Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2023? Here’s What To Expect After a Record Winter

For prospective Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) hikers, this year’s record snowpack raises plenty of questions about summer hiking plans. When will the trail be clear of snow? Which sections will melt out first? What challenges will the extra snowmelt create?

With elevations ranging roughly from 6,000 to 10,000 feet, the 165-mile trail typically melts out by the end of June, and many hikers start their journeys around the middle of the same month. But with the snowpack at a statewide 324 percent of average as of May, according to the California Department of Water Resources, trail conditions this year are anything but normal.

In a Facebook post on March 16, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA) said, “In substantial snow years like these, we do not expect high elevation thaws until mid-July or even into August.” While the snow will likely be present longer than usual, climbing summer temperatures have begun melting it rapidly, which leads to some serious considerations for anyone planning a trip this year.

Water Crossings

Water crossings come with an element of risk no matter the season, but the hazard is greatest during the spring thaw. As temperatures warm, snowmelt raises water levels and creates stronger, faster currents, greatly increasing the difficulty and potential danger for hikers attempting to navigate rivers and creeks.

While all water crossings should be treated with caution, two especially challenging ones to look out for on the Tahoe Rim Trail this summer are the outflow stream from Fontanillis Lake in Desolation Wilderness and the Upper Truckee River, according to an April Facebook post by the TRTA.

Another danger of hiking in winter conditions is snow bridges. These arches of snow can form what appear to be stable pathways over running water, but they are often very fragile in reality, especially as temperatures rise.

Attempting to cross an unstable snow bridge can cause it to collapse, plunging the hiker into freezing water. Quite apart from hypothermia, the great danger for a hiker in this situation is being swept by the current underneath the snow bridge, which may form a long tunnel over the water from which the hiker may not be able to escape.

For more information and advice about water crossings and snow bridges, check out this excellent resource from the Pacific Crest Trail Association: Stream Crossing Safety While Hiking and Backpacking.

Snow Travel

With so much snow on the ground, navigation becomes a greater challenge. Though the TRT is generally well-marked during snow-free months, it is not marked for winter use. Snow can be deep enough in some places to obscure trail signs altogether, requiring hikers to rely solely on their own navigation tools.

A topographic map and a compass are the most reliable tools for those who know how to use them, and while GPS tools such as phones are certainly helpful, it’s never a good idea to rely exclusively on technology to keep track of where you are. Limited service, battery life, and accidental damage are all factors that can render smartphone-based navigation useless.

Even if you’re confident in your navigation abilities, snow also has the potential to alter your plans simply by slowing you down. Snow and ice are challenging to travel across even if you come prepared with proper gear, such as microspikes or crampons, and it’s quite possible to find your daily mileage expectations dashed. Plan to carry an extra day’s food and fuel, just in case.


Where the trail is clear of snow, mud has the potential to cause similar delays. Not only that, but muddy sections of trail can be so deep that hikers often make their own “easier” routes around the actual trail, creating what are known as social trails.

Social trails damage vegetation, contribute to erosion, and ultimately create more repair work for trail volunteers. On a trail like the TRT, which sees an estimated 400,000 users each year, this kind of damage can be severe.

Another factor to keep in mind is that a prevalence of mud and water means bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Mosquitoes are not deterred by snow or elevation, and unfortunately, the mosquitoes tough enough to live in this type of environment don’t always care about bug spray.

For those braving the swarms, a bug net is a wonderful tool; worn over the face, it helps prevent mosquitoes from causing intense distraction to hikers trying to focus on their footing.

Photo: Zach Davis

Summer Alternatives

With the snow levels being so high, having alternate plans for dangerous river crossings and daily mileage is a must. Depending on your comfort and experience levels, the best option may be to make different summer plans altogether. As the TRTA puts it in their March 16 Facebook post, “What is ‘passable’ largely depends on an individual’s preparedness, experience, comfort level, and sometimes, luck.”

Although it can be disappointing to cancel plans to hike a trail as beautiful as the Tahoe Rim, doing so might be the better option if the experience is going to prove wetter, more challenging, and potentially more dangerous than anticipated.

TRT Section Hikes

That doesn’t necessarily mean giving up a visit to the trail altogether. The TRT offers beautiful day hiking and snowshoeing destinations, including trips from Tahoe Meadows to Chickadee Ridge, Kingsbury North to Castle Rock, and Brockway Summit to Picnic Rock, to name a few.

Something else to keep in mind is that the Carson Range on the east side of the trail tends to receive less snow and melt out faster than the Sierra Nevada on the west side. According to a 2017 article from the TRTA, the first segment of the trail to fully thaw is Spooner to Kingsbury North, closely followed by sections near Tahoe City. Van Sickle is one lake-level hike recommended to those looking for an early-season outing.

In an email response to The Trek, the TRTA’s Outreach and Marketing Coordinator, Kate Gallaugher, shared sections of the trail that are expected to have snow late into the season, which include Desolation Wilderness, between Freel Peak and Star Lake, and along Relay Peak and Relay Ridge.

“We are advising recreators to bring gaiters, Yaktrax (link added by The Trek), or at the very least an extra pair of socks with them, especially throughout June for most of the trail,” she added. “Even where snow has melted, there may be deep puddles and mud.” Current trail conditions can be found on the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s website.

Whether you decide to experience the TRT this year or choose an alternate adventure at lower elevation, have fun and stay safe.

Featured image: Allison Diverde.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 1

  • Chris : Jun 2nd

    The picture of the hiker in the river doesn’t look like anything on the TRT, is that Evolution creek on the JMT?


What Do You Think?