6 Reasons to Backpack the Tahoe Rim Trail (and 4 Challenges to Be Aware Of)

Dreaming of a bite-sized thru hike this summer? The Tahoe Rim Trail should be on your list!

This 165 mile trail encircles beautiful (and massive!) Lake Tahoe along its mountainous rim, offering plenty of lake views and the chance to hike across the California-Nevada state line and back again.

The Tahoe basin is one of my favorite places, and a spot I return to again and again for outdoor adventure. I can practically feel the warm sun, smell the pine trees, and hear the crunch of granite dust underfoot as I write this.

The Tahoe Rim Trail, or TRT for short, is not as famous as its nearby cousin the John Muir Trail. But it’s a worthy hike in its own right, with many advantages. I’ve thru hiked the TRT (as well as the JMT and quite a few other trails) and I’m here to tell you why this trail should be on your backpacking bucket list.

Near Dick’s Pass in Desolation Wilderness on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Simple Logistics

A rarity among thru hikes, even short ones: the Tahoe Rim Trail is a loop! This means you never have to retrace your steps, but you also don’t have to deal with public transport, hitchhiking, or car shuttles in order to finish where you started.

Resupply is fairly easy on the TRT, as long as you’re willing to hike or hitch a few miles into the towns along the way. You have the option to mail packages to yourself, or you can just stay flexible and shop as you go.

Not Too Far From Civilization

This can seem like a disadvantage to many, but if you’re newer to backpacking and thru hiking, it’s a benefit!

On the TRT you’re rarely more than a few hours’ hike from a trailhead. You nave numerous options for bailing out, mostly downhill into the communities surrounding Lake Tahoe.

This makes the Tahoe Rim Trail perfect for a first thru hike or an experiment in a new style (ultralight gear, big miles, etc). If it doesn’t work out, the TRT offers many options for safe exit.

Can you believe it’s possible to enjoy views like this but still be relatively close to civilization?

(Mostly) Good Weather

It’s always smart to be ready for storms in the mountains. It does rain in the Tahoe area during summer, and it could occasionally snow on the highest peaks. Avoid high passes and peaks during thunderstorms! ⚡

That said, the Sierra is known for its relatively stable and sunny weather especially in later August and early September. Compared to the Colorado Trail in July, where you’ll be planning every day around afternoon storms, the TRT is likely to be a fairly sunny hike.

But still bring rain gear! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Weather on the TRT is often clear enough to sleep without rain shelter, but you should have one anyway just in case.

Amazing Scenery

There’s a reason tourists flock to scenic Lake Tahoe every summer to gaze at the biggest alpine lake in North America. When you backpack the Tahoe Rim Trail you’ll enjoy all those premium lake vistas from the highest viewpoints.

The TRT doesn’t have constant Tahoe views, but that’s a good thing. Expect plenty of jagged mountains, granite basins, lush meadows, and peaceful forests too.

The TRT offers plenty of stellar Tahoe views

Easy Permits

Some trails are so popular that getting a permit can be the hardest part! The Tahoe Rim Trail, at least currently, is not one of them.

Permits for the TRT are available to all who apply and only need to be reserved a week or two before starting. No lottery, no setting calendar reminders for six months in advance. If you want to thru hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, permits won’t stand in your way.

I’m in favor of protecting our trails from overuse, so I know permits are important, but sometimes it’s refreshing to hike a trail that doesn’t require them. Let’s all be sure to Leave No Trace so it stays this way!

Fontanillis Lake, in Desolation Wilderness along the TRT

Dog Friendly

If you have a backpacking pup in your life, the Tahoe Rim Trail is the perfect chance to tackle a thru hike together. The entire trail is dog-friendly, so as long as you follow the guidelines you can feel good about bringing your furry friend along.

Drawbacks of Hiking the TRT

As with everything in life, no trail has only highlights and no drawbacks. Here are a few minor annoyances you’ll have to deal with if you thru hike the Tahoe Rim Trail (but don’t worry, it’s totally worth it).

Day users: Some sections of the TRT are quite busy with day hikers, mountain bikers, and even local residents out for a stroll. This can feel odd when you’ve been out on the trail for days or weeks (without a shower…) but don’t worry, you’ll meet other backpackers too.

Bears: Black bears can be a problem in the Tahoe Basin, and no one wants to create a “problem bear” by allowing a bear to develop a taste for hiker food. Bear canisters are required in the Desolation Wilderness section of the TRT, and wise to carry on the rest of the trail as well.

Bear canisters are required on parts of the Tahoe Rim Trail to keep your food, and the bears, safe.

Mosquitos: During snowmelt season when standing water abounds, the trails around Tahoe (and the entire Sierra) come alive with mosquitos. Definitely pack some repellent and perhaps a head net, and plan on sleeping in an enclosed shelter. Waiting until August or later is often best for avoiding the worst of it.

Fires: The last few years have seen some catastrophic fire seasons in the Sierra, and Tahoe has been heavily affected. When planning a backpacking trip, know that there’s always a chance of trail closures or heavy smoke especially late in the summer.

Despite these minor annoyances, the Tahoe Rim Trail is a fantastic thru hike. Whether you’re a newbie planning your first big backpacking trip or a thru hiking veteran looking to recapture that long walk high, the TRT is an excellent choice.

Learn more at tahoerimtrail.org. Happy trails!

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more here.

Excited about backpacking but need help getting started? The Backpacking Trip Planner Workbook will help you start off on the right foot.

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