Welcome to my article on the incredible Tahoe Rim Trail. My name is Brianna Mann and I grew up just outside of Detroit, Michigan. I didn’t grow up with an “outdoorsy” family. In fact, I never went camping until I was 18. When I was 20, I took a trip to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado with some girlfriends and was so proud of myself for doing a four mile hike!
After that, I was hooked. I was planning on returning to school that following fall and that trip to the Rocky Mountains actually encouraged me to switch my major from mortuary science to environmental science and society. I was so in awe of Colorado’s beauty: the mountains, the wildlife and the vastness. I decided then that the outdoors needed to be protected.
Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail in Summer
The Pacific Crest Trail – a 2,650 mile trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada and takes five/six months to hike in its entirety – has always been a dream of mine. However, I had only ever done backpacking trips that were three or four days. I wanted to test myself with a shorter thru-hike to see if I was capable of something like this. The Tahoe Rim Trail came to mind.
The Tahoe Rim Trail is 171 miles long and loops around Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada. I hiked it from July 16th to July 28th of this year. The trail was very hot during this time of year but any earlier, there could have been snow, and any later, as we have unfortunately seen, is wildfire season. We even dealt with a good amount of smoke from surrounding fires.
The best part of the Tahoe Rim Trail is that it’s a loop trail so you don’t have to worry about staging a car. I started in Tahoe City and ended in Tahoe City. It took me 12.5 days to complete, averaging about 14 miles per day.
There were so many highlights along the way. Swimming in lakes with no one around, almost stepping on a rattlesnake, beautiful sunsets over the lake, but honestly the best part is all the people you meet on the trail.
Even though the trail traverses around Lake Tahoe, it doesn’t ever touch the lake. So, the trail is very dry. Sometimes we had 20 miles between water sources. There are tall red pines and huge pine cones that line the trail. There are so many rocks that make the terrain a challenge to trek over, but a fun challenge at that. The trail traverses between about 7,000-10,000 feet.
We camped every night on the trail except once when I got a hotel room because I was nursing a knee injury. There are plenty of dispersed camping spots along the trail and the trail even goes through some campgrounds. The hardest part about camping each night is food storage since the whole trail has black bears. We used bear cans and never saw a single bear!
How Challenging is the Tahoe Rim Trail?
The Tahoe Rim Trail is one of the easier thru-hikes for beginners but don’t assume the trail is easy. Mentally, doing the whole trail is a battle. Getting up to hike everyday is fun but at times you just don’t want to.
Physically, my calves were sorer than they have ever been and I had more blisters on my feet than I could count. With that being said, I did almost no physical preparation for this trail and I was still able to do it in 12.5 days.
Personally, I would rate the Tahoe Rim Trail as a 10/10. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I would absolutely recommend it to any and all hiking enthusiasts, even if you are just doing a day hike.
One of my greatest moments on the Tahoe Rim Trail was doing an almost 18 mile day to one of the greatest sunsets I had ever seen. I had done 20 mile days before but never with 4,000-5,000 feet of elevation gain. I was so exhausted but I felt good about myself after. And then the reward was watching the sun come down over Lake Tahoe – what a special moment!
Need to Know Before you Go
For responsible hiking, I suggest the following: camp on durable sites that have already been established, don’t camp in no-camping zones, camp 200 feet from alpine lakes and streams, and pack out what you pack in. These are just a few of the ways hikers can leave the trail better for everyone.
The biggest piece of advice that I could give someone looking to hike this trail is to look at water sources. This trail is dry and exposed. Take more water than you think you need. Also, this trail sits at 7,000-10,000 feet. If you are a flatlander like myself, it will take some time to adjust to the altitude.
When hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail, take it slow. The Desolation Wilderness (the only part of the trail that requires a permit) is easily the prettiest part of this hike. So take your time going through this section and enjoy it!