The Tahoe Rim Trail

Kingsbury Grade to Big Meadow (23.2 miles)
By Tim Hauserman
Star Lake
Star Lake and Jobs Sister (Photo © Tim Hauserman)

Excerpted from The Tahoe Rim Trail by Tim Hauserman

This long and relatively strenuous section has a lot of elevation changes, and a 9730-foot high point. While a trail of this length is too long for many to hike in one day, for the strong hiker it is a wonderful dayhike.

Best Seasons
Each end of the trail can be hiked as early as mid-June. The highest part of the trail near Freel Peak is usually not open until mid-July or later, depending upon the amount of snow received the previous winter. The first major snows at Freel Peak may come as early as the middle of October.

This trail section provides tremendous views of Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley, Desolation Wilderness and the Carson Range. In addition, it has a wonderful high-elevation lake, Star Lake, and access to the summit of the two highest peaks in the Tahoe basin: Freel (10,881 feet) and Jobs Sister (10,823 feet).

Heads Up!
Some sections of the trail are above 9000 feet in elevation, and much of the trail is open and exposed to the sun and wind—bring your sunscreen. As with all sections of the trail along the east shore of Lake Tahoe, water is in short supply. In the first few miles out from the Stagecoach parking lot, there are several seasonal streams, with the South Fork of Daggett Creek lasting the longest. Star Lake, which you will reach at 8.8 miles from the Kingsbury trailhead, is a beautiful source of water. About 1 mile past Star Lake you find a stream coming down from Freel Peak, a tributary of Cold Creek. On slopes west of Freel Peak, several small streams cascade across the trail into late summer. From Armstrong Pass you may find water by heading southeast from the TRT on the steep Armstrong Pass connector trail. It is 0.4 mile long, and near its bottom you cross a small stream. From its trailhead a dirt road descends almost 0.5 mile to cross larger Willow Creek. You can find reliable water just below the west edge of the western Freel Meadow. Finally, east of the Big Meadow trailhead, there is Grass Lake Creek, at approximately 0.5 mile, and another one at 2 miles from the trailhead at the Grass Lake Trail junction.

Tips for Mountain Bikers
This section is challenging, loved by some and hated by others. It has lots of technical areas with hundreds of rock benches that will require many riders to dismount. Portions of the trail are along steep drops that may unnerve some riders. The first portion is primarily a long steady climb, with the exception of a brief steep downhill on some very sandy, loose soil. Once you get to the top of Monument Pass, just about when you are wondering why you are doing this, the trail levels off for some great riding for several miles to Star Lake. After Star Lake it is a major, difficult climb again up to 9700 feet. Almost everyone will be walking his or her bike near the top. From the saddle of Freel Peak, it is time for a big downhill with a few tight little switchbacks that may scare some riders. Eventually, you reach Armstrong Pass, a great place to escape if you have had enough. A short trail descends to a dirt road, Forest Route 051F, that you can follow 0.5 mile down to Forest Route 051 and take 3.5 miles to Highway 89. If you do this, you will reach Highway 89 0.8 mile east of signed Luther Pass, and 1.8 miles above the Highway 88/89 junction in Hope Valley. If you continue toward Big Meadow, you will confront another long uphill, followed by another long downhill. Along the downhill section, you pass the junction to the Saxon Creek Trail. This very popular mountain biking trail, usually accessed via the Big Meadow trailhead, is known as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. While some may find it a wild ride, I found it to be very chewed up and steep and impossible to navigate in many sections. If you go, be prepared for difficulty. Past "Mr. Toad's" is a brief steep uphill, followed by a steady downhill to the end of the trail, which is fun, but not without several technically challenging sections.

Getting There

Kingsbury South Trailhead to Big Meadow Trailhead
From Stateline in the South Lake Tahoe area drive east up Highway 207 (Kingsbury Grade) 3.2 miles to Tramway Drive at Daggett Pass, the summit of Kingsbury Grade. Follow the signs 1.5 miles to the Heavenly Valley Resort Stagecoach parking lot. Look for the Tahoe Rim Trail sign at the south end of the parking lot underneath the Stagecoach chairlift.

Big Meadow Trailhead to Kingsbury South Trailhead
From the intersection of Highway 89 and Highway 50 in Meyers, drive 5.3 miles south on Highway 89 to the Big Meadow Trailhead and parking area, on your left. Luther Pass is 3.3 miles farther on. This trail can also be accessed from the Grass Lake trailhead, which you will find by driving south on Highway 89 past the Big Meadow trailhead for 1.5 miles. Park on the right side of the road in a roadside pullout and cross the highway to the trail. If you pass Grass Lake, the lake that looks like a meadow on the right, you have gone too far.

Article © Wilderness Press. All rights reserved.


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