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Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail

Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail, near Showers Lake, image
Photo caption
A view of Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail, near Showers Lake.

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a 165-mile path that traverses the ridgeline of Lake Tahoe's crown of peaks. This spectacular necklace of trails opened last year, the culmination of two decades of fund-raising and pathfinding. The TRT offers sweeping views of the lake and much of it is accessible to everyone from casual day hikers to hard-core backpackers. Visiting Lake Tahoe in the Summer? In most years, the trail can be traveled by mid-June. In mid-July, it is ablaze with wildflowers; in September and October, with fall foliage.

Be forewarned that parking at the trailheads (labeled TH on the map) is limited. For more information, contact the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, (775) 588-0686,

Tahoe Meadows (8,740 feet) to Spooner Summit (7,150 feet)— 21.8 miles The trail winds around the granite peaks of the Carson Range, climbs to Tunnel Creek Road, and then rolls up and down to Snow Valley Peak. From Snow Valley to Spooner is a gentle 5.5-mile descent. Reservoirs and flumes once used by miners hark back to the Comstock era.

Spooner Summit (7,150 feet) to Kingsbury (7,520 feet)— 12.5 miles This moderate section crosses the rocky spine of the Carson Range. From Spooner, it is a gradual uphill for five miles before two miles of ridgeline. Then the TRT drops five miles to Kingsbury. Fire roads lead to 9,150-foot Genoa Peak. At the end of the trail, a 3.5-mile residential road connects this section to the Kingsbury Trailhead.

Kingsbury (7,520 feet) to Big Meadow (7,300 feet)— 22.8 miles A tough 8.5-mile uphill, across Monument Pass, leads to Star Lake and the foot of three of the highest peaks in the Tahoe Basin—Freel Peak, Jobs Sister, and Jobs Peak. Another two-mile climb brings you to 10,080-foot Freel Saddle. From there, it's down to Armstrong Pass, back up, then down seven miles to the trailhead.

Big Meadow (7,300 feet) to Echo Lake (7,414 feet)— 17.8 miles A five-mile climb takes you quickly past Big Meadow and then on to Meiss Meadow, where the TRT joins the rugged Pacific Crest Trail. The TRT/PCT climbs six miles to the ridge, then a steep two-mile downhill leads you to Benwood Meadow. Round Lake is 2.5 miles before the trailhead junction, and Showers Lake two miles after the junction. No bikes are allowed on the PCT. Note: The Echo Summit to Echo Lake trail links the two trailheads and includes a dangerous Highway 50 crossing.

Echo Lake (7,414 feet) to Barker Pass (7,650 feet)— 31.7 miles Portions of this tough section are in the granitic Desolation Wilderness. The first five miles of the trail are well used. The rest: granite rocks, granite boulders, and granite sand. Six miles past Echo Lake is Lake Aloha—with grand granite boulder islands. Dicks Pass, 13 miles from Echo Lake, is the highest pass in Desolation (at 9,210 feet) and offers views of alpine landscapes. Permits are required in Desolation. No bikes.

Barker Pass (7,650 feet) to Tahoe City (6,240 feet)— 17 miles The first five miles follow the ridge to Twin Peaks, where the TRT leaves the PCT. The trail heads down several miles to Ward Creek Road, then climbs to Page Meadows, before a gradual one-mile descent to Tahoe City. The TRT's only waterfall, an eight-foot cascade, is in Ward Canyon.

Tahoe City (6,300 feet) to Brockway (7,000 feet)— 19 miles Rock city. Up, up, up for the first seven miles, then the trail rolls through the forest above the Truckee River Canyon to Watson Lake. Lava Cliffs, 10 miles east of Tahoe City, offers views of Lake Tahoe. Watson Lake, 12 miles east of Tahoe City, has wildflowers.

Brockway (7,000 feet) to Tahoe Meadows (8,840 feet)— 18.9 miles The trail climbs seven miles to Mount Baldy. After seven more exposed miles, it crosses the TRT's highest point—Relay Peak (10,338 feet). Then it's 4.5 miles down to Tahoe Meadows. Older juniper and cedar, ignored by loggers, thrive. A fire road off the trail and up the slopes of Martis Peak has a 180-degree view.

Tahoe Meadows Interpretive Trail (8,740 feet)— 1.3 miles This loop is flat, wide, and made for wheelchair accessibility. The trail wanders through pines and meadows.

Five best view areas
Christopher's Loop—midway between Tahoe Meadows and Spooner Summit. Views of sparkly Lake Tahoe below.

South Camp Peak, six miles south of the Spooner Summit. Views of the Tahoe Basin and Washoe Valley.

Freel Saddle, 12.4 miles northeast of Big Meadow, at 10,080 feet. Views of Lake Tahoe.

Twin Peaks, five miles north of Barker Pass. Views of the Sierra Crest and the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Rose Knob Peak, midway between Brockway and Tahoe Meadows. Views of Donner Summit, Truckee, Lake Tahoe, and the Carson Range.

Five best wildflower spots
Northeast of Marlette Lake
—between Tahoe Meadows and Spooner Summit trailheads.

The bowl beneath Little Round Top, half a mile south of the Big Meadow Trailhead.

Freel Saddle, eight miles one way from Big Meadow toward Echo Summit Trailhead.

Haypress Meadows, 1.5 miles above upper Echo Lake.

Paige Meadows, between Barker Pass and Tahoe City trailheads.

Photography courtesy of AT2663/Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published in May 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.