Tahoe Rim Trail 2021 trip report – 8 days, 182 miles

Tahoe Rim Trail 2021 trip report – 8 days, 182 miles

Trip date: June 9-16, 2021.

This was my second thru-hike of the TRT. On my first TRT hike in 2018, I missed out on much of the views due to wildfire smoke. This time around, I headed out earlier in the summer to avoid getting caught in the middle of fire season. The 2020-2021 winter was the third-driest winter on record, so the snow was not a major issue despite the early date.

This time around, I wanted to challenge myself physically in addition to enjoying the views and nature. I planned to hike the entire TRT in 8 days and wanted to achieve two personal records by hiking a marathon-distance day (26 miles) and a 30-mile day (50k).

Itinerary

DayStartEndDistanceElevation gain
1Echo LakesRichardson Lake26.3 miles4,670 ft
2Richardson LakeTahoe City22.7 miles2,870 ft
3Tahoe CityWatson Lake14.2 miles3,050 ft
4Watson LakeGalena Falls24.7 miles5,020 ft
5Galena FallsSouth of Spooner27.9 miles3,700 ft
6South of SpoonerSouth Lake Tahoe20.4 miles2,850 ft
7South Lake TahoeRound Lake30.9 miles6,440 ft
8Round LakeEcho Lakes15.2 miles2,400 ft
Total182.3 miles31,000 ft
Avg/day22.8 miles3,875 ft

Echo Lakes to Richardson Lake

I got an early start from home and arrived at the trailhead a little after 8 in the morning. The air was crisp underneath a clear blue sky.

I planned only to spend one night between Echo Lakes and Tahoe City. My backpack was light with only two half days worth of food. Because there are plenty of water sources on the lake’s western side, I didn’t have to carry more than a liter of water—a nice and light start to the trip.

After a heatwave the week before, the air was surprisingly cold. It made the climb easier for sure.

As the trail gained altitude, I got beautiful views of Echo Lakes and Tamarack Lake. I arrived at Lake Aloha before lunch and stopped along the shore for a short snack break. I met a group of snowboarders that had hiked up with their gear, trying to ride the last patches of snow for the season.

After Lake Aloha, the trail dips down to Susie Lake, skirting the incredibly blue Heather Lake. From Susie Lake, the trail starts gaining elevation as you approach Dick’s Pass. At this point, dark clouds were starting to roll over the mountains to the west, accompanied by a bitterly cold breeze.

I stopped for a brief snack break on top of the pass behind some pines for shelter from the wind.

The north side of Dick’s pass still held snow. For a half mile, the trail was mostly covered by snow but navigating in the open forest was easy and it didn’t slow me down much.

As I passed Dick’s Lake it started snowing lightly. The wind carried light ice crystals from where the clouds met the mountains. I layered up and continued on to stay warm.

The section of trail between the Velma Lakes and Richardson Lake is mostly through forest with occasional views of the mountains to the west.

I was dead tired and cold by the time I made it to Richardson Lake. The sun had just set. I made dinner in the fading light and then quickly retreated to the warmth of my quilt.

Two lakes in a forested valley
Looking south over Echo Lakes
A lake with a snowy mountain range on the far side and white granite cliffs on the near shore.
Lake Aloha
A rocky valley with a lake.
Susie Lake in the distance, looking back towards Aloha from the ascent to Dick’s Pass.
Two lakes in the distance. A snow bank in the foreground.
Dick’s and Fontanillis Lakes as seen from Dick’s Pass.
Dark clouds over a mountain lake
Storm clouds gathering over Fontanillis lake.

Richardson Lake to Tahoe City

It got cold overnight. My Bluetooth thermometer inside the tent showed that the temperature dropped down to 27F before sunrise. Brr.

I made some hot coffee and ate breakfast burrowed in my quilt.

After packing up camp, I headed out in search of the morning sun that eluded the lakeshore where I had camped. The trail passes through beautiful meadows as it nears Barker Pass. The warmth of the morning sun felt welcome after the freezing night.

On the other side of Barker Pass, I was greeted by views of Lake Tahoe. I still had one climb left for the day, entering Granite Chief Wilderness. There was still a bit of snow on the north slopes, but nothing that slowed down progress.

Descending from Twin Peaks, I walked through a large area of forest that was being thinned out. Lumber trucks kicked up a dust storm in their wake on the dry dirt road.

From Ward Creek, I only had 3 more miles to go. This time, I decided to take the slightly shorter old TRT which ended up being nicer than the new TRT.

When I got to Tahoe City, I grabbed some late lunch, then checked into a motel. Later, I resupplied at the local Save Mart and picked up a pizza for dinner.

Mist rising over a calm lake
Morning mist over Richardson Lake
A meadow with snow in the foreground
There were still small patches of snow in shady spots on the way up to Barker Pass
A trail leading up to a large rock formation above a lake
A volcanic rock overlooking Lake Tahoe
A pile of lumber
Lumber work along Ward Creek
A trail passing through a meadow
The old TRT passed through nice meadows

Tahoe City to Watson Lake

Today was going to be one of my shortest days because of the long dry stretch after Watson Lake. Because I was in no hurry, I enjoyed a nice big breakfast in town and didn’t hit the trail until after 11.

On the climb up from Tahoe City, I got some excellent views of Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River. The trail passed old volcanic rock formations, then contoured Mount Watson with glimpses of the lake peeking through the trees.

There is a jeep-accessible campground at Watson Lake. When I got there people were driving around with dirt bikes and strolling around the lake in flip-flops with drinks. Not exactly the wilderness experience you might expect from the TRT. I found a secluded spot across the lake from the main campsite for some peace and quiet.

A blue lake in the distance behind a pine forest
View of Lake Tahoe on the climb up from Tahoe City
Two red plants growing out of a rotten log
There were tons of snow flowers popping up everywhere
Cliff overlooking a forested valley
Looking over the Truckee River
A large blue lake surrounded by mountains
Lake Tahoe
A small lake with reeds
Watson Lake

Watson Lake to Galena Falls

My first stop for the day was the small creek just past Watson Lake. A recent comment on Guthook said that the spring in 17 miles is dry. I was skeptical it would be dry this early in the season since it had been flowing well late into last fall according to other comments. Nevertheless, I had to prepare for a 24-mile water carry just in case.

Loaded up with 5 liters of water I set out for the long climb to Relay Peak. I met up with another hiker, Lil Buddha, who was hiking the TRT to get ready for the CDT. We hiked together for most of the day.

At Brockway Summit, we stopped to chat with a group of Tahoe Rim Trail representatives and shared some info on trail conditions.

The trail passed through a nice, shaded, forest for the first several miles of the day. As we emerged out of the forest, we got magnificent views of Incline Village and the lake below us.

The spring was still flowing, as I had suspected, but I still had plenty of water. I enjoyed a short snack break in the shade next to the spring before the final push to Relay Peak.

Just before the summit, I hit some lingering snow drifts. Again, they were small enough to navigate around with ease.

After admiring the views on the summit a while, I continued to Galena Falls and camp. At this point, I had ascended over 5,000 feet and I could definitely feel it. I was ready for some dinner and rest.

I filtered some water beneath the falls so I could dry camp a bit higher up, hoping to avoid mosquitoes. I found a nice spot and ate some well-deserved dinner. According to my watch, I had burned 3,700 calories – far more than I had eaten.

Two 1-liter bottles, one 2-liter soft bottle, and one 1-liter soft bottle.
5+ liters of water for the long dry stretch
A hiker at a cliff overlooking Lake Tahoe
Tahoe Views
A lake with turquoise water along the shore
Incline Village and the Carson Range
A rocky foreground with open moutain vistas
View from Relay Peak
A small waterfalls running over rocks
Galena Falls

Galena Falls to south of Spooner

I slept well. The only interruption in the quiet night was a group of night hikers that came through singing on the trail just after 3 in the morning, illuminating their way with what can only have been a portable sun.

My plan was to hike to Marlette Campground, just over 16 miles away. But the first stop would be the Mount Rose campground to use the pit toilet and empty out trash.

After crossing Mount Rose Highway, the trail passes through Tahoe Meadows. I filtered a liter of water from the creek before re-entering the forest.

The creek I had eaten lunch at during my previous trip in late July 2018 was already bone dry in early June. I had to backtrack a bit to get water at a spring I had passed earlier.

The Twin Lakes were no longer lakes, instead they looked like a meadow. Past Twin Lakes, I walked through a large area of beetle-killed trees that I don’t remember seeing last time. It’s sad to see the the effects the drought and heating climate is having on the sensitive subalpine ecosystem.

I arrived at Marlette Campground around 3 in the afternoon. After getting some water and setting up my camp, I realized I would get bored out of my mind sitting at a developed campground all by myself for the next 6 hours until it got dark. So, I packed up camp and decided to keep hiking.

The issue was that there is a camping restriction until Spooner Summit, which meant that I needed to hike at least 10 more miles before I could set up camp. To make matters more complicated, there wouldn’t be any water on this section either, so I needed to once again fill up on 5 liters of water.

The views south of Marlette were some of the most spectacular on the entire trip. I had full view of both Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake. But it was getting late and I was getting blasted by a strong wind, so I needed to keep going.

Most of the way to Spooner was fortunately downhill. I only needed to climb for the last mile or so after crossing the road. I found a campsite that was sheltered from the roaring wind. After setting up camp, I stretched and ate a quick snack before retiring for the day. It had been another long day and I was exhausted.

A subalpine meadow
Tahoe Meadows
A granite rock outcrop overlooking Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe from the east side
A dry lakebed
Twin Lakes was dry
A stand of dead trees
Beetle killed trees
Two lakes separated by a narrow strip of land
Marlette Lake in the foreground, Lake Tahoe in the background
Open highland with low shrubs. Lake Tahoe in the distance.
The views south of Marlette were some of the most spectacular of the whole trip

South of Spooner to South Lake Tahoe

I packed up camp and got started on what I thought would be a short day to Kingsbury North. I planned to grab an Uber into South Lake Tahoe from there.

I passed South Camp Peak and my campsite from my previous trip in 2018. Back then, I couldn’t see the lake because of all the smoke, so I got to experience the full view for the first time. It didn’t disappoint.

From the bench, I had about six more miles to Kingsbury, all downhill. I could already see the ugly casinos at Stateline through the trees. I skipped my snacks, saving my hunger for a big lunch in town.

When I got to the trailhead, I washed up the best I could with a towel and some wet wipes, then ordered an Uber. Or, at least that’s what I tried. There were no Uber or Lyft cars available. A Guthook comment mentioned that they had called a Yellow Cab instead, so I tried that. They refused to drive the 10 minutes up from Stateline.

Disappointed and increasingly hangry I returned to the trail. I had another 9 miles and 1,500 ft of elevation to walk into South Lake Tahoe.

The trail snaked through boulders on the descent to Kingsbury Grade. I could have tried to hitchhike from there, but I decided to keep walking. From the road, the trail climbed a couple of miles to the intersection with the Van Sickle connector trail that I would take down.

The walk down Van Sickle had beautiful views of the lake and the beachfront. The loose sand kept filling my shoes as I stepped down, forcing me to stop and empty the shoes every few minuted. Should have remembered to bring my gaiters.

Almost three hours after setting out from Kingsbury, I was finally in town. I sat down at the first pizzeria, ordered a large pie and a cold beer. With my belly full, I walked to my motel and washed off the trail dust.

Rocks covered in bright green lichen
Lichen covered rocks at South Camp Peak
A wooden bench overlooking a lake far below
The Bench. What a difference compared to the smoky views in 2018!
Buildings along the lakeshore in the distance.
On the final stretch down to South Lake Tahoe on the Van Sickle connector trail

South Lake Tahoe to Round Lake

This would be the big day, 50k.

I stopped at a breakfast restaurant on the way to the trailhead and ate a steak and eggs breakfast with several cups of coffee.

It was 4 miles and 1,500 ft of elevation to get back to the Tahoe Rim Trail along the Van Sickle connector. The morning was still cool, making the climb easier.

As the trail continued south, it passed through the Heavenly ski area with expansive views of the Carson Valley to the east.

On the way to Star Lake, I passed the same group of mountain bikers twice. The first time they laughed and promised they would try to stay out of my way. The second time I passed them 5 miles later we all laughed at the absurdity and they questioned my sanity of trying to go over 30 miles in a day.

I took a snack break at the small stream a mile after Star Lake, the same place I camped at on my first trip. I was half way to my goal and still feeling good.

After the break I climbed the last 500 feet to the pass below Freel Peak. After 15 miles of going up nonstop, a downhill was a welcome change.

I was able to stay light, only carrying a liter of water between water sources. I filled up at Freel Meadows and again at the bridge just before the Big Meadow trailhead.

At this point, I was really starting to feel the miles in my legs. I stretched my muscles any time I took a break and made sure to stay hydrated and fed. I only had 3 miles to go. Unfortunately much of it would be uphill.

I hadn’t seen a single mosquito on the entire trip until I came to Big Meadow. It was like entering the world congress of mosquitoes. I was still hiking in shorts and they were savagely eating my legs. I didn’t want to stop, so instead I pushed harder.

I got to Round Lake just as the alpenglow was fading from the rock wall. I quickly scrubbed the trail grime off my legs and put on layers to escape the mosquitoes. After setting up camp, I ate an absurdly large dinner and went to bed. It didn’t take long to fall asleep.

Views of a valley covered in farmland and roads.
Carson Valley
Granite formations
Some cool rocks on the way up to Star Lake
An alpine lake
Star Lake still had clear water this early in the season
A large lake behind layers of mountains
Lake Tahoe viewed from the southeast
Sand in the foreground, rock formations in the background
Below Freel Peak
Mountain peaks as far as you can see
Overlooking Hope Valley to the south
Two parallel trails crossing a large meadow
Big Meadow before sunset
A rock with several smaller rocks stuck to the outside
Interesting lava rocks that almost looked like masonry near Round Lake

Round Lake to Echo Lakes

As I was getting ready in the morning, I noticed that I had a blister on my pinky toe. The first one I’ve had in several years. The Inov-8 G270s I was wearing had felt a bit snug and seven long days had been too much for my squished toes. Nothing a bit of Leukotape couldn’t take care of. It was the last day and I only had 15 miles to go.

The trail joins the northbound PCT in a large meadow and crosses the Upper Truckee River. Usually the river is a wet crossing well into the summer, but this year it was easy to cross with dry feet.

After Showers Lake the trail contours a cirque with views of Lake Tahoe in the distance. Last time I hiked here it was covered in snow, but this time only patches remained.

The descent to highway 50 is steep and rocky, with hundreds of stone steps. My feet were not impressed after the previous day.

The last mile before the highway had been rerouted since my last trip. The new trail was nice because it was farther from the road noise and offered better views.

From the highway, it’s 1.5 miles to the Echo Lakes trailhead. The trail snakes through residential areas, climbing above property lines so that when you get to the parking lot you need to drop a few hundred feet.

To my relief, my car was where I left it. It was covered in a thick layer of pine pollen, but started right away.

A large meadow with green grass
A meadow just before the PCT junction
An alpine lake with a rocky shore
Showers Lake
Small pines in the foreground, forested mountains in the background
A small glimpse of Lake Tahoe, looking east just past Showers Lake
Views down a valley. An airport is visible just before a large lake.
On the home stretch. The airport is visible.
A trail passing through large boulders
The new section of the TRT/PCT was nicely constructed and further away from the road

Gear list

3 comments

  1. Great write up, felt like I was hiking with you , congratulations on a great hike and sure is one of the best narrative and very helpful

  2. Where is your bluetooth thermometer weight in your gear list? How about your fuel canister?

    What is the actual weight of your load when weighed on a scale?

    1. The thermometer is 8 grams, forgot to add it. Fuel cans are 100g empty/200 full. I usually don’t add them on my list.

      I didn’t bring a scale on the trip, but it was probably ~12 lbs. My max carry with 5 liters of water and 3 days worth of food was around 28lbs. I used the hip belt for the heaviest stretches.

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