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Tahoe Rim Trail Thru-hike: Planning and Logistics

The Tahoe Rim Trail circles Lake Tahoe for 171 miles, passing through two states, three wilderness areas, and overlapping with 50 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.  The TRT is a National Recreation Trail open to hikers, equestrians, and (in some places) mountain bikers.

Since thru-hiking the PCT in 2015 I’ve been itching to get out on another long trail—I’ve considered the Colorado Trail, but that would require a five-week, 500ish-mile commitment with a lot of logistics. The Tahoe Rim Trail was a perfect solution: it’s close to the Bay Area where I live and do-able in under two weeks—but still provides the satisfaction of a thru-hike. It’s also gorgeous.

My plan was to squeeze a solo hike into 11 days in August between PCTA trail crew work and Labor Day weekend with friends at a USFS lookout tower. Unfortunately, the trail work was postponed after the Donnell Fire closed the PCT section where we would have been working. I considered adding some days to the start of my hike, but since I already had motel reservations I figured I’d just stick with the original schedule.

  • Planning: I googled for trip reports, read through the TRTA’s website, purchased Tim Hauserman’s TRT guidebook, and of course bought the TRT guide in Guthook’s app. After my PCT hike I feel confident in my ability to create a solid daily plan via spreadsheet and then adapt once I’m actually on the trail.
  • Permits: Two permits are required (one if you’re going stoveless): a California Campfire Permit for operating a stove (available online), and a thru-hiker permit for the Desolation Wilderness (which you can get for $20 by calling 530-543-2694 within 14 calendar days of the day you’ll enter Desolation—it’s either mailed to you or you can pick it up in person in South Lake Tahoe).
  • Starting/ending point: clockwise from Tahoe City, California. I chose this for several reasons. Tahoe City has motel and restaurant options, trailhead parking, and splits the trail fairly evenly with the Kingsbury Grade—a good option for a halfway resupply and rest stop. I also liked the idea of saving the Desolation Wilderness and all its beautiful lakes—along with my PCT mini-victory-lap—for the end of my hike. And, I’ll be honest, the precise and ceremonious parts of me liked starting from (close to) Mile 0 in Guthook’s guide.
  • Parking: 64 Acres Park, Tahoe City. Since I would be hiking in between two car-required activities, I needed a place to leave my car for eleven days. It’s surprisingly hard to find clear info on longterm parking for a TRT hike.  The Tahoe Rim Trail Association parking page has a map showing trailheads with parking, but nothing makes it clear where overnight parking is allowed or recommended. I called a few different offices in Tahoe City and got conflicting information, but I settled on parking my car at the 64 Acres trailhead lot, Guthook Mile 170.6. (Spoiler alert: success! My car was un-towed, un-ticketed, and un-broken-into when I returned.)
  • Schedule: 11 days total, with 10 days hiking and one full rest day. The full “zero day” in Stateline (two nights in an Airbnb) ended up feeling a bit unnecessary—I could have done two “neroes” (“near-zero” days) instead and chipped some daily mileage off the second half of the trip. But it sure was nice to have a whole day off. No regrets.
  • Food: As on the PCT, I ate tortilla-based lunches, home-constructed dinners (a just-add-boiling-water carbohydrate base with freeze-dried veggies, meat, and lots of butter powder), and a ton of snacks. I aimed for 3000+ calories a day but wasn’t too strict about it since it’s a relatively short hike. Being unwilling to wean myself off caffeine like I did for the PCT, I carried Starbucks Via packets (meh) and heated water in the mornings for my caffeine fix. I prepared 95% of my food ahead of time and then bought essentials like Doritos and a block of cheddar cheese right before and during my hike.
  • Resupply: Stateline, Nevada. I broke my hike into two five-day segments, starting at Tahoe City with my first five days of food and pausing at the Kingsbury Grade (Highway 207, Guthook Mile 78.1) to pick up my resupply for the next five days in Stateline, Nevada. My Airbnb host graciously agreed to receive/hold both my resupply box and my Desolation Wilderness permit for me.
  • Gear merits its own post, but the short version is: Nemo 2P Hornet Elite tent, Zpacks quilt, NeoAir XLite mattress, Zpacks Arc Blast backpack, Gossamer Gear hiking poles, Hoka One One running shoes, and Ursack + Opsaks for food protection. I carried an inline Sawyer water filter fitted to my Platypus water bladder and had the capacity to carry 6 liters of water—which was necessary for some long water carries and dry camping on the eastern side of the lake. I didn’t cache water anywhere along the trail ahead of time, though many people do.

My carefully calculated mileage plan didn’t even last through the first day, so I just tried to hit my mileage goal for each day—15.6 miles/day for the first five days and 18.6 miles/day for the last five days.

Everything went pretty much to plan, and there’s not much I would change other than a few minor gear tweaks, some preplanned water caches to reduce the amount of water I had to carry in the first half of the hike, and an extra day in the second half to bring my daily mileage down.

The Tahoe Rim Trail is exquisitely maintained, extremely well-signed, and deservedly popular—it’s a truly beautiful hike with spectacular views, accessible to all types of hiking and riding. I thoroughly enjoyed it! My day-by-day trip report with photos is coming soon.

4 comment on “Tahoe Rim Trail Thru-hike: Planning and Logistics

  • Tim Walters
    2018-09-25 | 12:30 AM

    Thanks so much for these posts. They’re really great. I’m on a rest day on the trt in Stateline right now and have basically been following in your footsteps. Not to ruin the ending of your story, but where did you camp for the second half of the trip? I’m struggling to divide it up…

    • Bucket
      2018-09-25 | 11:13 PM

      Hey Tim – I dry camped every night on the second half of my hike, as well, and aimed for ridgelines with views. I camped at Mile 96, a bit off-trail from Mile 114.7, at Dick’s Pass, and then at Mile 159.4 on my last night before returning to Tahoe City. That last site was epic, but it was also an epically long hiking day that led to it — I passed up a bunch of possible sites right after Barker Pass Trailhead and at the North Fork of Blackwood Creek because I would have had neighbors.

      I had to average 3 miles/day more on the second half of my trip, so in retrospect I would have added an extra day of hiking, if I’d had the time. Enjoy your hike!

  • Kai Malloy
    2019-04-24 | 10:29 AM

    Really enjoyed your write up! I am considering thru hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail next summer, but have a water related question for you:

    You mention wishing you had cached water on the first part of your hike. I am wondering how water caches on the TRT work? And where do most people cache? Thanks!

    • Bucket
      2019-04-25 | 12:53 PM

      Hi Kai – I’m glad it’s been useful for you. Most water caches are at trailheads where the trail crosses a major road. If you were to cache water, I would suggest driving to those spots right before you start your hike, leaving gallon jugs of water — some labelled for you, with your name and expected arrival date, and some extra ones labelled as fair game for any hikers who need water — and then plan to pass back through after you finish hiking to pick up and recycle any empty containers. Happy hiking!

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