Tahoe Rim Trail, Tahoe City to Brockway Summit – July 1998
TAHOE RIM TRAIL, Tahoe City to Brockway Summit
MILES: 18. 5 one way
MAP: Tahoe National Forest
Imagine a 150-mile trail encircling the most spectacular lake in the state. Now imagine it being constructed strictly with volunteer labor and donated funding.
The Tahoe Rim Trail section between Tahoe City and Brockway Summit is complete. (Other trailheads are at Tahoe Meadows, Spooner Summit and Kingsbury Grade.) Take Highway 89 south to the Tahoe City city limits. Take the first left at the Chevron station, Fairway Drive, for 1/8 mile to the Fairway Community Center. Park in the parking lot just before the center or on the street. A large wooden sign – “Watson Lake 12 miles/Brockway Summit 18.5 miles” – on the hill on the left marks the trailhead.
My mouth watered at the thought that I could backpack the entire 18.5 miles someday, but it made for a dandy dayhike in the meantime. As I began to climb at 7:15 a.m., mountain chickadees sassed each other and olive-sided flycatchers demanded, “Quick, three beers!” The environmental niche occupied by Stellar jays at the trailhead was taken over by gray jays (pine crows) tattling on me. The trail is rocky; stout boots with good ankle support and a hiking stick are a good idea.
Immediately, I was enchanted by views of Mark Twain’s “sea in the clouds,” clouds Tahoe makes on its own because of its vastness and cold temperature. Snow-covered Mount Tallac, Dick’s and Phipps peaks and Heavenly Valley loomed over the far shore.
It was still early March at 7,000 feet for plants species, even though the calendar read mid-June. I recognized high-altitude versions of blue ceanothus (mountain lilac) and manzanita, but as ground cover or just shoulder high. Your growth would be stunted, too, if you spent up to six months under heavy snow and had just a three- to four-month growing period between snows. Chinquapin was the predominant shrub, and the gooseberry was flowering.
Golden-mantled, or copperhead, ground squirrels scattered as I approached. Surely, there is no more handsome small mammal in the Sierra, with its yellow hood and stripes. Many people mistake them for chipmunks; you can tell the difference at a glance by noting that the stripes continue onto the head and face of the chipmunks. How to quickly tell a ground- from a tree squirrel? Tree squirrels need a long, bushy tail for rudders/parachutes for their long leaps between branches.
The bird caller hanging from my binoculars had an electrifying effect on the squirrels: they stopped on a dime, then sat up with fur and ears bristling, straining to determine from which direction the predator was coming. Resist the urge to feed these cunning lil’ guys. Not only is it a violation of federal law, but they will starve during their next hibernation, having built up the wrong kind of fat.
The trail climbs for a half-mile, then crosses a dirt U.S. Forest Service road and flattens out somewhat. Aspens shaded eerie, bright-red snowplants and rust-colored pine drops. Note that these species lack green pigmentation. They are saprophytics, like toadstools, drawing nutrients from decayed matter. The high-altitude cousin of our ponderosa is the Jeffrey pine. Sniff its ropey, reddish bark for a scent variously described as vanilla, pineapple or butterscotch.
So early in the season, the trail was a little sketchy in places, but I stayed on course by spotting the occasional blue TRT markers nailed high on trees or by rock ducks. After 2 or 3 miles, the trail crossed another USFS road. After 5 miles or so in, I confess that I lost the trail in increasingly large snow patches and a rocky jumble. (You could be the volunteer who nails more TRT signs onto trees.) The snow should be a lot less by the time you read this; let me know how the trail is beyond that point.
To volunteer or donate funds for the Tahoe Rim Trail call (702)588-0686. or visit
Their e-mail address is
This article was originally publisyhed on 10/13/1999.
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