Note: From the early season into July the mosquitos are ferocious on the SW & W portion of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Bring DEET bug spray and a tent with netting rather than a tarp. There are also long stretches without water: the longest on our trip, at 17 miles, was from Watson Lake to the spring at the old Western States Trail junction just East of Mud Lake.
The Tahoe Rim Trail, like the Wonderland Trail, is a circumnavigation around a popular point of interest. At 165 miles in length and a little under 62,000 ft of cumulative elevation change it’s a bit less rigorous than the John Muir Trail or Wonderland Trail, but still an excellent challenge with incredible views.1
When first hearing about and visualizing the TRT I was near the shore of Lake Tahoe and simply looked around, imagining a trail atop all the ridges in sight. While a common assumption, this is not the case. Instead the trail meanders around the lake to and fro, reasonably far at times in the south and north, with at least one full day in Desolation Wilderness without a view of Lake Tahoe. Of course those who have been to Desolation know that this is an incredibly beautiful section and that some of the best views end up being of lakes and vistas other than Lake Tahoe, such as Lake Aloha featured in the header image. The larger diameter of the Tahoe Rim Trail was likely chosen, at least in part, to keep a reasonable distance from the well developed shores and towns surrounding the lake. While there are certainly times when homes are near the trail, given what’s nearby, very little is visible, which helps suspend the disbelief of a trip into the “wilderness”.
The trail is maintained by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association and traverses various state parks in both California and Nevada, as well as three wilderness areas: Desolation Wilderness, Granite Chief Wilderness, and Mount Rose Wilderness.
The footing varies from powdery dust to rooty forest, swampy mud, packed scree, fire roads, to, if it’s early to mid-season, snow. The scenery surrounding these trails is also constantly in a state of flux, ranging from sparse grand forests, to scrubby brush, to meadow, to large exposed hillsides covered in the flowers of alpine shooting stars and woolly mules ears. Notable fauna include: a six-point buck, a black bear, many marmots and chipmunks, black-billed magpies, western tanagers, robins, and many other birds names unknown. Surprisingly we saw very few birds of prey, which may have been due to the unusually calm days and the Trailhead Forest Fire that began halfway through our trip and at times significantly impacted visibility in the basin.
Many portions of the trail are open to mountain biking and horseback riding, so be alert in popular areas such as near Mr. Toads Wild Ride in the southern section and near Painted Rock and Mt. Baldy in the north. Our favorite section of the trail was the north eastern area around Mt Baldy and Relay Peak, which has some of the best views of Lake Tahoe with hardly any mosquitos.
Summary: Call 530.543.2694 for your Desolation Wilderness TRT Permit & print your passing of this Campfire Permit Quiz. Buy this map and download this app (iOS & Android). Have enough capacity to carry 3-4 liters of water (depending on your size) and use the app to determine when this will be necessary. Drop off your resupply at the Tahoe City Post Office and then park at the Kingsbury Grade North Trailhead, check the ten day forecast at South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City and hike clockwise.