Hike 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail

By Tim Hauserman · 

The 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail winds along mile after mile of ridge tops with spectacular lake views. It crosses luscious meadows overloaded with purple lupine and orange paintbrush. It flows through deep forests of lichen-covered firs, and tip toes along the granite-lined shores of sparkling wilderness lakes. And, yet, with eight major sections, the TRT is easily accessible to any hiker who wants to hit the trail for a few hours or a few days. If you want to truly experience all that the Tahoe Rim Trail has to offer, however, the best way to do it is to hike the entire trail in one trip.

Aside from the beauty of seeing the incredible diversity of everything that the trail has to offer, what makes thru-hiking the TRT so special is that the trail is a circle. Hikers get to look across the lake and see where you have been and where you are going for most of your journey around one of America’s most beautiful lakes.

I have thru-hiked the trail three times. In 2007, I set out from my house in Ward Canyon, strolled over to Page Meadows and began my 13-day trek. It was an incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring experience, but also physically and emotionally challenging. Above all, while I had hiked every inch of the trail before, there was something magically different about hiking all the way around Lake Tahoe in one swoop.

In 2009 and 2011, I brought along some new friends as I returned to thru-hike the trail as a guide for one of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s guided hikes around the trail. Our small group of hikers was supported by trail angels who met us at every road crossing with food, water and good cheer.

No matter how much encouragement you receive, however, you still have to walk more than 165 miles and climb and descend more than 26,000 feet to complete the task. But, in the end you get the satisfaction of completing a truly bucket list worthy adventure.

A few days after I completed my first journey around the TRT, I headed out onto the lake on a kayak. Once I’d reached a good distance off shore, I spun around slowly in a circle, appreciating the immenseness of the mountain peaks and ridgelines that I had just taken on step by step. It’s an amazing journey.

Perhaps the best way to complete the trail is to join in one of the annual Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s guided thru-hikes. You can leave the logistics to others as experienced guides lead the way (including Ellen Goldsmith, who has completed the loop 11 times). Most importantly, you get the trail angels who arrive at just the right time with food, water, clothing and good cheer. The fee is reasonable and goes to support the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, which not only builds and maintains the trail, but also provides a host of trail use programs for the public. This year’s hikes are from July 25 to Aug. 8 and Aug. 22 to Sept. 5. There’s also a guided Segment Hike Program or take on the trail at your own pace and set your own schedule.

Upon completion of the Tahoe Rim Trail, you are eligible to join the Tahoe Rim Trail Association 165 Mile Club, which now includes more than 1,700 people and counting.

For more information on Tahoe Rim Trail programs, guided hikes and information on the trail, visit tahoerimtrail.org.


Prepare mentally
Thru-hiking the TRT is a challenging goal, but unlike the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail, the TRT can be accomplished in a two-week vacation by anyone who is in fairly good physical condition. Before hitting the trail, put in some time hiking with a heavier pack and make sure you have the right shoes (lightweight is better). Then, prepare mentally for the challenges of being out on the trail for two weeks, which, I assure you, will feel like two months.


Get the right gear
If you are a long-time backpacker who is still using the equipment you used 20 years ago, it is time for an upgrade. Lightweight is the key. It’s time to acquire a lighter backpack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. And, time to learn to carry only what you really need. Your experience will be so much better if you are carrying 25 lbs. instead of 40 lbs.


Water everywhere, but little to drink
While on the Tahoe Rim Trail, you will be gazing over the delicious waters of Lake Tahoe for much of your hike, but often water will be non-existent along the trail for long distances. It is essential to plan your trip with an understanding of where you can find water. Given the severe drought we are in, this is even more important this year.

Plan resupplies
On a two-week trip, you should plan on one or two resupplies for food, and you may need even more for water (or cache some ahead of time). Fortunately, the TRT crosses roads on a regular basis, so you should be able to parlay friends into providing you with what you need.

Be informed
Read the guidebook. Go online and look at information and maps. Contact the Tahoe Rim Trail Association with questions. Don’t be scared, just prepared.


Tim Hauserman wrote “Tahoe Rim Trail: A Complete Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers and Equestrians,” now in its 3rd edition.