10 Intriguing Tahoe Rim Trail Facts

Hiker on the Tahoe Rim Trail next to Aloha Lake

Federica Grassi / Getty Images

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a long-distance hiking trail that circumnavigates one of the world's oldest lakes—Lake Tahoe, thought to be more than 2 million years old—in the devastatingly scenic Sierra Nevada and Carson ranges. It passes through two states (California and Nevada), six counties, one state park, three national forests, and three wilderness areas, and because there are two cities and a number of other entry points along the loop, hikers can start from almost anywhere.

Lake Tahoe's heavily trafficked rim is popular among trail runners and day hikers, but a brave few attempt to thru-hike the 165-mile loop each year. Here are 10 interesting facts, including unpredictable weather patterns and the strange water dichotomy that often confuses hikers, about the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT).

1. The Tahoe Rim Trail Is 165 Miles Long

Person hiking through Desolation Wilderness on the TRT

Rachid Dahnoun / Getty Images

Some say the TRT runs 161 miles; some say it's 171 miles long. According to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, the group of members and volunteers that oversees and preserves the trail, its official length is 165 miles. The path creates a closed loop around the 192-square-mile Lake Tahoe, although it strays 10 miles or more from the water in some areas. 

2. It Takes About Two Weeks to Hike

The TRT takes between 10 and 15 days to hike, on average. In order to cover the distance in that amount of time, hikers must walk 11 to 16 miles per day. Tahoe City resident Adam Kimble holds the current record for fastest (supported) thru-hike. He ran the entire 165 miles in 37 hours and 12 minutes in 2020. JB Benna holds the record for shortest unsupported thru-hike time, which is 58 hours, 43 minutes, and 12 seconds. The TRTA offers two guided, 15-day thru-hikes of the TRT each year.

3. It Has Eight Official Trailheads

Hikers can hop on the TRT at almost any point with its eight official trailheads: 64 Acres, Tahoe City, Mount Rose Summit, Tahoe Meadows, Spooner, Big Meadow, Echo Lake, and Barker Pass. There are even more "major" trailheads set just off the main loop—including Kingsbury North, Kingsbury South, Upper and Lower Van Sickle Bi-State Park, and Echo Summit—and also a number of "minor" trailheads—Ophir Creek, Buchanan Road, Boulder Lodge, Horse Meadow, Grass Lake Spur, and Ward Creek Road. The distance between the eight official trailheads ranges between 12 and 33 miles. 

4. Most People Hike Clockwise

While hikers can start from any trailhead and hike in either direction (the elevation change is about the same for both), many start from Tahoe City and hike clockwise, saving the 21.6-mile stretch through the Desolation Wilderness for last. The final portion of the hike, in that scenario, is the longest stretch between trailheads and the most physically demanding, due to steep climbing.

5. The TRT Experiences Rapid Weather Changes

One of the TRT's most distinguishing features is its dramatic weather. For eight to nine months out of the year, the entire trail is covered in snow. (In fact, people thru-hike wearing skis and snowshoes in the winter.) Then, in the summer, it's practically void of precipitation save occasional storms rolling in from the Sierra Nevada mountains. Temperatures can get as high as 80 F from June to August, but hikers must prepare for snow and freezing temperatures any time of year.

6. Drinking Water Is Sparse

Aloha Lake surrounded by forest and mountains

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Despite the TRT's constant proximity to a colossal freshwater lake—North America's largest alpine lake, to boot—and that the water in that lake is some of the purest in the world—only 0.004% less pure than distilled water—the trail is surprisingly dry. While Lake Tahoe's water is mostly safe to drink unfiltered, the shallow water accessible from shore isn't. The trail rarely gets close enough to the lake to steal a slurp in any case. 

Instead, hikers rely on other lakes, natural springs, campground water pumps, and public restrooms for water. The largest dry stretch is more than 11 miles.

7. Wildfires Are a Major Concern on the TRT

The Lake Tahoe Basin is categorized as a "fire environment" because summers are dry, and the area is brimming with flammable vegetation. Fire is a natural and necessary part of maintaining a healthy forest ecosystem, but hikers must be careful not to start a wildfire or be caught in one, as hiking through smoke can lead to respiratory issues. To minimize the risk of starting a fire, wood and charcoal fires are prohibited in the backcountry.

8. Part of the TRT Overlaps With the Pacific Crest Trail

The Tahoe Rim Trail and the famous Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada, share a 49-mile stretch above Lake Tahoe's west shore. This section cuts through the taxing Desolation Wilderness between Echo Summit and Barker Pass. Considering hundreds of people thru-hike the PCT every year, this portion of the TRT can get especially crowded in the summer.

9. Its Highest Point Is Relay Peak

The entire TRT is high in elevation—the lowest point being 6,240 feet, near Tahoe City—and portions of it require strenuous climbing. Its highest point is Relay Peak, 10,338 feet, which is also one of the highest points of the Lake Tahoe Basin. The entire trail features 24,400 feet of elevation gain and loss, and the Relay Peak portion alone is a 10-mile roundtrip hike.

10. The Trail Is Open to Mountain Bikers and Equestrians, Too

Person mountain biking the TRT with Tahoe view below

Jeff Moser / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

There are less rules for the TRT than there are for longer-haul hikes like the PCT. The trail can be completed not just on foot, but also on mountain bike, skis, or horseback. Dogs, goats, and llamas have hiked the TRT, as the entire trail is open to horses and stock except a small section between Relay Ridge and Tahoe Meadows.

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