Looking for a strenuous summer workout that brings you to spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, but without the massive crowds that you find on some of Tahoe’s favorite trails? Head to the East Shore’s Snow Valley Peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail.
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With 9,214 feet of elevation, Snow Valley Peak is the East Shore’s highest mountain above Tahoe. It’s also within the city limits of Carson City, Nev., and is the highest point within the city. You can hike it as a 12-mile roundtrip on the TRT. Or, better yet, add an extra mile and a lot of variety by combining the TRT with the Marlette Lake Trail.
I’ve hiked this route a number of times, but most recently I inadvertently chose the day the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Race was happening, with 55km, 50-mile and 100-mile divisions. It turned out to be a good move. The runners were inspiring and gave us regular opportunities to catch our breath while stepping off the trail to let them run by. It definitely put our struggles of the long ascent in perspective to watch someone run by you on his/her Mile 97.
The trail switchbacks above the trees to an expansive view of Carson Valley, then takes one more quick foray into the trees before opening up to a treeless mile of amazing, all-encompassing views of Lake Tahoe.
The route begins at the Spooner Summit North, Tahoe Rim Trailhead. This is located on State Route 50, just three-quarters of a mile from the intersection of state routes 50 and 28 on Spooner Summit. Parking is limited. Restrooms are available across the busy highway at the South Spooner Summit TRT trailhead, where there is also parking. There is no water at either trailhead and you will be needing a lot of water on this dry trail. If you bring a dog, be sure to bring all the water it will need, as well.
The route is pretty straight forward. Get on the trail and head north for 6 miles from Spooner Summit to Snow Valley Peak. The first 4 miles north are a steady, hot climb up a ridgeline along a scattered forest of red fir and Jeffrey pines with limited views. Just about the time you are wondering why in the hell you are doing this, it gets dramatically better.
Just past a junction, where a left turn takes you downhill 1.2 miles to a back-country campground, the trail switchbacks above the trees to an expansive view of Carson Valley, then takes one more quick foray into the trees before opening up to a treeless mile of amazing, all-encompassing views of Lake Tahoe from Freel Peak in the south to Mount Rose in the north. The view is especially nice because it is focused on the high peaks above the western side of Lake Tahoe including Desolation Wilderness and the Pacific Crest with Alpine Meadows and Olympic Valley.
After climbing more than 2,000 feet, you will be pretty appreciative of the time to enjoy the views. There are plenty of granite boulders to rest your posterior while marveling at Lake Tahoe. It’s interesting how from this high, side angle Tahoe appears to be 50 miles long and just a few miles wide. Far below, Snow Valley Road sports a steady stream of mountain bikers climbing the hill, heading toward Marlette Lake and the famous Flume Trail. Don’t forget to look down to enjoy the deep purple lupines, orange paintbrush and ubiquitous yellow buckwheat that are all around you.
Eventually the trail reaches a saddle at a minor dirt road. From here, you can head to the right and do a bit more climbing to bag the top of Snow Valley Peak. My advice is: Don’t bother, the views are just as good from here. Instead, wind your way about 100 yards northwest to a viewpoint/lunch spot in the white-bark pines. From here, Marlette Lake unfolds directly below you and Lake Tahoe seems like it is just beyond Marlette.
Once you’ve had your fill of the views, follow the dirt road as it switchbacks downhill steeply for a mile to Snow Valley Road. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain bikers, then cross and bushwhack straight ahead about 100 yards to the Marlette Lake trail. Tired? You can turn left here and hike toward Spooner Lake, taking about a mile off the route, but you will miss Marlette Lake.
If you still have some gas in the tank, hang a right and after a short climb, begin a downhill through lush vegetation to the shore of Marlette Lake. Here you can enjoy the view, check out the fish-spawning station close to where the trail meets the road around the lake or take a much-needed dip in Marlette’s refreshing waters.
Return on the Marlette Lake trail before reaching the dirt road near Spooner Lake in 4 miles. Follow this road about a half mile to a left turn at a sign for Spooner Cabin. Head straight on this road over a small knoll to Spooner Lake. Follow the trail around the north side of the lake then through the aspens about a half mile on the last little uphill back to the TRT trailhead. | tahoerimtrail.org