State Park. The state park is located some eighteen miles north of the community of South Lake Tahoe. Once inside the park, rangers recommend that hikers park outside the campground in the parking lot near the entrance station. Walk thru the campground to the trail, a dirt road closed to vehicles, which begins near Campsite 150.

The hike: The wide path leads west along the north bank of General Creek. At a signed junction you’ll spot a trail leading down to a bridge crossing the creek. This bridge and another two miles farther along General Creek Trail, allow a pleasant loop trip without getting your feet wet.

The trail meanders through well-spaced stands of Jeffrey and lodgepole pine and across meadowland seasonally sprinkled with lupine and aster. Those granite boulders you see looking so out of place in the sylvan scene were left behind ages ago by a retreating glacier. Hikers with an interest in geology will enjoy glimpses of the two large lateral moraines that border the valley of General Creek.

A bit more than two miles along, when you reach a second footbridge, you can loop back to the trailhead via a path on the opposite side of General Creek.

Soon after passing this bridge, General Creek Trail dwindles to a footpath and another half mile’s travel brings you to a signed junction with a side trail leading to Lily Pond; it’s a 0.75 mile, heart-pounding ascent to the little pond.

General Creek Trail continues meandering above the creek. About 3.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll exit the state park and enter El Dorado National Forest. After more meandering, the trail crosses General Creek (no bridge this time), turns south, then east, and after a mile crosses the creek fed by Lost Lake and Duck Lake.

Now the trail turns south again and climbs to shallow Duck Lake, ringed by lodgepole pine. Lost Lake, another quarter mile along the trail, is a bit more dramatic than neighboring Duck, and offers good swimming.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at