Sierra Hike: Monkey Rock

2.6 miles out and back
monkey rock

If you hike with the destination in mind, this Incline Village trail will please. Legend says a lonely man going through a divorce discovered a rock above Lake Tahoe that roughly resembled a gorilla. He carved a face in it while working through his grief and now we all get to visit him (the monkey, not the guy).

To get here, walk the trail behind Tunnel Creek Cafe just off Highway 50. Keep in mind that parking in the restaurant lot is forbidden and could get you towed, but street parking along the highway is open. Tunnel Creek Road starts as a paved trail that gives way to a steeper dirt trail toward the end. Once you’ve hit the top of the ridge, the stone monkey is visible in the distance, and it’s not hard to march right up to it for a photo session.

There is also a disappearing-reappearing rope swing nearby. When you’re standing at Monkey Rock, face the same way as the monkey and turn right. Here, you should see the rope swing in the distance, and it’s a straight shot through the brush to make it onto the wooden swing. The view takes in 71 miles of Lake Tahoe shoreline. The swing gets removed on occasion and then reappears—it’s an ongoing cycle that makes it impossible to promise the rope swing will be there.

monkey rock rope swing

If the uphill trek feels like too much, continue straight at the fork instead of hooking left. This will connect with the backside of the hill, increasing the length of the trip but keeping the elevation gain more moderate.

Continue the Adventure

The trail to Monkey Rock also connects to the Flume Trail and Tahoe Rim Trail. You can veer off to continue to hike or, if you take the paved trail at the front of the cafe, you’ll come upon the Impossible Trail instead. This 6-mile out-and-back trail follows the highway before it takes walkers down and across the street to Lake Tahoe. Here the rolling asphalt stretches until Sand Harbor Beach (3 miles). Despite some twists and turns, the trail is easy to follow and relatively flat, often packed with families, strollers, dogs and bikes.

food from the cafe

For a Bite

Whether your hunger pangs start before or after the hike, take a table at Tunnel Creek Cafe. The log-cabin-style building serves a collection of breakfast and lunch dishes, plus beer. Or drive down to T’s Mesquite Rotisserie, where locals grab foil-wrapped burritos to take to the beach (Sand Harbor or Hidden Beach).