Story & photos by Tim Hauserman ·
Star Lake is the highest year-round lake in the Tahoe Basin ·
Star Lake sits tight against the base of Job’s Sister, Job’s Peak and Freel Peak, three of the four highest peaks in the Tahoe Basin. At 9,200’ in elevation, the lake is a full 3,000 feet higher then Lake Tahoe, and is the highest year-round lake in the basin. Star is also the only lake you will encounter next to the Tahoe Rim Trail above the East Shore of Lake Tahoe. Much more important for the backpacker, however, is that it is a gorgeous lake in an idyllic setting, and the perfect place to spend a night or two.
There are a variety of routes into Star Lake, including Armstrong Pass near Hope Valley or the High Meadows Trail in South Lake Tahoe. I prefer, however, the longest version that travels 9 miles in from Kingsbury Grade via the Tahoe Rim Trail. The 5-mile jaunt to Monument Pass begins with a climb through the open, boulder-strewn forests to Mott Canyon, part of Heavenly Mountain Resort. The trail then moves to the eastern slope of the ridge and follows a high traverse with jaw-dropping views of the Carson Valley far below. Look for the largest western white pine in the region located next to the trail. At Monument Pass, you get your first close-up views of Freel Peak. The trail travels another 4 miles, mostly on gently climbing through the forest to the shores of Star Lake.
Choose a campsite and spend a day or two at Star Lake ·
The amazing view across the lake of the steep face of Job’s Sister is the first reward for your arrival at Star Lake. There are many more to come. Begin by dropping your heavy load and picking a campsite. Large sites near the lake are good for a sizable group, while more secluded, lightly used spots in the trees are perfect for a tent or two. The lake itself is brisk and often contains suspended sediments that may clog your water filter, but after walking 9 miles you will enjoy the chance to dip yourself into the cool water and marvel at the mountains above.
A highlight of this trip is the options available for side trips once you get to the lake. A layover day is highly recommended.
The views on Freel Peak are sublime and 360 degrees ·
Sublime views to Freel Peak
It’s a 2-mile jaunt south from Star on the TRT to a saddle where the mile-long Freel Peak summit trail begins. This 2-mile stretch is a highlight of the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. There are excellent views of Lake Tahoe, piles of white quartz near the trail, and an enchanting forest of white bark pines. High above, the mass of Freel will either impress you with its power, or scare you with the reality that you are about to climb it.
From the saddle, a fairly no-nonsense trail takes the 1-mile climb via switchbacks to the top of Freel. Note the low-standing trees that have been beat down by the relentless winter winds. The views, of course, are sublime and 360 degrees. Freel’s high and isolated location is an attractant for thunderstorms, so if the bolts of lightning are about to fly, you better fly yourself back down to camp.
Clear waters at Cold Creek
About half way to the saddle and the start of the Freel Peak trail, you pass diminutive Cold Creek. It’s a clear, swiftly moving stream that is a much better source for water then what you find in Star Lake. Rest in the shade and filter what you will need, then follow the little creek upstream into a flat, open area that looks like good camping for 100 people. Keep following the stream into a moist, meadowy area between the two ridgelines leading up to the higher peaks. Look here for pieces of a plane that crashed many years ago.
A monument of crystal at Quartz Peak ·
Crystal monument at Quartz Peak
Above the western edge of Star Lake likes a large pile of quartz that has formed a crystal peak. Wander through the forest of white bark and western white pines to its base.
To reach the trailhead, take Highway 207 (Kingsbury Grade) 3.2 miles from its intersection with Highway 50 to Tramway Drive. Turn right. Follow the signs 1.5 miles to the Heavenly Resort Stagecoach parking lot.
For more information on Star Lake refer to “Tahoe Rim Trail: The official guide for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians” by author Tim Hauserman.