Camping for Two: Testing Relationships in the Tahoe Backcountry

There’s no better way to test a relationship’s longevity than camping. Think you’re in love? Go camping together. You’ll either find out you’re indeed meant for each other or… well, you know, taking out a last-minute life insurance policy is always an option, too. Here are some of the Tahoe basin’s best couples camping spots, which my relationship has survived relatively unscathed.

camping with your girlfriend

Desolation Wilderness

This federally protected wilderness area sitting to the west of Lake Tahoe comes in just shy of 64,000 acres. It’s packed with peaks, lakes and numerous places to camp. We’re talking about backpacking here, so this is a good place to put optimum levels of relationship-testing stress on yourselves. If 30-pound packs aren’t enough to overcome the miles of serenity, here’s what you can do to make the journey a bit more trying: Start at night, in the rain. That’s what we did my first time backpacking. Fortunately, my better half had previously spent many a night in the backcountry under far worse conditions. Oh, you thought the female was the one you had to worry about in this story? That’s very sexist of you. Jokes aside, she wasn’t worried, so neither was I. The rain and darkness just made for a greater adventure.

When I woke the next morning, stepped out of our tent and got my first look at Lake Aloha, I knew I was somewhere special. We kept on the move and the next few days were a nonstop orgasm for my eyes. You could spend weeks out there without visiting every picturesque alpine lake. If you do choose to spend weeks in the backcountry, show your darling you care by bringing the Nemo Helio Pressure Shower. There’s nothing more luxurious in the backcountry than a hot, pressurized shower.

Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness
Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness

Free Secrets

Rates for car camping are quickly approaching those of Motel 6. That’s probably why I feel like I’m about to give away the secret Indiana Jones fought the Army of the Dead for. Ready? You can camp for free in Tahoe. And I don’t mean sleeping in your minivan in a casino’s parking garage. I’m talking about quality campsites in a woodsy setting. But the only other clue I’m going to give you is that where I’m talking about is on the south side of the lake. I live on the north side. If things get rocky with your significant other while car camping, vacate that collapsing relationship of doom immediately. That’s what Indiana Jones would do.

Breakfast at Aloha
Indiana would also make a killer backcountry breakfast.

Star Lake / Freel Peak

Freel Peak is the Tahoe basin’s tallest summit at 10,891 feet. And it’s a bit off the beaten path. My lady and I haven’t bagged it yet, but we will later this month. Our goal has never been to be the best at exercise, so we don’t need to prove anything by doing it in a day. The plan is to backpack in to Star Lake, which sits at the base of Freel’s neighbor, Jobs Sister. Leaving most of our gear at base camp, Freel should be easily conquered with a mellow day hike.

The hike to Star Lake is actually the more challenging part of this trip, but you’ve got a few options. The shortest involves a miserable trudge up a long, steep, dirt Forest Service access road. We have a lot of experience with this route as it also accesses one of Tahoe’s less-trafficked mountain biking trails. If Freel sounds like a fun adventure for you and your special someone, this route would be a great way to ensure you never have to plan another trip again. Curious about the other options? Stop by Tahoe Mountain Sports and buy a map or a guide book. Or just Google it and add another relationship-risking variable to your foray into couples camping. Make wise choices here and you can probably get away with the romantic Nemo Mambo Duo Synthetic Comforter (2-person sleeping bag). Make poor choices and be ready to enjoy a bone-chilling night outside at 9,100 feet.

Near Freel Peak Tahoe


Getting attacked by bees is a great relationship building exercise. Especially when you’ve just completed the extremely challenging pedal in to Watson Lake on the Tahoe Rim Trail from highway 267 and are congratulating each other as you catch your first glimpse. You can cut your time at Watson Lake short by running from the bees, jumping back on your bike and immediately pedaling back out on this lovely uphill-both-ways trail–truth be told, it’s actually one of my favorites despite that experience–or, you can avoid all that by simply driving into Watson and camping there. The campsites happen to be on the opposite side of the lake from where the bee attack happened, so hopefully that gives you some level of comfort. Turns out it’s also a great place to film a super cheesy attempt at a humorous marketing video.

D.L. Bliss

I’ve mentioned it before. D.L. Bliss is one of my favorite spots in Tahoe. This place has it all: hiking, bouldering, cliff jumping and a sandy beach. If those modern camping fees aren’t too much for your deep pockets, you should definitely check it out, but be sure to make a reservation in advance. If those overnight fees are too rich for your blood, you can also just make a day trip. One final note on D.L. Bliss State Park: Neither myself nor Tahoe Mountain Sports recommend letting your lover try the rope swing, unless you are indeed trying to get rid of them.

Need more info about camping around the lake? Check out the Tahoe info page on the TMS website.

Desolation Wilderness Night Entry

Scott Johns is an adventure cinematographer, mountain biker and snowboarder living in Incline Village on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. When he’s not creating beautiful imagery for video, he’s out ripping singletrack or shredding big lines in his backyard that we call the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Here’s a photo of Scott’s girlfriend. We’ve got to thank her for being patient with Scott as he documents his adventures, and probably puts her through all sorts of hell doing so, in order to provide us with quality content.

1 comment

  • CJ

    Sounds like an exciting adventure!

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