The Tahoe Rim Trail was terrific. At 175 miles long, it is short enough that folks could do this hike while holding down a full-time job (still trying to get one of those), and still long enough to get into thru-hiking/adventure mode. You may think that 175 miles around a lake would get sort of same-ish, but the trail was surprisingly diverse.
In order to navigate the Tahoe Rim Trail, we decided to use the Nat Geo Map, which for about $15 offers a booklet of all the maps you need for the trail. We were by far in the minority with our paper map set-up, with most people opting to use their smart phones and the Guthook App. Call me old-school (millennial going on boomer?), but I prefer not to rely on an electronic device that can run out of batteries or get dropped in a river.
Because both the map and the App show the trail as “starting” in Tahoe City and going clockwise, I’d say at least 75% of hikers decided the simplest way to go about things was to start in Tahoe City and go clockwise. LAZY HIKERS!
In my opinion, this makes absolutely no sense. Tahoe City offers the best resupply option on the entire trail – you literally walk right through the city, and there is more than one full sized grocery store to choose from. To start here means to give up this spot as a resupply point.
Given that the trail is a loop, there are actually quite a few places you could start from. Some popular start points include: Tahoe City, Echo Lake, Kingsbury North/South, Spooner Summit, and Mount Rose Summit.
Given that we were flying in from Reno, it made sense to try to start close to Reno… so we chose to spent the night before the hike in Carson City and start our hike from Spooner Summit Trailhead – a short Uber ride away. If you have a car, there is parking at Spooner Summit Trailhead, and if you prefer to use Uber, phone service there is somewhat patchy: ATT worked for Donner, but Verizon didn’t work right at the trailhead, but did work a couple minutes walk down the road. Hitchhiking would also be a possibility here (we didn’t try because of COVID).
The benefit to starting at Spooner Summit was that:
- You start in the middle of a dry section, so you break that section up without relying on water caches staying available. When we hiked, the Marlette Campground water pump was working just fine.
- Starting at Spooner allows you to hike 1/3 of the trail before you hit Tahoe City, and another 1/3 of the trail before you hit Echo Chalet. Both of these resupply points are directly on the trail. That means you hit a resupply point roughly every 60 miles.
Clockwise or Counter Clockwise?
Although 90% of hikers were going clockwise, I found that most people hadn’t really given much thought to which way they hiked, they just followed the guide book or phone App.
Going clockwise, you will be on the cooler north slope as you climb the mountains in NV (which is probably warmer/dryer than the CA side). But you can also shade yourself more effectively with an umbrella.
Going counter clockwise, as you leaving Tahoe City, there is a water source 4 miles in. You therefore only have to carry about 1L of water leaving Tahoe City. Compare that to the 12 mile dry section going clockwise out of Tahoe City. Personally, I’d much prefer to do that downhill, and while my pack is empty. If you’re like most people, and going clockwise, you’d be carrying a full resupply and several liters of water going up that climb.
Another benefit to going counter clockwise was having mountain bikers approach us from the front when going up the popular “Flume Trail” section of the trail. We had hundreds of bikers pass us in that section. It’s worth noting that this section of trail is closed to bikers on even days of the month. It may be worth timing your hike so that you don’t coincide with the Flume Trail on an odd day.
I leave it up to you to decide which way you go, but I personally think counter clockwise has the slight advantage.
There are black bears along the Tahoe Rim Trail. Although they are not required, bear canisters are a good idea. We decided to hang our food every night from a tree, but proper technique is critical.
We hiked the TRT from August 2nd through August 10th, and we encountered some but not many mosquitoes. Our timing seemed to be perfect because we still got abundant wildflowers. Earlier would definitely mean more mosquitoes. Later, and you may encounter wildfires. The winter’s snow pack of course determines whether the mosquito season is earlier or later.
Permits and Resources?
You do need one or two permits in order to hike this trail. First of all, you need a permit in order to camp in the Desolation Wilderness. A Tahoe Rim Trail Thru-hiker permit can be acquired by calling the permit office directly and requesting that specific permit. As of August 2020, doing so will allow you to bypass the Desolation Wilderness Quota System. You will also need a campfire permit if you intend on using a stove.
For more information about the Tahoe Rim Trail, visit the Tahoe Rim Trail Association website.
Although the whole trail was beautiful (in my humble opinion), I feel like we had three or four favorite sections.
- Marlette Lake, Rose Mountain and Relay Peak area (north portion of the trail). The views were fantastic.
- Desolation Wilderness, which I believe is everyone’s favorite section. Gorgeous lakes to swim in, and big majestic granite rocks.
- Meiss Country (Southern portion of the trail) which had beautiful lakes, buttes, and wildflowers.
- Slightly further East from Meiss Country, we were able to climb Freel Peak, which is just a short 1 mile detour to the tallest point in the Tahoe Basin. Climbing Freel Peak for sunrise was definitely a “high point” for me (pun intended).
If the Tahoe Rim Trail isn’t on your list, it’s worth considering. It’s a very scenic and easy to navigate. It’s an particularly obvious choice during a pandemic because it is a loop, and so no shuttle is required. You also walk through resupply points, so you don’t actually need to leave the trail in order to get supplies and complete the hike.