How Difficult is the Tahoe Rim Trail?

The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) is a 170-mile long hiking trail that forms a loop around the Lake Tahoe Basin in the Sierra Nevada and Carson ranges of California and Nevada. Hikers, cyclists and nature enthusiasts from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the TRT for its famous distance trekking and mountain biking adventures. 

Backpacker.com deemed the TRT “one of the most moderate long trails in the world.” With multiple trail options, each presenting its own unique challenges and hiking difficulties, many outdoors adventurers find themselves returning to TRT to conquer new trails year-over-year. 

You can make hiking the TRT as long or as short as you want. With 10 official trailheads, it’s up to you where to start and finish. If you decide to hike the whole loop in one go (which we recommend you try at some point), you can pace yourself according to your own ability levels. 

Carl Woods, a Tahoe Rim Trail Association Guide, told the Reno Gazette to plan for a minimum of 13 days for a thru-hike. At 13 days, you’ll rack up an average of 10 to 12 miles a day of hiking. “What’s the fun of doing a death march,” Woods said, “You are out there to see what you want to see.” And there’s plenty to see, including sublime views of Lake Tahoe and thousands of different species of native plants. 

Guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail (165 mile loop)

We’ve put together a guide to the TRT, based on the incomparable knowledge of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association. As the trail is a loop, there’s no designated beginning or end. Many hikers, however, decide to start at an easier section so they can work their way up to the more challenging sections near the end of their loop.

Echo Lakes to Barker Pass (32.5 miles)

Starting south of Lake Tahoe at the Echo Lakes Trailhead is the perfect introduction to the TRT. As you pass by the abundance of alpine lakes, including the eponymous Echo Lakes, Lake Aloha, and Heather Lake, notice the contrast between the azure water and glaciated granite. This stretch of the TRT is located in the Desolation Wilderness, which contrary to its name, attracts countless visitors every year due to its breathtaking beauty. Part of this stretch overlaps with the well-known Pacific Crest Trail.

  • Difficulty: Intermediate/Difficult (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 4576 ft
  • Highlights: Pristine alpine lakes, craggy granite peaks, wildflowers (seasonal)

Barker Pass to Tahoe City (16.7 miles)

Continue along the PCT/TRT until you reach Twin Peaks, where the Tahoe Rim Trail splits off toward Tahoe City. Enjoy a leisurely descent through a forest lush with fir and aspen as you head in the direction of Lake Tahoe. You can continue into Tahoe City at this point for a resupply, or camp closer to the trail.

  • Difficulty: Intermediate (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 1864 ft
  • Highlights: Abundant fir and aspen, wildflowers (seasonal), autumnal foliage (seasonal)

Tahoe City to Brockway Summit (19.2 miles)

The first three to four miles of this section are extremely rocky, so watch your footing. This section shows you just how diverse the environment around Lake Tahoe is; in contrast to the granite filled Desolation Wilderness, you’ll hike through fields of wildflowers covering ancient lava flows, and dense coniferous forests filled with fir, cedar, and aspen. 

  • Difficulty: Intermediate/difficult (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 3303 ft
  • Highlights: Views of Lake Tahoe, wildflowers (seasonal)

Brockway Summit to Tahoe Meadows (23.9 miles)

There’s lots of elevation gain along this stretch of the trail, with your first summit about eight miles in at Mount Baldy. Eventually you’ll summit Relay Peak, one of the highest points on the TRT at 10,338 ft, which affords you breathtaking views of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

  • Difficulty: Intermediate/difficult (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 4373 ft
  • Highlights: Views of Lake Tahoe, waterfalls, wildflowers (seasonal)

Tahoe Meadows to Spooner Summit (22.3 miles)

Expect stunning views on this part of the TRT, as you’ll be at a high elevation for most of it. Trek through wildflower filled meadows and conifer forests to reach the most highly photographed part of the TRT, Christopher’s Loop. 

  • Difficulty: Intermediate (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 2929 feet
  • Highlights: Christopher’s Loop, views of Marlette Lake, wildflowers (seasonal)

Spooner Summit to Kingsbury (12.2 miles)

Gentle elevation gains and long stretches of relatively flat terrain will let you rest your legs as you enjoy panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley. You’ll also pass through forests of ancient fir trees and meadows. Keep an eye out for marmots during this section!

  • Difficulty: Intermediate/difficult (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 2135 ft
  • Highlights: Panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, ancient fir trees

Kingsbury to Big Meadow (23.1 miles)

This part starts off with lots of switchbacks and elevation gain, although you’ll be rewarded with views of the Carson Valley. Continue gaining elevation until you reach the crystal clear waters of Star Lake, one of the most beautiful high alpine lakes in the Tahoe Basin. Then you start your descent, and ultimately reach Big Meadow.

  • Difficulty: Intermediate (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 5049 ft
  • Highlights: Views of Carson Valley, Star Lake, views of Lake Tahoe

Big Meadow to Echo Lakes (18.3 miles)

Traversing through this gently rolling landscape of grassy, wildflower-studded meadows, you’ll see even more lakes. At a certain point on the trail, you’ll link back up with the Pacific Crest Trail once again.

  • Difficulty: Intermediate (according to the Hiking Project)
  • Elevation gain: 1764 feet
  • Highlights: Lakes, wildflowers (seasonal)

With its diverse landscape, stunning views, and approachable paths, the Tahoe Rim Trail belongs on every hiker’s bucket list. There are hundreds of guides and insider tips available online and in bookstores that detail this well-traversed trail, so you’ll be well prepared. 

The Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s website is an invaluable resource for the TRT. The Association also hosts two guided thru-hikes during the summer. Depending on your ability level, the perceived difficulty level of the Tahoe Rim Trail might vary. 

With dozens of campsites and 10 official trailheads, there are plenty of opportunities to divide up sections of the trail into shorter days, and many places to resupply. Whether you decide to hike the entire loop, or stick to a day hike, you will not be disappointed. 


Older Post Newer Post