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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

Thru-Hike the Tahoe Rim Trail

Spectacular lake views, granite-edged trails, and surprising solitude will make you want to go in circles on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

by: Tim Hauserman

photo icon Tahoe's Susie Lake via PCT
Looking for a lighter Lake Tahoe trail? Check out Susie Lake.

Circles go forever. Which is roughly how much time you'll wish you could spend on the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. It's a spectacular loop hike that takes you across fields of thigh-high lupine, past sparkling granite- and heather-fringed lakes, and through the quiet of deep fir and hemlock forests. The scenery is quintessential Sierra, but what really sets it apart is mile upon mile of open ridgeline rounding the azure waters of 22-mile-long, 12-mile-wide, 1,600-foot-deep Lake Tahoe.

A full loop of the TRT makes an ideal two-week vacation. With eight sections, all reachable by major roads, accessing the trail and nearby towns is a breeze. Start at Kingsbury Grade (just west of South Lake Tahoe) and hike clockwise to reach Tahoe City midway through your trek. This is perfect timing for resupply–and you'll pass within 100 yards of a supermarket. Choosing campsites will depend on your pace, but two must-sleep spots are the shores of emerald-green Star Lake and the base of hulking 9,974-foot Dicks Peak. The former has three 10,000-foot spires sitting like exclamation points on the horizon. The latter is along a section of trail that traverses the quiet Desolation Wilderness, replete with bonsai-size whitebark pines.

The TRT is well maintained and marked, and while it has more than 30,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, the ups and downs come in manageable doses. Logistics are simple, as no shuttle is required. Depending upon the previous year's snowpack, though, water sources can be scarce on a 75-mile stretch above the north and east shores of the lake. Cache water at Brockway Summit and Spooner Summit, both near roads, before you set out.

Conditions are best from mid-July through mid-September, after snow has melted and before water sources begin to dry up. Don't miss the 1.2-mile off-trail Christopher's Loop, where Sand Harbor and all of Lake Tahoe unfold directly below. Check with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association for the latest conditions. The TRTA also offers an annual supported thru-hike (

Book and Map
The Tahoe Rim Trail: A Complete Guide For Hikers, Mountain Bikers and Equestrians ($18, Wilderness Press); The TRT Elevation Profile Map ($10, Tahoe Rim Trail Association)

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