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Traversing Trails: Preparing for the Tahoe Rim Trail
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Traversing Trails: Preparing for the Tahoe Rim Trail

Here's everything you need to know before hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail, including the length, permits you need, and what to bring.

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5 min read

February 23, 2022

Crisp alpine lakes, sprawling pine forests, and looming mountain peaks surround you in every direction; the quiet air is filled with the sporadic chirping of nearby birds while a sense of serenity settles across the land; you feel at peace as you set out on the hiking trails of Lake Tahoe.

The Tahoe Rim Trail surrounds Lake Tahoe and can be thru-hiked or broken down into day hikes ranging from 6 to 22 miles each way. These journeys include easy South Lake Tahoe trails, strenuous North Lake Tahoe treks, and everything in between. 

While most thru-hikers spend around two weeks taking in the scenery of the TRT trail, runner Kilian Jornet set the quickest supported thru-hike record in 2009 by completing the Tahoe Rim Trail in under 39 hours. However you prefer to experience the region, we’ve compiled everything you need to know in order to tackle hiking near Lake Tahoe.

What You Need to Know Prior to Hitting the TRT 

Before embarking on the Tahoe Rim Trail, do your research, be prepared for various weather conditions, and ensure you pack the proper gear.

Hiking

While it’s essentially the same experience whichever way you hike the TRT trail, most thru-hikers choose to travel clockwise. Taking your hiking buddies along? You’re more than welcome to as long as you adhere to the maximum group size allowance of up to 12 people. But make sure to warn those with breathing and palpitation problems, the total elevation change along the TRT trail is equivalent to summiting Mount Whitney four times—a fun Lake Tahoe fact to keep in your back pocket.

If it’s your first time on the trail, consider signing up for a guided day, segment, and thru-hikes available through the Tahoe Rim Trail Association. If you do end up hiking without guidance, don’t worry, the trail is generally well marked, with signs at every major junction, which are visible unless extreme weather conditions obstruct the view. It is also important to mention that while the TRT trail is open year-round, the Kingsbury South Trailhead is off-limits during ski season, and Barker Pass Road is not accessible from October to June.

Cell service is not reliable on most sections of the trail, so make important calls before kicking off your Tahoe Rim Trail hike. 

Summertime temperatures vary on the TRT but expect highs in the 70s and lows anywhere in the 40s and 50s.

Weather

If you’ve ever been hiking near Lake Tahoe before, then you know how temperatures vary drastically from day to night and from season to season. It’s best to hike in the summer months when temperatures typically hit highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s—but temperatures can drop below freezing year-round. Check weather conditions before hitting the trail.

You should always be prepared for snow in the Sierra; high elevations and north-facing slopes often carry snow—even in July and August. Snowpack in the winter can be 10 feet high, so it’s highly recommended to plan your Tahoe Rim Trail hike during the summer months.

Camping

If you’re thru-hiking, then you’ll definitely need to stop and take a power nap along the TRT Trail. However, it’s crucial to note that camping is never allowed at trailheads. Plan to camp 100 feet away from the trails and 200 feet away from water sources, but try to stay within 300 feet of the trail corridor at all times.

Fires are generally prohibited along the Tahoe Rim Trail, though camp stoves are allowed with the proper permits. So, you should either pack premade food or the proper cooking utensils, although we recommend doing the former to save time.

Spanning 165 miles, the Tahoe Rim Trail wraps around the entire Lake Tahoe Basin, leading hikers past lush meadows and snow-dusted mountain peaks.

The Length of the Tahoe Rim Trail 

The Tahoe Rim Trail spans 165 miles, approximately 100 of which lie within the borders of California. This pathway loops around the Lake Tahoe Basin, winding through warm valleys, running past snowy peaks, and—should you choose to travel the 60-plus miles along the Tahoe Meadows Trail and Spooner Summit—leading into Nevada.

TRT Permits

Much like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or the Lost Coast, permits are required to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail in an effort to help preserve the surrounding wilderness. These are all the permits you need before you hit the Lake Tahoe trails.

California Campfire Permit

Though campfires are prohibited along the TRT, this free permit allows thru-hikers to use camp stoves. Permits can be obtained here and expire on the last day of the year in which they are issued.

Day-Use Permit

Desolation Wilderness is the only location on the Tahoe Rim Trail that requires a day-use permit. These free permits are self-issued and available at all trailheads that enter the region. 

Carefully plan your hiking route and make sure you obtain all of the necessary permits for your journey well in advance.

Desolation Wilderness Permit

Thru-hikers can bypass the Desolation Wilderness camping permits—which are based on a quota system—by obtaining a wilderness permit for the Desolation Wilderness region. This area is located on the southwestern stretch of the Tahoe Rim Trail and comprises 63,960 acres of forests, rocky granite peaks, icy lakes, and valleys formed by glaciers. Due to its remote location and a desire to protect the untamed wilderness, travelers can only access the area on horseback or on foot, resulting in a solitary experience that can prove to be challenging but memorable. 

The wilderness permit costs $10 per person (and there’s a $10 processing fee) and must be obtained within two weeks of the planned entrance into Desolation Wilderness. To get the process started, contact the U.S. Forest Service Supervisor’s Office or visit the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Supervisor’s Office in South Lake Tahoe. 

No hiker should set out on the Tahoe Rim Trail without a map and compass, not to mention other critical items such as sturdy hiking boots.

What to Bring When Hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail

A list of essentials is crucial when planning to hike a long and strenuous trail like the TRT. These are the absolute must-have items you should pack along if you want to go hiking near Lake Tahoe’s most famous trail.

Clothing-wise, having proper hiking boots—preferably snow-accommodating ones—is essential. If you’ll be going in the water, sandals or river shoes, as well as swimwear is also necessary.

As mentioned, you’ll be needing to pack your food for the Tahoe Rim Trail journey. It’s recommended to do so in protective bear canisters. Don’t forget water, a camp stove if you’re cooking, and freeze-dried food. Speaking of bears, having a bear spray handy is also crucial, although you likely won’t use it. 

Lather on the mineral sunscreen and pack the rest of the tube, take extra layers of clothing, socks, a compass, a Tahoe Rim Trail map, and a tent and sleeping bag. 

Now that you’ve got everything you need, you're ready to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail.

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