The 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail has become a highlight of life in the Tahoe region. Hike the entire trail and you will walk through deep forests, pass sparkling lakes, and climb over starkly beautiful alpine passes. And, the TRT is a circle, so as you walk you can look out over the lake and see where you have been and where you are going, until you walk all the way around and reach the place where you began.
While thru-hiking the TRT is a major bucket list of an adventure, the trail is divided into eight sections, so you can hike the portion of the trail that strikes your fancy. It’s a trail for everyone, including the kids.
Hannah Hauserman on one of her first backpacking trips enjoying sunset near the shore of Lake Aloha.
In fact, one of the best things you can do with your children is to take them backpacking, and the Tahoe Rim Trail is a great place to do it. Getting kids into the wilderness and away from the electronic devices and structured activities of our overly civilized lives is an incredible bonding opportunity. It’s a chance for kids to let his or her imaginations run wild as they revel in the beauty and joy of nature, and in the process learn a few things about personal responsibility. It’s a chance to do what most of us more mature folks used to do every day when we were kids: Go play in the woods. Ready to go? Here are a few tips to make your backpacking experience more enjoyable.
American Lake in Desolation Wilderness.
Favorite spots for the kids
The key to an enjoyable backpacking experience for kids is to go somewhere magical, which in our neck of the woods, usually means a beautiful, alpine lake. While we can talk all we want about the importance of the journey as opposed to the destination, for kids, the journey is something they suffer through in order to get to the good stuff: climbing over rocks, building forts out of dead wood and jumping into water.
Here are a few of my favorite spots on the Tahoe Rim Trail that provide a great lake experience, hopefully without overtaxing the walking capabilities of your little ones:
Dardanelles Lake | It’s just 3.5 miles from the TRT Big Meadow Trailhead to Dardanelles. There is a wide swath of granite reaching down to the lake; the perfect place to warm up after an enticing swim.
Lake Aloha | Take the ferry from Lower Echo to Upper Echo Lake and you only have 4 miles to hike to reach your little piece of paradise along the shore of the Desolation Wilderness’ largest lake. Go early in the season, as by Labor Day much of Aloha’s water is released for thirsty downstream users.
Dotted with islands and backed by the impressive Crystal Range, Aloha was always my kids’ favorite place to camp. Other excellent Desolation Wilderness choices include Meeks Bay to Crag Lake, or Emerald Bay to Dicks and Fontanillis Lakes.
Showers Lake | To reach Showers on the TRT, you hike 7 miles from the Big Meadow Trailhead, but you can cut it down to 5, by starting at Carson Pass. Hike this trail in July for the best wildflower display on the entire Tahoe Rim Trail.
Star Lake | Located at the base of Job’s Sister and Freel Peak, Tahoe’s highest mountain. Star is one of my favorite places to camp. On the TRT from Kingsbury Grade, it’s a stiff 9 miles, but several trailheads above South Lake Tahoe and the Armstrong Pass trailhead off Luther Pass cut it down to a more manageable 5 miles.
Sarah Hauserman and Morgan Paulson heading toward Desolation Wilderness above Echo Lake.
What to bring
Don’t run out and spend a ton of money on the latest and greatest backpacking gear since it will be a few trips before you discover whether your child is a future Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker or someone who has no interest in backpacking.
Borrow from friends, share and use what you can dig out of your garage the first time. Once they decide it is for them, you can start accumulating the basics. But remember, light weight is important, not only for the kids, but for you, since you are assigned the duty of caring almost all of the equipment and food. Don’t worry, keeping the kids happy is worth the extra weight on your shoulders.
Go midweek if possible. Lakes close to trailheads are busy places on the weekends. Practice the seven Leave No Trace Principles, also known as just using common sense, being considerate of others and being kind to the environment.
As well, permits are required year-round for overnight camping and day use. Visit recreation.gov for details on permits and limits.
The gear | A backpacking tent, sleeping bags, pads (Thermarest or foam pads), backpacking stove and fuel, cup, spoon, water filter or chemical tablets, containers to hold water, bear canister, knife, trowel, toilet paper, plastic bags to bring toilet paper back out, small first aid kit, camera, toiletries, guidebook(s) and, just in case it rains, a book and a deck of cards. Trust me, unless you want to repeat my mistake and spend a rainy afternoon in the tent reading the First Aid manual to your daughter.
Clothes | When it comes to clothes, less is better. You need shorts, a T-shirt and a bathing suit. Then, stuff to keep you warm at night like long pants and a fleece layer, and a rain shell. One of each is enough except it’s nice to bring an extra pair of socks and underwear. For your feet, in an addition to your hiking shoes, bring a pair of sandals for around camp.
Food | Dehydrated dinners, salami, cheese, tuna or salmon packets, crackers or tortillas, dried fruit, avocados, oatmeal or dried cereal, hot chocolate and milk powder, nuts or trail mix, sweets, couscous. Did I mention hot chocolate? That stuff cures all.
What else to bring? A good friend for your tykester to play with is a great addition. Perhaps the most important thing, however, is a relaxed attitude. Remember, this is not a race. It’s about learning to enjoy the process. If you are an experienced backpacker, the pace and distance you cover with the kids might be frustrating. Patience, grasshopper. It’s about the bonding.
And, of course, enjoy this special time, because before you blink twice, they are off to college.
Sarah Hauserman and Morgan Paulson jump into American Lake, adjacent to Lake Aloha in Desolation Wilderness.
In effect due to high fire danger.
No open fires or campfires.
Portable stoves with camp fire permit only.
Tim Hauserman wrote “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and “Tahoe Rim Trail: The official guide for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.” You can find more detailed information on where to go and what to bring in both of these books.