Backpacking the Sierras

For your safety, please check directly with each location you plan to backpack in for updated guidelines, opening dates, and weather conditions. Due to wildfires, some or all locations may be closed to the public.

Any hiker who has gone backpacking in the Sierras can confidently tell you that it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet to backpack. From granite peaks and emerald tree lines to the crispest air you’ve ever breathed, backpacking in the Tahoe area is a must-do for adventure lovers.

Backpacking is an ideal activity for any avid lover of outdoor activities but requires a bit of planning. There are miles of trails in the Reno Tahoe area to choose from, but we’ve put together a list of some of the best backpacking routes, complete with endless views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and incredible mountain lakes.

Need a place to stock up before your adventure or to rest and recharge after? Reno is the perfect basecamp for your backpacking adventure. Stay at one of our award-winning hotels, or enjoy the views of the Truckee River while you rest your tired feet at one of the many restaurants and bars in Reno’s Riverwalk District. And nothing caps off a backpacking trip better than a beer from a local brewery, of which we have plenty!

Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker with plenty of miles under your boots or just starting out, this guide will point you in the right direction.

Backpacking in the Tahoe Area

The best time for backpacking in Tahoe and the surrounding areas is typically from the end of June through September, when most of the snow has melted off of the trails at higher elevations. However, snow and freezing temperatures can occur year-round in Tahoe, so be sure to check weather conditions prior to setting out on your trek.

With so many trails to explore, it can be hard to choose but we’ve rounded up some of the most beautiful spots for your trip while backpacking the Sierras.

Mt. Rose Wilderness

Mt. Rose Wilderness offers lake views, colorful flowers and evergreen forests that guarantee a scenic backpacking adventure. The entire wilderness area consists of 30,000 acres of land and extends from the southwest edge of Reno to Tahoe Meadows. One of the most popular hikes within this wilderness area is Mt. Rose summit, a 12-mile hike to the top and back. And when you’re at the top of this 10,776-foot peak, you’ll get views in every direction. This summit offers incredible views of Lake Tahoe, Washoe Valley, the Virginia Range and beyond. Due to high elevation, the best time to backpack in the Mt. Rose Wilderness is usually July through early September.

You can access the trailhead from Mount Rose Highway (Nevada Highway 431). It is recommended to have someone drop you off if you are committing to a multi-day adventure since parking your car here for an extended period of time is discouraged.

No permits are currently required for this area.

Tahoe Rim Trail

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a 165-mile loop that circumnavigates Lake Tahoe. The full loop will take about two weeks, give or take, to backpack in its entirety.

If a two-week trek into the wilderness sounds like a big commitment, don’t worry. Thanks to 10 official trailheads along the Tahoe Rim Trail, you have several opportunities to tackle this route in sections. However, take note that five of these trailheads are concentrated in South Lake Tahoe, so plan accordingly.

There are parking areas at each of the trailheads. If you are planning an extended excursion, we recommend having someone drop you off at the trailhead with a designated day and time to pick you back up, since parking a car at one of the parking lots for two weeks is not recommended by Park Services.

Overnight trips on the Tahoe Rim Trail do require permits in advance. If you aren’t able to get a permit, the many trailheads are also great for day hiking.

Granite Chief Wilderness

Granite Chief Wilderness is a 25,680 acre area of granite mountaintops, lush meadows and views of the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

You can reach the trailhead from Highway 89 through several roads, including Squaw Valley Road, Ward Creek Boulevard, Alpine Meadows Road, Blackwood Canyon Road and Barker Pass Road.

A permit is not required for use of Granite Chief Wilderness.

Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness is a very popular backpacking, hiking and camping destination in the Eldorado National Forest, southwest of Lake Tahoe. Its stunningly unique granite scenery is a visual buffet of rock formations, mountain lakes, blooming wildflowers and blue skies.

Lake Aloha and Lake of the Woods are popular destinations within Desolation Wilderness, but there are several less-trafficked trails and lakes to explore.

A permit is required year-round to access this region for both day and overnight use. During the peak summer season, Desolation Wilderness runs off a quota system. Permits can be accessed online.

You can reach the trailheads or access the permit offices from State Route 89 or Highway 50.

Additional Locations for Backpacking the Sierras

The Reno Tahoe area offers countless wilderness regions to backpack, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Some additional locations to explore include Rubicon Trail, Meeks Bay, Echo Lakes, Mt. Tallac Trailhead, Meiss Country and Mokelumne Wilderness.

For a complete list of backpacking areas, visit the USDA Forest Service website.


Safety Tips for Backpacking in Tahoe

Learning how to safely backpack in the wilderness should be the responsibility of anyone who chooses to adventure into the backcountry. Books, classes and the knowledge of experienced backpackers are all great resources for learning how to stay safe, be prepared and make the most of your time in the wilderness.

  • Bring more food than you think you need. If you get caught in a storm, more food means more energy to take you to your destination.
  • Create an estimated itinerary of your backpacking trip, including the ground you will cover each day and the estimated day and time of your arrival. Give this itinerary to a few people so they are aware of your plans and can report your absence to authorities if you don’t show up on the planned arrival date.
  • If you see other people on the trail, say hello! In the event you don’t show up at the end of the trail, witnesses can alert authorities of when they spoke to you, and where you were located on the trail.
  • Camp near other hikers when possible. Larger groups may keep you safer from wildlife. You may also learn some additional backpacking tips from other backpacking enthusiasts!
  • Check requirements in the region you plan to backpack. Is a permit required? Are campfires prohibited? Do you need a bear canister? Make sure that you clearly understand and follow all regulations when you are out on the trail.
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