Tahoe Rim Trail: 170 Miles Around—Yep—Lake Tahoe

Length: 170 Miles
Location: Encircling Lake Tahoe through the Sierras in both California and Nevada.
Trail Type: Loop
Scenery: The trail has daily mountain views, numerous small alpine lakes, and countless views of the largest alpine lake in North America. The path often passes through open forests consisting mainly of various pines, firs and occasional aspen. Much of the trail is in National Forest or one of three Wilderness Areas. Desolation Wilderness is aptly named as a glacier once scraped most of the soil from the area and left the terrain beautifully stark.



The hiking would be considered moderate. You are walking through the Sierras, so there’s some considerable up and down. However, unlike the more famous John Muir Trail in the same range to the south, the elevation change is less dramatic. Tahoe’s shoreline is around 6,300 feet and the high point on the trail tops out at 10,330 feet. The tread is well constructed with switchbacks and even steps on the steeper sections. I spent eleven days on the trail including one zero in South Lake Tahoe.


The trail is extremely well marked, easy to navigate, and rarely confusing. Signage is ample and well located. On the trail I used the Tahoe Rim Trail Pocket Atlas  by Blackwoods Press and the TRT phone App by Guthook. Both appeared to be accurate and contained all needed intel.

Getting There

There are two cities on the trail, Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe. The closest major city is Reno, NV. From Reno to Tahoe City, take I-80 West to CA-89 South. The trail crosses CA-89 near the south end of town. I walked the approximately half mile between the trail and the hotel I stayed at.

Traveling from Reno to South Lake Tahoe, the best route is US-395 South to US-50 West. I took Rt #23 bus from the Transit Center (Downtown Stateline on US-50) to the Kingsbury South (or Stagecoach Lodge) Stop. From there, a half mile side trail takes you to the TRT.

In addition, there are regularly scheduled shuttles to either town straight from the Reno airport.

Why Hike This Trail

On every trail I hike, I end up with a song playing over and over in my head. On the TRT, the obvious choice was “Roundabout,” released by the English rock group Yes in 1971. This could be the official tune of the trail. Not only did the title match the route, but the lyrics did too. As I hiked, “In and around the lake, mountains come out of the sky and they stand there.” Multiple times I passed, “In and out the valley.”

Regardless of your musical tastes though, this is a great shorter “long” trail; especially for a first time thru-hiker. Logistics are simple; you finish where you start. The two best resupply options, Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe are close to equidistant and easy to reach. Permits are simple. The California Campfire Permit needed to operate a stove on the trail is free and can be had by passing a straightforward Internet quiz. (Don’t plan on an actual campfire though.) For thru-hikers, there is no quota for Desolation Wilderness Permits. I got mine with a phone call and $10. (Call two weeks out.) On top of that, it’s just a beautiful hike on an easy to follow trail.


John Muir described the Sierra Nevada as the “gentle wilderness” and the summer weather can be just that. Generally the trail is hiked Mid-July through September and the area averages about 2 inches of rain total during that entire period. I walked the trail over ten days in September and there was no rain and maybe 20 minutes of cloud cover during my entire hike. Bring sunscreen. At the elevations on the trail, the temperature is likely to go below freezing during any month of the year. I carried a 23-degree bag and was glad I did.

One note of caution for 2017. This past winter the area had the highest snowfall total in 35 years. As I write this, significant parts of the trail are covered with 10 feet or more of snow. The hiking season will most likely start late.


One of the interesting rules about the TRT is that camping somewhat near the trail isn’t discouraged, it’s actually required. All camping must be done within 300 feet of the trail corridor. That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of sites however. The Guthook Guide lists well over 100 spots to set up one or more tents. With that many options, finding a spot to camp was not an issue. On my trip, only once did I set up within sight of another tent; and they were on the opposite side of Dick’s Lake.

Camp near Freel Meadow
One issue is that within Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park (Mile 48-63.5) hikers may only camp at one of three park camp areas. I avoided the situation by hiking through the park in one day.

Water Sources

Despite the fact that the trail circles a Big Ol’ lake, don’t expect to be able to dip a cup in it whenever you want. You are rarely that close. The east side of the lake is significantly drier than the west side, but no dry stretch was extraordinarily long. By making use of a campground hydrant and going off trail for water a couple times, I never went over 14 miles between water stops. The west side of the lake had several small lakes and even some snowmelt; despite being Mid-September during the drought. Other than the hydrants, I did filter all my water. I consider it cheap insurance.


Resupply Options

While there are additional options, the simplest plan is to start/finish at either Tahoe City or South Lake Tahoe and resupply at the other. You then have either 80 or 90 miles to cover between stops. Each section took me four and 1/2 days, getting to town by early afternoon on day 5. Both towns have post offices handy to hold a package. Or, in my case, I planned a zero in South Lake Tahoe and made a reservation at a hotel which also held a package for me (and had a laundry and a $2 happy hour!) Tahoe City is on the trail and South Lake Tahoe can be reached by either a steep walk on a busy road or a $2 bus. Take the bus. By starting at a trailhead between towns, one of the walks between resupplies could be cut into two.

A word of caution: Bears are in the area and good spots to “bear bag” your food can be few and far between. I solved that issue by using a bear canister.

Closing Thoughts


The TRT is a great hike for newer long-distance hiker, someone trying solo hiking for the first time, or anyone that wants a great scenic hike with a minimum of logistical issues. The bureaucratic hoops were relatively easy to deal with as well. The folks at the Tahoe Rim Trail Association were very helpful and their website is a great planning resource. Update: January, 2018 If you’re looking for additional information beyond that, I’ve just published a short book about my journey. Walking in Circles: Backpacking the Tahoe Rim Trail is available in both paperback and e-book on Amazon.

For those that want to hike the John Muir Trail, but have been unable to get a permit, this would be a great replacement hike for you. Fair warning however. You will be singing Roundabout to yourself the whole way “around the lake.”

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Comments 21

  • KRis Dunn : May 24th

    Great article!!! Sounds like a blast!!! Thanks for highlighting these shorter trails, I still have a job so I don’t have the time for long through hike.

    • Jim Rahtz : May 24th

      Thanks, glad you liked it. The TRT is a great trail! I’m actually thinking about hiking it again this summer. Those jobs are pesky things; take way too much time away from backpacking. Take care!

  • Putt-Putt : May 26th

    Nice article. Always on the look-out for medium length trails.

  • Tom : Aug 14th

    Thanks Jim. Excellent article. I was just through that area and managed a little day hike up Pyramid Creek to Horse Tail falls. It was very nice. Now I’m thinking I need to try the TRT. Great descriptions and photos!

  • Jim Rahtz : Aug 16th

    Thanks for the kind words. It’s a great hike!

    • Tre : Feb 19th

      So were you satisfied with your 20 degree bag or did you want something warmer? We are going Aug/Sep timeframe and I have a Hammock Gear 20 degree down quilt coupled with a women’s Neo Air Xlite (3.9 R value) and sleeping in a tent. Do you think that is sufficient?

      • Jim Rahtz : Feb 20th

        I’ll give the usual caveats: no two people are the same and the weather might be significantly different from one year to another, but yes that seems like it would be sufficient. I was glad to have a 20 degree bag, but never needed anything heavier. Good luck with your trip!

        • Tre : Feb 20th

          Thank you for the reply and the great information in your article. We are really looking forward to the hike. It’s much harder to find information on the TRT than the JMT and this really helps.

  • Cheryl : Mar 16th

    two questions… Is 3rd week in June this year too early, likely be too much snow? Is 8 days unrealistic to do entire loop?

    • Jim Rahtz : Mar 17th

      Two good questions. However, I’m not sure I have good answers for you.

      Generally, the third week of June can be a bit early to complete this hike without significant snow. This winter had been pretty low on snow, until recently. At Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort there has been 50+ inches of snow just in the last three days. More heavy snow can fall for at least another month. At this point, it’s too early to tell, but your timeframe is looking to be too early to me. You can keep an eye on snow conditions through the TRT website.

      As far as thru-hiking in 8 days, that is entirely dependent upon how strong a hiker you are (and how much snow you encounter). I finished my thru-hike at noon on my 10th day of hiking. I like to think I’m a reasonably strong hiker, but I’m also 60 years old. If you can average 20 miles per day on other trails (ie. AT, Colorado Trail), then 8 days should be doable for you.

      Good luck with your hike! It’s a fun trail.

  • Gina : Jul 20th

    Hi, Jim! Thank you for sharing your experience on the trail. My friend and I would like to hike about 70 miles of it in a couple of weeks. The thought of bears is starting to make me unrealistically nervous. Do you have any reassuring words that will help me relax and enjoy the 5-day hike with out being preoccupied by fear? I appreciate it!


  • Jim Rahtz : Jul 21st

    Well Gina, as long as you can outrun your friend, you have nothing to worry about.

    Actually, while there are black bears in the area, the chance of having bad bear encounter is exceedingly rare. There are a few things you can do to hopefully ease your unnecessary concern. By keeping your food and anything that smells like food in a bear resistant canister, and keeping that canister 100 feet or more from your tent, you’ve eliminated the main reason for a confrontation: a bear in your camp looking for food. Cooking and eating away from camp will further reduce the chances of a bear wandering into camp looking for an easy meal. Also, I saw they now make bacon scented perfume. Leave that at home.

    Bears are no more interested in meeting you than you are in meeting them. Make a little noise while you hike. When they hear you, they’ll get out of your way.

    In the last 100 years, there have been about 50 people killed by black bears, in the ENTIRE US. Your chances of a bear issue are nothing to lose sleep over. The drive to the trail or even falling during a post hike shower are a much bigger danger than a bear attack. If you’d feel more comfortable with additional protection, you can always consider carrying pepper spray. Those tiny containers that fit on a key chain are plenty strong enough to make a black bear leave you alone. If you do carry one, read the instructions and get comfortable using it.

    Bottom line, with a couple common sense precautions, bear issues don’t need to be a worry. It’s been a real highlight for me when I got to see a bear in the wild, at a distance.

  • Therese Lewandowski : Jan 5th

    Thanks for your insights. I’m hiking the TRT in August with my husband and our amazing friend who has completed the PCT and AT. I talked her into doing something “just for fun” this summer!
    I just ordered your book and can’t wait to hear more about the TRT!

    • Jim Rahtz : Jan 5th

      It’s a great hike, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
      Thanks for buying the book!

  • Anthony Beveridge : Apr 11th

    Thank you Jim for some very interesting post and articles.

    I’m interested in possibly attempting the TRT in the late summer, August/September as a solo hiker.

    I live in South Florida and I’ve always hiked in the past in the Rockies with a co-hiker but I’d like on do this one alone.
    My wife has put me in a fearful frame of mind with regards to the bears, which hasn’t bothered me until now.
    I’ll be 58 this year, so I might be maturing and getting a bit sensible in my later years.

    Do you often hike alone and is there anywhere in the lower states you would consider it unwise?

    Your thoughts and advise would be welcome.

    Keep trekking and writing.


  • Jim Rahtz : Apr 12th

    Thanks for the positive comments. Generally my friends either aren’t into longer backpacking trips or they have one of those pesky jobs that take up their time. What I probably really need are new friends, but as it stands, most of my hikes are solo. My solo hike of the TRT was in September and it was a great hike.

    With a little extra preparation, I feel relatively safe hiking alone. I do carry a small (2 ounce) container of pepper spray, just in case. Thankfully, I’ve never needed to use it. The small pepper spray is supposed to work on black bear if that is a concern. I’ve seen numerous black bear on the trails through the years and, so far, none have ever acted the least bit aggressive, so they aren’t something I worry about. Grizzly country may be a different story, but I’ve never backpacked where they live in significant numbers.

    I also bring a Spot Satellite Tracker with me, again, just in case. On more rugged trails, I do wonder about falling and getting hurt, thus the Spot. I also make myself slow way down when the hiking gets sketchy. With that in mind, one trail I probably wouldn’t hike solo (again) is the Long Trail. It is incredibly rugged and quite often wet. I fell more times on that trail than on all the other trails I’ve ever hiked combined.

    On most of my hikes though, I’ve not had any situations where being alone made me feel at all unsafe.

    I am glad to hear that you may be maturing now that you’re 57. It gives me hope as I’m 62 and am still waiting for maturity and sensibility to kick in.

    Take care and keep hiking.


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