The Payoff Is Huge on This Hike to Monkey Rock, NV

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A hiker sits atop the head of Monkey Rock overlooking the large Lake Tahoe and groups of swimmers enjoying the water below.

On the northeastern side of Lake Tahoe in Nevada, you’ll find a popular rock formation called Monkey Rock. It lies just south of Ponderosa Ranch off Tunnel Creek Road. But it’s not just the quirky name that draws hikers and visitors; it’s the spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. 

And if those two reasons aren’t enough to make you consider hiking the moderate trail leading up to Monkey Rock, let’s learn even more about this hike. Most of the trail is a solid 500 ft incline from the trailhead to the summit, but it’s well worth it. The payoff is truly stunning.

Where Is Monkey Rock?

Monkey Rock, near Incline Village-Crystal Bay, Nev., is aptly named after the granite that looks like a gorilla. Hikers use the East Shore Trail trailhead to access the Monkey Rock trail.

Park in the three lots along Route 28 or on the street. You may also consider grabbing a bite to eat at the Tunnel Creek Café after your morning hike.

Additionally, Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park has a $2 entrance fee per person based on the honor system. You can get envelopes at the self-pay station.

How Long of a Hike Is Monkey Rock?

This 2.6-mile out-and-back hike to Monkey Rock is well worth the hour or so it takes to reach the summit. Lake Tahoe is full of hiking trails for all skill levels that offer spectacular views, but this hike to Monkey Rock is one of the best. It also features a granite rock that looks like a monkey, a one-of-a-kind experience.

This hiker recommends ending your trek by visiting Hidden Beach.

When you arrive at the trailhead for the East Shore Trail, it begins on a paved road but changes to dirt as you start going up the mountain. Additionally, the trail is open to both hikers and bikers, so watch out for others. This is quite a popular hike, especially between May and September.

Is Hiking to Monkey Rock Hard?

AllTrails considers the hike to Monkey Rock as moderate. It has an elevation gain of almost 500 ft. However, you can easily follow the well-maintained trail. Most hikers say it’s not challenging but a good hike because of the incline. 

The top of Monkey Rock sits at over 6,300 ft. However, the more difficult part of the hike may be finding a parking space upon arrival. Because of the hike’s popularity, consider arriving early in the morning.

Another hike is the East Shore Trail. This hike is also a 2.6-mile out-and-back but with only a 144 ft elevation gain. The paved path makes it wheelchair accessible.

The East Shore is another good option for families with children or hikers who want some exercise but don’t want to do the more moderate trail to Monkey Rock.

Traveler’s Tip: Challenge yourself with this hike out to Heather Lake in Washington.

What Do You See at Monkey Rock?

The unique rock formation really does look like a monkey’s head. Legend explains that a local carved the ears and nostrils into the stone after finding it resembled a monkey. It certainly makes for a great photo opp.

But that’s not the only thing you see. The pristine blue waters of Lake Tahoe are breathtaking. The surrounding Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest butts up to the very edge of the 72-mile-long shoreline.

The combination of the blues and greens against the backdrop of the towering snow-capped peaks of the Carson Range is stunning. You can see for miles.

Lush green forest surrounds the pristine blue water of Lake Tahoe in Nevada
Lake Tahoe

Are Dogs Allowed?

You can bring your dogs on the Monkey Rock Trail, but you must keep them on a leash. Dogs are also welcome on the easier East Shore Trail and the longer Tunnel Creek Trail.

If you and your buddy want to go hiking for several hours, consider the 7-mile out-and-back Tunnel Creek Trail for a few additional hours of hiking. It’s another popular moderate trail in the same area.

Is It Man-Made?

The origins of Monkey Rock are unknown. As mentioned earlier, legend tells that a local discovered the large boulder and thought it looked like a monkey. Then he carved the ears and nostrils to make it appear even more monkey-like. But that’s the legend.

The granite boulder is certainly not man-made, but we may never know about the monkey features. But the gorilla-like boulder looks like it enjoys the view, too, while it sits overlooking the lake.

The "head" of Monkey Rock has a carved out mouth, eyes, nose, and ears.
Carved facial features on the head of the rock.

Is Hiking to Monkey Rock Worth It?

When visiting the second-deepest lake in the United States, you have to make plans to hike to Monkey Rock. Book a sailing cruise or take out your kayak. Enjoy the beaches or book a scuba diving excursion. But don’t skip out on hiking to this unique landmark. The panoramic views are simply breathtaking and well worth the steady incline to reach the top.

Pack your hiking boots and enjoy the view.

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