Traveling Tahoe’s Trails: What You Need Before You Go

Marlette Lake and Lake Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail. | Tim Hauserman

Our region is blessed with hundreds of miles of trails that snake through deep forests, cross mountain streams and climb over smooth granite to beautiful views of Lake Tahoe.

But these trails we love are now inundated with visitors. If the trails are to remain beautiful we have to use them responsibly, which includes treating the environment with respect and knowing how to get out there and back safely.

Responsible travel on Tahoe trails is just a matter of common sense. Plan ahead and make good decisions about when and where you hike. Bring what you might need. Don’t litter.

Below are my tips for day hiking in the Lake Tahoe region. Most of this info is helpful for all trail users, but if you are mountain biking or backpacking, there will be some modifications and additions you will want to consider. For a few tips on backpacking responsibly check out my book: “Tahoe Rim Trail: The official guide for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.” Another source for good information are the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.

Before you go

First Aid | Take a basic first-aid class. It’s also a savvy move for your hiking friends to take a class also so they can save your butt.

Weather | Check the weather forecast. No, not some quick summary on your phone, but a more detailed analysis like the NOAA Weather Discussion for the Reno-Tahoe area. You want to know the hourly temperatures, if it is going to rain or snow and when. If it looks like a thunderstorm is possible at 4 p.m., plan your day to be out of the woods well before then. Be sure to keep an eye on the sky to see if the storm is ahead of schedule.

Trail info | Have a good understanding of the level of difficulty of the trail you are taking and also a realistic understanding of your own abilities. How far is it? How much elevation gain is there? How fast do you usually hike?

What to take

Plan | Plan what you want to bring with you in your pack based on the weather forecast, how far you are going and your needs.

Shoes | Start with sturdy, comfortable shoes that you have used enough to know they will not give you blisters. Ditch the cotton socks for synthetic or wool ones.

Layers | Wear layers of synthetic or wool fabrics that wick away moisture. Layers are important because based on the time of day, altitude and wind, temperatures can fluctuate a great deal in the mountains.

Convertible hiking pants are a good option because they can be long pants early in the morning, shorts in the afternoon and back to long pants while you’re running to escape the rain.

Wear synthetic underwear that wicks away moisture and helps avoid chafing, which if you’ve ever had it, you know can be a significant issue.

Wear a lightweight synthetic shirt, a thin fleece shirt and a rain shell. Add a hat that keeps the sun off your dome and perhaps a lightweight warmer hat for spring or fall.

Poles | Hiking poles are a great option, especially on longer hikes with some climbing. They protect your knees and spread some of the work from legs to arms.

Food & water | You will get hungry. Take along energy bars, trail mix, a sandwich, cheese and crackers, chocolate and, of course, more chocolate.

Bring more water than you think you might need. Bring a camelback with at least two liters of water for a long day hike.

First Aid kit | There are small lightweight first-aid packs designed for back-country use that provide a lot of necessary stuff in a small package. Add some Tylenol or ibuprofen and any medications you might need.

Toilet paper| Pack toilet paper in a plastic bag to pack it out. Women can avoid dealing with toilet paper for No. 1 by bringing along a pee cloth, which are specially designed pieces of fabric that do the job then dry out quickly afterwards while hanging on the back of your pack.

Now, after I suggested all the things to bring, may I suggest not bringing much else. Heavy packs make for unhappy hikers. 

Be a good hiker

There are two things that when seen in the wilderness drive Tahoe locals crazy: toilet paper flags and dog-poop bags. Both of these must absolutely, never, ever, be left in the woods. Would you leave these on your living room floor?

Potty time | If you use toilet paper put it in a plastic bag and throw it in the trash when you get home. If you bring a dog into the woods, you are responsible for picking up its poop and carrying out the bag to be thrown away. There are no poop fairies, no one wants to see or carry out your dog’s poop.

If you don’t like the smell, bring along a bag with baking soda to put the poop bag in. It is astounding to me that a person could actually leave one of these bags on the trail and walk away.

Pooch prep | Speaking of dogs, be sure there will be plenty of water along the route you are traveling and bring extra water for your dogs, just in case.

Some trails around Tahoe can be very rocky and hot, so make sure your dog is accustomed to those conditions or bring booties to ease the burden on their paws. Some owners have their dogs wear packs to carry in essentials and carry out poop bags.

Don’t litter | I would think it should go without saying, but apparently, I have to say it anyway. Don’t litter. Everything you bring in, gets brought out — by you. And that means orange peels and apple cores. These attract animals that should not be getting accustomed to the food we eat. Oh, and while we are on the topic, never feed wildlife.

Pack it out | When you return to the trailhead, if the trash facilities are full, take it home with you to your own trash can. To make up for those folks who don’t know the drill, pick up a few pieces of trash on your way out. The goal is to have a trash-free environment.

Responsible travel on Tahoe trails is just a matter of common sense. Plan ahead and make good decisions about when and where you hike. Bring what you might need. Don’t litter.


Resources

Leave No Trace Principles | lnt.org

NOAA forecast | forecast.weather.gov

Take Care Tahoe | takecaretahoe.org

Tim’s potty etiquette | thetahoeweekly.com