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Sean "Miner" Nordeen
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Date: Thu, Jul 17th, 2014
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Tahoe Rim Trail Information
I spent some time typing up some information for anyone considering hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail including some of the logistics of it. I also posted it on whiteblaze. I made a PDF version if anyone wants to download it though I realize I left in a few spelling errors.
Tahoe Rim Trail Guide (PDF version)
The Tahoe Rim Trail
The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a scenic hiking trail that loops around Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada and Carson ranges. It passes through two states (California and Nevada), six counties, one state park, three National Forests, and three Wilderness areas.
The TRT is the John Muir Trail’s (JMT) newer and less famous Sierra Nevada counterpart. Over 165 miles, the trail makes a circumference around Lake Tahoe (largest alpine lake in North America and 2nd deepest after Crater Lake). A hiker will see a variety of different scenery: Panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, rugged snow capped mountains, mountain lakes, forests, and meadows. Those from sea level may complain about the higher elevation as the trail ranges from a low point of 6,300 to a high point of 10,300 feet. Compared to many trails of similar length, it is one of the easiest to hike logistically. It will be hike that will be fondly remembered.
The Tahoe Rim Trail at a glance
When to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail
The normal season for hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail is from June through October. The actual dates depend on the actual snow fall that year and the individual’s personal comfort level with snow travel.
Hiking the TRT in Summer
Hiking the TRT During the Fall
(Note: Fall generally starts shortly after Labor Day in September)
John Muir Trail vs. Tahoe Rim Trail
The Tahoe Rim Trail is managed by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA). It is the volunteer agency that manages the Tahoe Rim Trail in conjunction with public land agencies. Since 1981, it has helped plan, construct, and maintain the trail.
Navigating the TRT is straight forward. The trail is well maintained and much of the trail is marked by the TRT symbols with arrow markers at various junctions. The only place you won’t always see the TRT labeled is when on the portion of the trail shared with the PCT. But as long as you follow the PCT markers you won’t get lost.
A trail map is still recommended for travel. If you are traveling in spring when portions of the trail are still covered in snow, you will need to know how to use a compass and/or GPS.
Water is abundant along the western shore. It is of concern when traveling along the northern and eastern shore. There are few natural water sources along the north shore and many along the east shore dry up quickly. Many hikers resort to putting out water caches at some of the trailheads to avoid having to carry large amounts of water; particularly at places like Brockway Summit TH. Check out the TRTA website for current conditions. If not using a cache, be prepared to be able to carry 3-4L of water on occasion.
Where to Start/Finish
There are major trailheads about every 20 miles. Any of them could be used as a starting/ending point depending on what meets your needs and desire for safety. Some people prefer leaving their vehicle in civilization such as Tahoe City or by the Stagecoach chairlift at Kingsbury Grade South TH. Others want something along one of the major highways. There are more remote trailheads such as Barker Pass down a long dirt road.
For resupply reasons, Tahoe Meadows is a popular trailhead. By starting here, a hiker will pass a resupply point within a mile of the trail approximately every 40 miles with no need to hitchhike.
Hiking Clockwise vs. Counter-Clockwise
Most hikers seem to hike clockwise so you have a better chance to meet and hike with others. Elevation gains are more spread out so there isn’t a lot of climbing at any one time.
Going counter-clockwise may involve some longer climbs, but they are still mild in comparison to the JMT. You are more likely to run into hikers going the other way if you like meeting new people all the time.
No mater which direction you choose, you are likely to encounter mountain bikers overtaking you from behind as they seem to ride every direction.
Just like other places in the Sierra Nevada, black bears do exist along the TRT corridor. They do not seem to be as problematic as their Yosemite cousins to the south. There are no requirements to use a bear canister along the trail; standard food practices in bear country do apply though.
There are 2 types of resupplies available on the TRT. Those that you can walk to and those that require hitch hiking.
Resupply points that don’t require hitchhiking
Tahoe City: Save Mart supermarket is about 0.2 miles east of the trail on Highway 89.
Kingsbury Grade: Tramway Market (www.tramwaymarket.com) is 1 mile off trail. If you don’t want to backtrack and are willing to bypass a small section of the TRT, you can do an alternative road walk that goes right past the market before returning to the trail further down.
Echo Lake: Echo Lake Chalet store (www.echochalet.com) and Post Office (limited hours). The tiny store here could resupply 1 or 2 people, but the prices are expensive. It’s recommended to send a resupply box to the Post Office via General Delivery. But be aware of the limited hours the Post Office is open. You could also hitch into South Lake Tahoe if you prefer.
Additional Resupply points that require getting a ride
You can technically resupply off of every road you encounter (about every 20 miles) if you don’t mind hitch hiking or arranging for some sort of shuttle. However, some of those rides will be longer than others so many aren’t normally done. Be aware that hitchiking is illegal in California along major highways and in Nevada. Hikers do it anyway, but you might try asking people at the trailhead for a ride instead. The TRTA website also has a list of shuttles and taxis that service some of the trailheads. The most common points used for those that can arrange for a ride:
Brockway Summit TH: Either to Carnelian Bay, CA (6.2 miles from Brockway Summit) or Kings Beach,CA (3.4 miles from Brockway Summit)
Mt. Rose Summit TH: To Incline Village, NV (9.2 miles from Mt. Rose Summit)
Most of the trail is open to mountain bikers with the exception of the PCT, the MT. Rose Wilderness, and a section just north of Spooner Summit. There may be some restrictions on the days bikes are allowed in some of the Nevada sections.
Due to their higher speed of travel, a certain amount of awareness of what is happening around you is required compared to hiking in areas where bikes are not allowed. Bike riders are always out on the trail. Even on weekdays, you will often encounter more bike riders then actual hikers. I found that it wasn’t advisable to put on headphones playing loud music when traveling in areas they were allowed as they often surprise you from behind.
Most riders are polite and restrict their speed to safe levels. On my own thru-hike of the trail, I did have one negative encounter with a rider coming around a blind turn too fast and I jumped off the trail as a precaution as he jammed on his brakes. But that was the only negative experience.
North Lake Tahoe
The nearest major airport is in Reno, NV. From the airport, the North Lake Tahoe Express bus will take you to several towns along the north shore of Lake Tahoe including Tahoe City, CA. The TART bus system offers service along the north and western shore of Lake Tahoe. It also offers service to Truckee, CA where both Amtrak and Greyhound offer service.
South Lake Tahoe
Amtrak connector buses service both South Lake Tahoe, CA and Stateline, NV. The BlueGo buses service both towns and offer transportation to the trailhead at Kingsbury Grade South. It also offers service out to Highway 395 where one can connect with the Eastern Sierra Transit bus that offers service to/from the airport in Reno, NV.
If you are planning to use a camp stove or have a camp fire, you need to get a current California Campfire permit. You can get one online in a couple of minutes at: www.preventwildfireca.org. Campfires are prohibited almost everywhere in the Tahoe basin with a few exceptions.
Desolation Wilderness Permits
For travel through the Desolation Wilderness, you need a backcountry permit. Normally there is a quota at most camping zones. You can reserve your permit online at www.recreation.gov for a small fee. For those thru-hiking the TRT, you can bypass the quota system and get a free permit which also gives you some flexibility in when and where you can camp. You need to contact the Forest Service Supervisor’s Office at (530) 543-2694 during their office hours. Click here for more information concerning Desolation Wilderness Permits.
Nevada State Park Permits
No permit is required for traveling or camping in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. However, camping within park boundaries is restricted to 3 established campsites: Marlette Peak, Hobart and North Canyon Campground.
The Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA) website has valuable information for someone planning a hike. There are pdf maps that can be printed, information about hiking the trail, and current trail conditions.
Curiously, their website lists the official trail being 165 miles, but when adding up the mileage on their online maps, it’s seems like they aren’t counting the 6.3 miles between the Kingsbury Grade North and South trailheads. So the actual trail may be more like 172 miles which more closely matches the mileage listed in Blackwood Press’ TRT pocket atlas done with their own GPS track at 171 miles.
Maps and Guidebooks
Tom Harrison Maps: Tahoe Basin and Tahoe Rim Trail Recreation Map
National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps: Lake Tahoe Basin Map (#803)
Blackwood Press: Tahoe Rim Trail Pocket Atlas
Tahoe Rim Trail - 2014
The Tahoe Rim Trail is a scenic 165-mile hiking trail that loops around Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada and Carson ranges. It passes through two states (California and Nevada), six counties, one state park, three National Forests, and three Wilderness areas. Join the TRTA to support this trail.
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