Ring Around The Lake: Tahoe Rim Trail journal 2009

My journal from my 2009 Tahoe Rim Trail thru-hike.  Additionally I have planning information in case you’d like to do the trail as well.

Note May 2016: This journal is seven years old. I have no intention of updating the information. It was correct at the time of the original writing. 


My journal has proven to be interesting. Much like my memory card acting up the last day, I had some interesting issues with my journal. Mainly in the fact I washed it by accident. Doh!

However, I am able to piece it together…blurry writing and all.

NOTE: All the mileage figures are derived from the signs helpfully placed around the TRT.  They are rounded off. After hiking all day, I was too lazy to add in the mileage figures from my map vs the easy to add up sign mileage! 😉

June 23rd – past Spooner Summit   15 miles / 15 miles total

My original intention was to take a low mileage day. But the long day, the sunny weather and the easy terrain  conspired together so I could relish the simple pleasure of walking all day.

After the uneventful flight, I arrived in the Tahoe area. Grabbed my pack and started the walk to N. Benjamin road. My less than dramatic start on the TRT: A road walk.

Before starting my latest adventure in earnest, I had to take care of something very important…lunch!

Luckily, there was a local pizza at the crossroads of where I was dropped off.

One large calzone and two large pints of Sierra Nevada later, I was in a sufficiently mellow mood to climb to the start of the trail at N. Benjamin Rd.

I could have hitched to the start, but it was less than an hour’s walk and I wanted to stretch my legs out after traveling all day.

I eventually arrived at the junction of 207 and N. Benjamin Rd. I was officially on the trail. Now, I just had to walk not quite 2 miles to get to an actual trail! 🙂 I arrived at the Kingsbury trailhead, took the requisite start photo and proceeded on very mellow mountain bike grade trail.

About half way through my day, I came to an open meadow with a striking view of Lake Tahoe and toward the mountains that still had a light layer of snow.

Conveniently enough, there was a bench placed at the view. Who was I to pass up such a sign from the trail gods?

I sat down, enjoyed the view and reminded myself again of why I enjoy these hikes.

June 24th –  Third Creek –  27 miles / 42 miles total

Another great day weather wise. Apparently I was not the only one who thought the day gorgeous.

I saw countless mountain bikers (all very friendly; Coloradans are used to sharing the trail)  a sprinkling of day hikers and a very interesting woman who was training for the Western States utltra-run happening that weekend, I saw interesting because in the space of five minutes she gave me her complete running resume with only a simple hello from me.  I do know that there is now a 50+ yr old woman (she told me her age without being asked) that has done seven 100 mile runs and once did a supported section of the PCT at 40 miles a day. All said at a pace that reminded me of my roots in the Northeast rather than the California Chill I had come to expect and the Colorado Casual I now know.  Certainly a different conversation than “great weather, huh?”

I suspect if I gave my resume, she’d be bored (Er..I walk. And I drink beer! I also make a mean Italian-American Sunday Gravy ).

I just smiled, nodded and wished her well.

The last part of the day felt the most remote. The trail was open to hikers only and it had a rougher and wilder character than the MTB graded tread I’ve seen up to this point.  All I can hear are the birds singing, the cascading stream and the wind blowing. A perfect end to my first full day on the trail.

June 25th – dry camp near Painted Rock –  29 miles / 71 miles total

Today was simply awesome.

The day started with the incredible vistas in the Mount Rose Wilderness. With the early morning light, the high peaks and the ever present Lake Tahoe, a dramatic vista was formed from the top of Mt. Baldy. The area felt surprisingly remote.

Being in a wilderness area, the tread was somewhat more difficult in terms of  grade. But the vistas and the remote feel more than made up for climbing.

The day ended with an unexpected bit of trail magic. I turned the corner on the trail to gaze upon an amazing view of Lake Tahoe and towards where I had started the trail.  At the view, two couples were camped out for the weekend. Two couples who happened to have a ton of leftovers to share.  The spaghetti and chocolate cookies made the last miles to my campsite on an old rail grade really fly.

Tomorrow, I have my first resupply. Coffee, eggs, more coffee, resupplies and even more coffee await!

June 26th – Ricon River  –  27 miles / 98 miles total

The resupply in Tahoe City went as expected. A grocery store was located next to the trailhead and a breakfast place was found.   Leaving town, I was headed towards a wilderness area again and perhaps the most scenic part of the TRT.

Coming to the base of of Twin Peaks was perhaps the best view of the trail.  Shortly after, I came to where the PCT and the TRT join for the next fifty miles.

I have not backpacked on this trail in seven years. I felt as if I was seeing an old friend again.

In my memories,  I always seem to return to High Sierra.  I had forgotten just how beautiful this stretch of trail can be.

The first part of the TRT was mainly pleasant with a few nice to beautiful spots. Overall, though, it reminded me of a very well maintained local open space. A place to bike, run  or get in afternoon hike.  With the exception of the Mount Rose area, I never truly felt I was on a backpacking trail.

After Tahoe City? I  am now where a person needs to hike in to get to be in the places where I’ve been.

The trail feels remote. I feel immersed in wilderness.  And the trail is that much more rewarding.

June 27th – past Desolation Wilderness Boundary – 28 miles / 126 miles total

The Desolation Wilderness was magical.  Deep blue lakes nestled against mountains topped with a layer of snow. Perfect weather at Dick’s Pass to take a lengthy break and take in the scenery awaiting me.

Today, I saw many PCT NoBo-ers on their way to Canada.  Most looked at my light pack, running shoes, worn clothing and facial stubble with an odd look. I don’t look like a weekender..why am I going south????  A few said as such when I talked for a few minutes here and there.

I talked to one PCT  thru-hiker for a good hour and a half.  Too bad we did not meet up in Echo Lake. We knew many people in common and a beer would have been a great addition to go with the conversation.

Today was one of those days where I had a smile on my face frequently. A day where I am again reminded of why I need  to spend more than a day or two in the mountains at  a time.

June 28th – Grass Creek – 22 miles / 148 miles total

This part of the trail continues to impress.

Arriving at Echo Lake and looking back to where I’ve been was the perfect way to spend part of the morning. The early morning quiet, the scenic lake and a cup of coffee while sitting at the shore was about as good as it gets in hiking.

Part of the morning was spent talking to a local who goes out for weeks at a time in area other than the major long trails. He was fascinating to talk to. Not only knowing the mountains, but also the local history and culture in great depth. Wonderful conversation. It also showed that there are many ways to enjoy the outdoors.

I met another PCT NoBo near Echo Summit and we chatted a bit. As before, part of the reason why we chatted is that  I had the look of a long term thru-hiker…but I was going “the wrong way”.  🙂

Today I left the PCT and made my way into the drier, and less used, Carson Mountains. A place I have not been, and one I look forward to seeing.

Tonight, I made the decision to take it easy and camp out one last night tomorrow. Rather than go into town and spend the money for a hotel room, I’ll just stroll into town early the morning of the 30th and fly out the First.

As I camp by the rushing creek and enjoy the evening twilight, I have one last though..I should have packed in a beer from Echo Lake. It would have been perfect right now!

June 29th – South Lake Tahoe –  17 miles / 165 miles total

(My memory card acted flakey..any photos are shamelessly stolen from other sites!)

The last stretch of trail was again a bit more rugged. Being a weekday, the area I hiked through was little used.

I must say, the Carson Mountains looked impressive. Rather than the dramatic lakes, the Carson mountains had an austere beauty about them.

Looking towards Freel Peak just above me on the crest of the Carson Range made for a dramatic backdrop for my last bit of trail.

Freel Peak
Freel Peak photo courtesy of WikiCommons
I continued to make my way down the trail and took a rest at Star Lake. Perhaps the most dramatic lake on the trail so far. The Carsons reached into the sky and I seriously considered calling it day in this oasis of calm and beauty.
Star Lake
Star Lake by brewbooks


But, the lure of finishing proved strong.  I climbed up the trail and continued to enjoy the remoteness I felt.

Monument Pass was the fitting place to end my last climb and descend back into  civilization.

Monument Pass
Monument Pass by brewbooks

I descended down the trail, into the Heavenly Ski area and the subdivisions. I was surprised at my pace …and the collection of stores!   Pizza was tempting…but i said the heck with it and just wanted to get into South Lake Tahoe now. A shower, cotton clothing and some rest called. I reached 207 again and was officially done with my trip.

This is NOT on the TRT. But it makes a suitably dramatic and mandatory last photo.  😉  From De Anza Peak on July 18th, 2009

Another jaunt in the mountains completed.

Rather than walk into town again, I hitched back from a local within a few minutes. He was going into South Lake Tahoe and was nice enough to give me a ride to the cheap motels I knew from my PCT hike. A one hour walk turned into a fifteen minute ride in a truck. Funny, I was not as ambitious for bonus miles at the end of the hike as at the start!

I was back in civilization.  Time to shower, shave and have a beer. And then back to my adopted home for more hiking adventures!

Overall Impressions

The TRT is a great little trail for the experienced backpacker who wants a trail that has easy logistics, is well marked and has fairly easy terrain overall.

The TRT also makes an ideal hike for the person who is new to long distance hiking and wants to give it a try.

The TRT is a good trail to introduce a hiking partner to the world of long distance hiking as well.

The main advantage of the trail is its length. At 165 miles, it is short enough where the average person can do it in their allotted vacation time.

The northern part of the trail is from about Kingsbury to just south of Tahoe City (with the exception of a  brief stretch in the Mt. Rose area) is not only dry, but is also very much multiuse.  The TRT had more of a feel of a local open space trail than a backcountry wilderness trail.  The tread is also noticeably easier. Still, it was quite pretty in parts and enjoyable.

From the Granite Chief Wilderness to just before you end the trail at Dagget Pass, the TRT definitely has more of a wilderness feel. The Desolation Wilderness is a definite highlight, but the Carson Mountains on the Nevada side are also dramatic and a bit less used than the other wilderness sections on the PCT portion of the trail.

Overall, the TRT was a good trail to hike. Don’t expect to hike the trail to immerse yourself in a backcountry experience. Rather, hike the trail to enjoy a unique way of seeing Tahoe and going through some wonderful terrain.

Logistics and planning info

(Thanks to Mark “Skeeter” Hudson, “Lost in Space” and Tom Weir for additional info on this trail)

My usual blurb: This info is not meant to answer all the questions you may have about the Tahoe Rim Trail or backpacking. It is merely an overview to make planning a bit easier. As always, consult with the guidebook, maps and other resources before heading off into the mountains.


Tahoe Rim Trail Assoc: The first place to start is the Tahoe Rim Trail Associations (TRTA) website http://www.tahoerimtrail.org/ The TRTA website has much info on resupply, maps, a TRT forum,  recent trail info, membership info, schwag, etc.

PCT-L Mailing List: Not TRT specific, but many people on the list live in the area. Plus the Pacific Crest Trail is on the TRT for approx 50 miles. I found some helpful info on this list. http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/pct-l

Tahoe Rim Trail Guidebook: Though I bought the book, I did not use it on the trail. Probably best for someone new to the world of long distance hiking. An experienced long distance hiker really does not need the guidebook. It is useful for post-trail recollection, detailed planning and learning more about the area you will be hiking through.

Post Holer TRT Googlemap: Cool little overview of the TRT route. Can be linked in to your journal if you host it on the Postholer site. http://postholer.com/gmap/gmap.php?trail_id=12&lat=39.169105&lon=-120.148772&zoom=10


Though the trail is well marked, maps are always suggested.  Useful for scouting out potential campsites, figuring the water situation, etc.

The Tom Harrison TRT Map: Avail on the TRT website and online.  Complete map of the TRT and surrounding areas with detailed mileage info

TRT Elevation Profile Map Also for purchase on the  TRTA website “(the map) gives a whole new perspective. This map shows a cross-section of the terrain – along with mileage, elevation, GPS Waypoints, junctions, water sources, and complete trail information. Also included is an aerial reference map which supports the Elevation-Profile Trail Map with all relevant trail information. …and it’s waterproof!”

Tahoe Rim Trail “brochure” Maps: I wish I saw these before I did the trail! Free topo maps you can print out. Has basic mileage info and you can easily look at the section of the map you need for the day vs. pulling out a full map.  http://www.tahoerimtrail.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79&Itemid=119

Simply click on the map section and go to the bottom of the page and click on the button cleverly labeled MAP. 🙂

Example of map

Pemits The only permit needed is one for the Desolation Wilderness. Both day hikers and people camping overnight need a permit. For day use, you can pick up a permit at the Echo Lake trailhead. (If going counter-clockwise, there is none at the wilderness boundary. The ranger I saw was cool when I explained that there was no permit avail at the boundary and I was not camping in the Desolation wilderness for the night).

If you plan on camping in the Desolation Wilderness, please see this website for more info:                               http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/ltbmu/recreation/wilderness/desowild/permits.shtml

Looks like you can pick up a day use permit ahead of time as well.

When to go?:

  • Early Summer I started in early summer. Water was flowing nicely, there was lots of daylight and the weather was perfect. However, a few areas (Desolation, just north of Barker Pass, Mt. Baldy) had some snow. Being from Colorado (and a CDT veteran), navigating  in the early summer snow was not a huge deal for me.  The mosquitoes between Barker Pass and the north end of the Desolation Wilderness were also..interesting. Deet was my friend!
  • Mid-late Summer: Still longer days, no snow, no insects. Very hot it seems based on my early summer start. Water resources may be scarce in certain sections
  • Fall: Cool weather, no insects, less people, no snow issues.  Shorter days.  Water may be scarce.


Unusual for a long trail, the TRT is a loop trail. Start and end in the same place. Easy-peasy/mac-n-cheesy!

So which direction to go?

All depends on where you start. For me, going counter-clockwise from from Kingsbury broke up the resupply almost in half and made small carry from Echo Lake for my last few days.  Plus, I went south bound on the Pacific Crest Trail and met some of the PCT thru-hikers. I had gone North Bound when I did the PCT, so it gave me a different feel.

FWIW, most people seem to go clockwise and the guidebook and section maps are written from the perspective as well.

In the end, one way is not really that different from the other. All depends on what is best for your particular starting point, how much food you are willing to carry and if you wish to go into a town or not.

Logistics: Where to start? How do I get to the start of the trail?

Because the Tahoe Rim Trail is a loop, logistics are super easy. Simply start in one place, hike for 165ish miles and then end your hike. But where to start? There are a few places that make sense based on if you are driving and wish to park, flying in or taking public transit.

The Tahoe Rim Trail Assoc. (TRTA) suggests two places:

  • Tahoe Meadows: hiking clockwise. This works great for caching/buying food more evenly around the trail. You do need to take a taxi to get there and there is no easy shuttle service. Probably best if you are driving in. Has a large trailhead parking lot that near a main road. Is probably secure, but nothing is 100%.
  • Tahoe City as a second choice as it provides food and hotels close to the trailhead if you are traveling a long distance and need a place to stay before you start your trek. As with Tahoe Meadows, there is a large trailhead parking lot that is near a major area.

Additionally, I suggest:

  • Kingsbury Grade: By far the easiest option if you are flying in. Going counter-clockwise, Tahoe City is at just the under half way point for resupply. South Lake Tahoe is less than 4 miles away with all the services a hiker needs for both post and pre-trail hiking (Cheap motels, large grocery store, restaurants, Sporting goods store, hardware store with outdoor supplies, too)  . Plus you get to end on a downhill grade! Woo hoo! Lazy thru-hikers like me REJOICE!
    If flying, simply follow these steps:
  1. Fly into Reno
  2. Take the South Lake Tahoe Express shuttle from the airport http://www.southtahoeexpress.com/
  3. Get dropped off in Stateline, NV at one of many places.  You are now 4 miles from the trail (N. Benjamin Road)
    • You can pick up some last minute supplies in South Lake Tahoe literally a few minutes walk away(food, fuel canisters, HEET) if need be. Or, if getting in late, grab a motel and start the hike the following day. South Lake Tahoe is a large town by hiker standards. It has EVERYTHING.
      • Alternately if don’t need any of the above OR you just need to pick up a pre-mailed stove/canisters or buy some fuel, you can be dropped off at the LAKESIDE stop  in the small village TAHOE VILLAGE (actually part of STATE LINE. They have a hardware store, two convenience stores a few restaurants and a Post Office.  It is about 3 miles from the start of the trail at N. Benjamin Rd.
        (see FUEL and MAILDROPS below if you are new to long distance hiking and not sure how to do a maildrop and/or mail fuel)
  4. To get to Kingsbury Grade , hoof it, use the BlueGo Transit or one of the private shuttle services/taxis based in the area.
  5. Start hiking!  You can get back by reversing the directions. 🙂
  • Echo Lake Another option that has been suggested by others. The trailhead is a well used area for leaving your car. Nearby is the Berkley Echo Lake Camp. Only. 25 miles away. They are very familiar with the hiker scene as they welcome hikers. Would be a good place to take a rest day, or for pre and post trail lodging for budget minded travelers. You *may* be able to park your car at the camp as well for secure parking.  It is a seasonal camp and closes in the Fall. Here’s the info directly from them as listed on the PCT site:
    Berkeley Echo Lake Camp  http://www.echocamp.org/  530-659-7506 



    Located 1/4 mile south of Echo Lake on Echo Lake Road. Ten miles from Lake Tahoe. We generally have plenty of space for drop-in visitors. For $32 a day, cash, you can have three hot meals, hot showers, use of the swimming pool and most other facilities. Stay in a large tent cabin with bunks and mattresses.


For information on other trailheads and transportation info throughout the length of the TRT area, use this link from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.


Resupply is easy as there are three on trail resupply places (Tahoe City, Echo Lake, Tramway Market) and three easily reached off trail places (Incline Village, South Lake Tahoe/Tahoe Village (Stateline) and Kings Beach).

Depending upon your pace and where you started, usually Tahoe City, Echo Lake and Tramway Market are adequate. If you are doing slower, don’t want to carry a lot of food, want more than eeking out food at Echo Lake or Tramway or simply want a rest day, Incline Village, Kings Beach and South Lake Tahoe/Tahoe Village break up the trail quite nicely.

(Mileage is derived from maps online, plus the approx 3+ miles of road walking at Kingsbury Grade that does not appear to be the listed mileage on the maps)


TOWN Miles from Kingsbury/ No Benjamin Rd Miles from Tahoe City Miles from Echo Lake Miles from Tahoe Meadows Notes
(counter-clockwise) (clockwise) (clockwise) (clockwise)
Incline Village 38.3 38,1 68.0 0.0 ~4 miles off trail
Hitch from Tahoe Meadows (HWY 431).  I did not go into Incline Village, but it has a Raley’s grocery store, PO, and looks to have some lodging, restaurants, and outdoor stores. The TRTA is based in Incline Village.  SHUTTLE info posted earlier may be useful in getting to/from Incline Village if you don’t want to hitch.
Kings Beach 57.2 18.9 68.1 144.7 ~3 miles off trail
Hitch from HWY 267 (Brockway Summit)

Grocery store, PO, restaurants, lodging, outdoor stores. Again, I did not go to this town personally.  Any feedback is appreciated. SHUTTLE info posted earlier may be useful in getting to/from Kings Beach if you don’t want to hitch.

Tahoe City 76.4 0.0 49.2 125.8 ON TRAIL
Savers Market is only .25 off trail. Has PO, restaurants, lodging and outdoor stores. Alpenglow Sports is a good sized outfitter and is not far from where the trail crosses through Tahoe City.
Echo Lake Resort 125.6 116.7 0.0 81.6 ON TRAIL
Small general store with limited supplies. Enough food to eek out 2-3 days if you aren’t picky. Has ice cream and beer!   Lodging avail.  Small PO that  takes maildrops.  THE RESORT  CLOSES SOMETIME AFTER LABOR  DAY WEEKEND. PLEASE SEE WEBSITE FOR DETAILS. http://www.echochalet.com/ Berkley Youth Camp is only .25 miles away and offer meals/lodging for hikers (see LOGISTICS info above). As with Echo Lake resort, it is seasonal only.  After Labor Day weekend,  you may have to carry more food or hitch into South Lake Tahoe.
South Lake Tahoe ~13 miles off trail

Where the TRT crosses HWY 50 (Echo Summit), you could hitch into South Lake Tahoe if you are really need a town fix! SLT has everything a grubby hiker needs…

Tramway Market at Heavenly 0.0 76.4 106.3 40.3 ON TRAIL 


The Tramway Market at Heavenly (on the roadwalk)  has some limited supplies. They take  maildrops.  Same plaza has a couple of misc. restaurants. Lodging avail as well at this point if you need some RnR!


~3 or 4 miles off trail

Tahoe Village is 3 miles from Kingsbury Grade. South Lake Tahoe is one mile from Tahoe Village and 4 miles from Kingsbury Grade. See amenities mentioned in LOGISTICS info above.  Local transportation will pick up/drop off hikers. Please see SHUTTLES section for more info


Since many people doing the TRT may be new to long distance hiking, I’ll give a brief example of how to make a maildrop. A maildrop is a package with your food and other supplies you need for a stretch of trail. Though buying groceries in the stores works well for many people, some people like the convenience of picking up a package or have dietary restrictions.  A maildrop may also be needed if you have to have mail a stove (post 9/11 security) or pick up fuel canisters to start the trip.

Personally, I don’t think maildrops are needed (except for possibly mailing a stove) except for maybe Echo Lake and Tramway Market depending on how long your next resupply stretch may end up being.

To mail a maildrop, bundle up your box, label it with a return address and send out the package using the following example:

Joe Hiker                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
c/o General Delivery                                                                                                                                                                                                
Somewhere, CA 55555                                                                                                                                                                                          
Please Hold for Tahoe Rim Trail hiker, eta 7/10/10

Places where you may send a maildrop are:

  • Incline Village, NV 89451
  • Kings Beach, CA 96143
  • Tahoe City, CA 96145
  • (A very small PO w/ limited hours.  If you say ” Please” and “Thankyou”, you’ll probably be able to pick up your package when the general store is open.
  • Stateline, NV‎ 89449 (This is the one in Tahoe Village)
  • South Lake Tahoe, CA 96151   (This is the main PO. May be hard to get to unless you use the local transit system)
  • Tramway Market       SEND BY UPS/FEDEX, NOT USPS.    
Joe Hiker                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
c/o Tramway Market                                                                                                                                                                                                  
235 Tramway Dr                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Stateline, NV 89449


  • White Gas: Every stop but Echo Lake and Tramway Market
  • HEET: Every stop but Echo Lake. Not sure about Tramway Market.
  • Canisters: South Lake Tahoe,  Tahoe City. Maybe Stateline/Tahoe Village at the hardware store. I did not check. Not sure about Kings Beach or Incline Village.

If you wish to mail yourself a canister, use the same directions as for a maildrop, but additionally you’ll need to use these steps http://www.gottawalk.com/shipping_fuel.htm


Parts of the trail are dry, esp the northern half between Kingsbury North and Tahoe City.

The stretches with 10 miles or more without water are as follows:

  • Kingsbury North to Spooner Summit – 12.2 miles (plus a .6 (point six)  r/t hike to and from Spooner Lake)
  • Spooner Summit to Ophir Creek (about 1 mile before Tahoe Meadows) – approx 22 miles
  • Third Creek to Watson Lake – about 20 miles

All depends on the time of the year. Early summer with the snow melt, no problem. Seasonal streams are running and water is ample.   In the Fall? Not so much. Mud Lake just off the trail may not be reliable source of water later in the hiking season. A hiker can break up this stretch by hiking 1 mile r/t to Gray Lake just north of the TRT. It is about half-way in this section. The lake is supposed to  make for some nice camping. Consult your map and/or guidebook for details.

  • Watson Lake to Tahoe City – 12.5 miles


Additional questions?  Have information to add? (Esp about the towns, services and supplies)  Please give me a shout!

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Dale Combs
Dale Combs
13 years ago

Thanks for posting. Great info. My last hike of similar length I went from Hetch Hetchy to Wawona,
bus to Yosemite Falls, back to Hetch Hetchy. Avoid Half-Dome, PCT and JMT. A big doughnut.

I like reading your stuff.

Sean Breckling
Sean Breckling
11 years ago

This was a great read. I plan to do it in late June / early August this year. Your supply notes are going to be a huge help. Thanks!