The Tahoe Rim Trail.
First thing’s first – what is the Tahoe Rim Trail?
The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165 mile hiking trail that circumnavigates the entirety of Lake Tahoe. The TRT crosses from the state of California into the state of Nevada and also goes through the heart of Desolation Wilderness. Angler and I thru-hiked the TRT in 2020, and I wanted to share my experiences for anyone considering it (spoiler alert, I’m gonna convince you to do it).
Know before you go! Please check out the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s website for all permits, regulations and information –https://tahoerimtrail.org/
A few things to note before we dive in:
1) we went clockwise and started in Tahoe City (our friends from Grass Valley dropped us off and we left our car at their house)
2) we resupplied in South Lake Tahoe and broke the trip up into two 5-day stretches. SLT has good grocery options for a resupply, we mailed a box
3) the longest section without water was 17 miles. We used the FarOut app (formerly known as Guthook) for water source info (as well as campsite suggestions)
Close to half of it is a desert
Dry and arid. Two words I would certainly use to describe the area between Tahoe City and pretty much all of Nevada. Unlike the name suggests, it gets nowhere near Lake Tahoe itself.
Water carries are common in this stretch, the longest we had was 17 miles. We underestimated how heavy water was and how heavy our backpacks were. We also overdid it on the day we went over Relay Peak (the tallest peak on the TRT – 10,335’) and wrecked our knees for the remainder of the trip (day 2 out of 10, yay).
Angler got terrible blisters because of the sand in his shoes and heat during the day. I didn’t bring sunscreen and wore shorts, I regretted it immensely. It got cold at night, one night it actually froze, but the night skies were immaculate.
The high desert ridges are absolutely breathtaking. Hiking high above Lake Tahoe and being able to see physical progression around the entirely of lake was instant gratification. Lake Tahoe is huge!
The weather forecast looked great…
Our trip was in late July and we had a thunderstorm happen 9/10 days we were out. I had checked the forecasts for nearby areas and it seemed fine, until the thunderstorms rolled in unexpectedly and violently. Some produced minimal rain for about twenty minutes, some produced substantial rain and hail for hours.
I didn’t bring rain gear, I cried a lot. I attribute my worst times on this trail to being really wet and cold, I wish I had at least brought a poncho. Lightning was abundant and frequent, and we usually got to passes too late in the day because we weren’t as educated as we should have been. We’ve since learned.
That being said, when you’re going over the passes, turn around every once in a while and check out the view. Especially Dick’s Pass, if you’re going clockwise you won’t regret it. This is an amazing place, probably the best place to get rained on anyway. The wildflowers somehow look more vibrant in the rain. Also, the sunsets and sunrises were unbelievable, it made all the rain worth it.
The mosquitos drove us absolutely mad. The issue was is that the constant rain made keeping bug spray on impossible, and they didn’t seem to care about DEET anyway. Desolation Wilderness was the worst mosquito hell I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. That being said, I loved Desolation. It’s the most amazing granite mecca I’ve ever seen, the vibe is superb. I understand why it’s such a popular destination.
Lake Aloha was crowded, I won’t lie. There were definitely a lot more people than I’m used to. But Lake Aloha is also huge, there are plenty of great spots for everyone (remember to only camp in pre-existing spots or on durable surfaces). Angler and I had no issue finding a private secluded campsite with a stellar view.
That being said, Lake Aloha has a lot of bears (all of the Tahoe area really, but the higher trafficked areas tend to have more issues). Proper food storage is key, we unfortunately saw a lot of chewed up Mountain Houses scattered along the trail. A lot of people told us that there weren’t any places to hang our food along the TRT (especially in Desolation), but we had no issue finding appropriate places to hang.
If it seems like I’m a little Desolation-centric it’s because I am. If you’re a fan of granite, you will absolutely love it here. I know that I do.
Some things we learned:
1) take it slow, just because you can hike 20+ miles in a day, doesn’t always mean you should right out of the gate
2) at the very least bring a poncho, I always carry one now and consider it part of my first aid kit
3) have some sort of sun and bug protection, I’m partial to a bug net hat and sun hoodie
4) be realistic about your pack weight. A base weight of 16lbs might not sound like a lot…. Until you add 5 days of food and 4L of water to the mix
5) proper education about thunderstorms is really important (especially in higher elevations), lightning is terrifying and doesn’t care about your life
The Tahoe Rim Trail is really a perfect thru-hike for someone who is wanting to test the waters before embarking on a long-distance trail. It taught both Angler and I a lot of good lessons (in life and backpacking) and we deeply value the experience.
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What month did you hike in? Which points were the water start and end on the 17 mile stretch? Seems like you could plan to camp at both ends of that and only carry the day’s water that way. Nice write up; thanks! And thanks for admitting your mistakes; we all make them, why not share and learn from them? nice job.