Tahoe Rim Trail: 7 Day Ultralight Backpacking Itinerary and Tips

Though less famous than its southern neighbor the JMT, I think the Tahoe Rim Trail is an excellent short thru hike. What it might lack in remoteness and jaw-dropping scenery, it makes up for with dead-simple logistics. And the scenery, while not quite eastern Sierra level, is very respectable in its own right.

The TRT is worthwhile for any hiker, but I think it especially stands out for two groups: newbies who worry about being too remote (the TRT is never very far from a trailhead and civilization), and experienced folks looking to push their limits. We were the latter, and the TRT’s easy bailout opportunities allowed us to safely attempt a big crazy goal.

After thru hiking the John Muir Trail in 2014 at a much more reasonable pace (18 days from Lyell Canyon), my husband and I decided in 2016 to see if we could get ourselves around Lake Tahoe in one week. That’s 170 miles in seven days. A bit arbitrary? Definitely. But it was the motivation we needed to push ourselves (and to conserve our limited time off work).

Planning a slower pace? Keep reading, because the logistics info in this post can still apply to you. The number of days could be doubled (14) or even tripled (21) for a much more reasonable pace.

In my opinion the TRT is an ideal route for fastpacking and ultralight hiking. The terrain is challenging but approachable enough for long days. It’s a loop, so logistics don’t need to be the hardest part of the trip. And the relative closeness to civilization makes it a reasonable place to test an ultralight gear setup, with options to bail or change plans always within a day’s reach.

Looking back, I see the TRT as my first experiment in fast-and-light style. At the time neither of us had ever hiked 24 miles in a single day (though as ultrarunners, we’d jogged further), let alone for seven days in a row. We had the makings of a pretty lightweight gear setup already, but we fine-tuned it relentlessly. It was our first experiment with bivvies, eating stoveless meals, and other staples of ultralight travel.

Though this was back in 2016, I think the itinerary and learnings from our trip are as relevant today as ever. And with the nearby John Muir Trail becoming increasingly overloaded, I’ve started suggesting the TRT as a possible alternative to the JMT.

In this post I’m sharing our 7 day Tahoe Rim Trail itinerary and trip notes. Our schedule could be followed exactly, modified a bit, or doubled or even tripled for a much more reasonable 14 or 21 day TRT itinerary. In any case, may it serve as potential inspiration for other backpackers in search of a new objective.

Timing: Why 7 Days?

Our goal was to hike the entire 170ish mile Tahoe Rim Trail in one week / seven days, which comes out to an average of about 24 miles per day. This was an appealing goal because:

  • It was a neat and tidy time period.
  • A week was all the time we could take off from work.
  • 25 miles per day seemed like about as much as we could cover while hiking briskly for full daylight hours and still getting reasonable amounts of sleep at night. The goal was a fast and light hike, but not a death march.

We completed this hike in early August of 2016. The weather was warm, clear, and sunny every day. We had no rain, and there were only a couple small patches of snow remaining that posed no issues whatsoever.

Patch of snow on Tahoe Rim Trail
The only snow on the entire trail in August

Trailhead and Direction

We started at Spooner Summit Trailhead and hiked clockwise.

How did we choose Spooner Summit as our start point?

  • We wanted to drive to the start and park our car as close to the trail as possible (Spooner Summit has overnight trailhead parking).
  • We wanted two on-trail (no extra miles or hitchhiking) resupplies evenly spaced throughout the route. Tahoe City was the most obvious, followed by either Echo Lakes or Tramway Market (near Kingsbury South). We found that by starting at Spooner Summit and resupplying at Tahoe City and Echo Lakes, we could divide our 7 days perfectly into 3 chunks.

Why did we choose to hike clockwise? We could have gone either way, but a few reasons tipped the balance:

  • Hiking clockwise from Spooner Summit saved the highest elevation section – up and over Relay Peak – for the end of the hike instead of the beginning. Since we drove up from sea level the day before starting, we figured we could use the extra acclimation time.
  • It was nice to have this scenic section to look forward to for most of the hike.
  • For some reason, clockwise seems most common, so we figured there might be a reason. 🙂

TRT 7 Day Backpacking Itinerary

Here’s the schedule we used to backpack the Tahoe Rim Trail in one week.

Day MilesSegmentNotes
126Spooner Summit to Star Lake
223Star Lake to after Showers LakeCamped 1.5 miles past Showers Lake
321After Showers Lake to after Gilmore LakeLunch and resupply at Echo Lake.
Camped 1.5 miles past Gilmore Lake
425After Gilmore Lake to PCT/TRT junction
525PCT/TRT junction to Watson LakeLunch and resupply in Tahoe City
624Watson Lake to Galena FallsHard day, Relay Peak
725Galena Falls to Spooner Summit
Our first TRT trail sign. Here we go!


Hiking 170 miles over 7 days works out to around 24 miles per day on average, and most of our days ended up being very close to that (21 – 26).

My original plan had us hiking a couple shorter days and a couple longer (29 – 30 mile) days. After the first two days we realized the last few miles really made a big difference in terms of how tired we felt at the end of the day. We decided we’d rather push a steady consistent pace each day than dig too deep on a couple long days and have to pay for it later.

Daily Notes

I didn’t have much time for writing on this hike, nor did I have a camera for taking nice pictures. Here are some minimal daily notes and a few pictures taken with my cheap phone camera.

Sorry these pictures are really bad (cheap phone camera in 2016)! If you’d like to see more and better pictures of the TRT, see my post on 6 Reasons to Backpack the Tahoe Rim Trail with much better pictures taken on more recent trips.

Day 1: Spooner Summit Trailhead to Star Lake

This was a long first day! Highlights included walking under the chairlifts at Heavenly (one of our go-to Tahoe ski resorts in winter), views out over the Nevada desert, and Monument Pass.

Star Lake was a popular camping spot. We had to look a bit to find an available campsite as we arrived late and after dark, but we did eventually find a good one.

Tahoe views right from the start

Day 2: Star Lake to 1.5 miles past Showers Lake

The TRT joins with the PCT during this section, and we saw a few PCT hikers putting our pace to shame despite our attempts at fast hiking. We ate dinner and filled up on water at Upper Truckee River and then continued hiking past Showers Lake for about 1.5 miles, to a great site with nice view over the valley.

Hiking through Big Meadow

Day 3: Past Showers Lake to 1.5 miles past Gilmore Lake

Ate breakfast during a lovely sunrise at camp, then a lot of downhill to Echo Lake for lunch (and ice cream and beer). We resupplied at the little store there and continued on into Desolation Wilderness. The trail was crowded with day hikers through this stretch.

We stopped for dinner and to refill water at a creek just past Gilmore Lake, then hiked on into the late evening, making camp about a mile below Dick’s Pass.

Collecting water from Lake Aloha
Still hiking at sunset

Day 4: Past Gilmore Lake to PCT / TRT Junction

The morning started with a chilly hike over Dick’s Pass, where a few patches of snow still lingered. There were some beautiful wildflowers along the next stretch, and then some long miles of uninspiring forest until Barker Pass Trailhead.

We ate dinner and refilled water at North Fork Blackwood Creek, then hiked uphill until just after dark. We camped near the top of the climb up Twin Peaks, just before the TRT splits off from the PCT.

At Dicks Pass

Day 5: PCT / TRT Junction to Watson Lake

After 11 miles we hit Tahoe City and treated ourselves to lunch at Jiffy’s Pizza. They were kind enough to watch our packs and let us charge our power banks while we resupplied at the Save Mart grocery store.

Then it was a long uphill out of Tahoe City up to Painted Rock. We hiked for a couple hours after sunset to make up for the time spent in town, and saw some cool wildlife: a huge frog, a porcupine, and a group of mountain bikers riding at night with the brightest headlights I’ve ever seen.

Day 6: Watson Lake to Galena Falls

This was the toughest day of the whole week. It felt like the entire day was uphill, including the climb up Relay Peak, the highest point on the trail. The views were great though, and this section felt more remote and quieter than most other stretches of the TRT (few day hikers).

After a few miles of steep downhill from Relay Peak, we camped at Galena Falls, one of the few water sources in this area. We had trouble finding a good tree to hang our food and nearly lost it all when it snagged up high in a tree with too many branches.

Lake Tahoe from TRT
Patch of snow on Tahoe Rim Trail
Tiniest bit of snow on the TRT in August
Backpacker on Relay Peak summit
Relay Peak summit

Day 7: Galena Falls to Spooner Summit Trailhead

Tied a pocket knife to the end of a dead tree trunk and sawed our food down! That took some time, then we were on our way for the final day. This stretch was a bit frustrating, with not many milestones and a lot of mountain bikers on the trail.

We ate a late lunch at Marlette Camp while others there set up camp for the night, then we hiked another 9 miles through a scenic high meadow and then 5 miles of downhill to Spooner Summit Trailhead. We finished in the dark, relieved to see our car right where we left it, and to be done with this challenge!

Next stop: Jack in the Box in South Lake Tahoe.

Near the end…

Food and Resupply

We resupplied and bought lunch at Echo Lakes on day 3 (Echo Chalet restaurant and store) and Tahoe City on day 5. This allowed us to keep our food pretty light.

For simplicity (and because Echo Lakes does not accept mail drops) we chose to resupply from whatever we could buy along the way, instead of mailing packages to ourselves. At Echo Lakes this was a bit expensive and the selection wasn’t amazing, but we were able to find what we needed. In Tahoe City it was easy to find pretty much anything at the grocery store.

We chose to go stoveless on the TRT to keep our pack weight down. This worked pretty well, saving both weight and time, though I think I would have grown tired of it on a longer grip. Here’s what we ate:


Lunch: salami, hard cheese, nut butter, tortillas

Dinner (yes, these work with cold water):

  • Couscous, supplemented with whatever else we could find (freeze dried bean flakes and veggies for the first two days)
  • Ramen
  • Mashed potatoes

Snacks: the usual: nut butter, trail mix, bars, dried fruit

In terms of meal timing, we fell into a rhythm of eating both breakfast and dinner on the trail most days, instead of at camp. Advantages:

  • More chances to rest and break up the long miles
  • Warmer temperatures and sunlight while eating (instead of before sunrise / after dark, when we would typically be in camp)
  • Filtering water while eating on the trail made dry camping easier, so campsite selection was simpler (though we did camp near water most nights anyway)
  • No worries about attracting bears to campsite with food scraps from eating

Bears and Food Storage

As of 2022, bear canisters are required in Desolation Wilderness. Since the TRT spends about 25 miles in Desolation Wilderness, it’s technically possible to hike through in a single long day and avoid carrying a bear canister. However, the requirement was put in place because bear-hiker interactions are increasing in the general Tahoe Basin area. If I were doing this hike today I would carry a bear canister for the entire TRT.

When we did our thru hike in 2016 there was no canister requirement. We carried an Ursack and hung it from trees whenever possible. See Bear Bags vs. Bear Canisters for more detail on this important topic.


We used this hike as an excuse to fine-tune our lightweight gear strategy. We each carried a 30ish liter frameless day pack from Inov-8 (old discontinued models, not particularly fancy or pricey).

Not the greatest picture, but it gives you a sense of my small backpack size.

A few key gear picks:

  • Borah Gear Cuben bivvies
  • Six Moon Designs tarp in case of rain (never used, no rain)
  • Sleeping quilts: my Enlightened Equipment Enigma and my husband’s from Underground Quilts
  • Therm-a-rest Neo Air X-lite sleeping pads
  • Emergency space blanket to add extra warmth to my sleeping setup (I’m a cold sleeper)
  • Ursack Major for food storage, sometimes difficult to find good places to hang it
  • A good headlamp and spare batteries (we did some night hiking)
  • Electronics: phones (used for recording GPS track), SPOT messenger, USB power banks
  • Mosquito repellent: don’t skimp on this!

Read More: My Favorite Lightweight Backpacking Gear

One technique that saved time when making and breaking camp: the “bivy burrito.” Instead of separately rolling up a bivy sack, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag into their respective stuff sacks, we discovered we could simply roll them all up like a burrito and stuff the roll into our packs.

Two bivy sacks at mountain campsite at sunrise
Bivy sacks worked great for this trip


Here is all the clothing I wore and/or carried. My husband used a similar list. Definitely no room here for spare t-shirts or extra socks!

  • Icebreaker merino wool t-shirt
  • Running shorts
  • Running tights for sleeping and warmth
  • Long sleeve merino wool shirt for sleeping and warmth
  • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down jacket
  • Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket
  • White Sierra Trabagon rain pants
  • Sun sleeves for arms
  • Merino wool sports bra
  • Merino wool panties, 2 pair
  • Warm hat (today I would bring my insulated hood, but I didn’t have it back then)
  • Running hat for shade
  • Buff headwear
  • Light gloves
  • DryMax trail socks, 2 pair
  • Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes
  • Sunglasses

For more details on my specific favorites for this kind of lightweight hike, see this post on lightweight clothing for backpacking.


The Tahoe Rim Trail is known to have a few dry sections of 10-20 miles, but when you’re hiking 24 miles a day these are easy to plan around. We only had water issues on one section because we stupidly didn’t fill up at Echo Lakes and then ran dry between there and Lake Aloha.

We each had 4 liters of water capacity: 3 liters in a hydration bladder plus one extra liter in a Platypus foldable bottle. We didn’t always fill everything up, but sometimes we did.

For water filtration we used a Platypus 4 L GravityWorks. Though not exactly ultralight, we appreciated the convenience during our short breaks on long days. If I were doing this today I would probably use a Sawyer Mini + CNOC Vecto 3L instead, because it’s smaller and lighter.

Filtering water from Lake Aloha

Guides and Maps

The section descriptions and maps at tahoerimtrail.org were very helpful with pre-hike planning.

For planning as well as on the trail, we used the Tahoe Rim Trail Pocket Atlas from Blackwoods Press. It’s very small and light, with helpful maps that show good campsites and water sources.

For a view of the big picture in case of potential route changes, bailouts, etc., we carried this Lake Tahoe Basin trail map (I think the Nat Geo or Tom Harrison maps would also work fine).

Final Thoughts

So how do I feel in hindsight about backpacking the Tahoe Tim Trail in a week? While 24 miles per day is rather pedestrian in the world of ultralight hiking and fastpacking, for us at the time it was a pretty big deal.

I’m definitely glad we did it, both for the physical challenge as well as the fine-tuning of lightweight gear and skills. I loved the mix of strength, endurance, mental resolve, logistics, and tactics needed to pull it off.

It was also during this trip, ironically, that I first realized the value of relaxed outdoor adventure. While stopping to scarf a late lunch at a beautiful campsite with 12 miles still to go, I admit to envying the hikers on a more conservative schedule who were already setting up camp, cooking dinner, or reading a book beside a lovely stream.

The TRT really clarified the importance of intentionally choosing a goal and style for each trip. If the goal is about making miles and testing gear, then embrace it and push. But if the goal is to just to spend pleasant time in a beautiful place, that’s fine too. The important part is that everyone in the group is bought into the same goal before starting!

Before this trip my outdoor adventures were a continually escalating series of longer, harder, faster. After the TRT they became more varied and intentionally crafted with different goals in mind. It’s nice to have a range of options, skills, and gear to choose from, especially when one end of that range allows you to move fast and light through the mountains all day long.

Feeling pretty darn excited to be 9 miles from the end of this adventure.

More Backpacking Resources

If you’re dreaming about the Tahoe Rim Trail, you might also be interested in these posts:

Or visit the hiking and backpacking section for lots more.

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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Pictures of Lake Tahoe and hiker in mountains, with text: Tahoe Rim Trail, Fast and Light in 7 days

6 thoughts on “Tahoe Rim Trail: 7 Day Ultralight Backpacking Itinerary and Tips”

  1. Hi there,
    Interesting and informative read – thank you.
    However, the ‘started from sea level’ aspect is something I’d be really grateful if you could expand a little, as I am intending to do the trail next summer and will be flying in from coastal England. As the elevation around the trail is over 6,000ft at its lowest, and quickly rises 2-3,000 ft in some sections, I would be really interested in hearing if you had any altitude sickness symptoms, or even any negative reactions of a lesser nature? I am struggling to find specific reports regarding this (everything relevant I’ve found around elevation issues seems to be very general and doesn’t really address the day-to-day sectional changes of the trt itself). Was this ever a concern? Or are the changes gradual enough in practice to make this a non-issue – especially regarding the highest point over 10,000 ft? Thank you in advance for any clarification you can shine on this.

    • Hi Andre, I’m glad to hear you’ll be doing the trail! Though we coastal folks will definitely notice increased effort on the uphills, most fit people cope fine up to at least 8000 or 9000 feet. I would suggest you spend a night or two around 5000 feet or higher before you start, and try to plan your trip so that the high point isn’t during the first 1-2 days. If you’re feeling a little weak up high, plan to camp lower where possible, and drink a little extra water than you normally would. It would be normal to feel winded on the uphills and maybe slightly headachey or not interested in eating food at the higher points, but nothing more serious than that.

  2. Hey Alissa, were you satisfied with your clothing selections? Was there anything you could have left behind?

    I’m planning on doing the TRT the first 10 days of August this year. Feeling really unsure about what clothes to bring – thankfully I have plenty of time to figure it out. For reference, I am a thin but tall woman, so not a lot of built-in insulation. I was thinking about bringing the following:

    OR Echo sun shirt with hoody
    Patagonia Baggies shorts
    Ball cap
    Darn tough socks
    Altra Lone Peaks

    EE Torrid Hoody marsupial
    Dance pants or merino baselayer bottom
    Plastic rain poncho
    1 extra pair darn toughs and underwear
    Smart wool merino beanie liner (thin)

    Also, my EE Revelation quilt is a 10*, so keep that in mind for sleeping.

    Thanks so much any feedback!

    • Hi Erica, your list looks reasonable, though a little on the chilly side for me personally. I always bring a midweight merino wool shirt for hiking when it’s cold – much better temperature regulation than trying to hike in a puffy or rain gear. I also frequently wear or even sleep in rain gear (lightweight jacket and pants) as extra warmth in dry weather, which doesn’t work so well with a poncho.

      Weather on the TRT in August should be pretty nice, and if your schedule doesn’t require hiking in early morning or evening your current packing list could work. I think my husband could get away with a packing list similar to yours, for example, but I run cold and would want a bit more warmth myself.

      I used all the clothes mentioned above in my gear list and wouldn’t have wanted to leave anything behind, though if I *had* to choose one thing to leave behind it would have been the rain pants.

      Hope this helps! Have a wonderful hike.

  3. Great write up! Just a heads up to anyone considering this, the SaveMart in Tahoe City is now closed. There is a Safeway about a half mile further east into town…


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