Hike around Lake Tahoe: Most backcountry trails still covered with ‘a lot of snow’ | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Hike around Lake Tahoe: Most backcountry trails still covered with ‘a lot of snow’

J.P. Kelsey
This image was taken at the McKinney-Rubicon trail head restrooms, at approximately 6,700- feet, in early March— displaying just how much snow had accumulated over the winter season. .
Courtesy / George Gusses |

The weather around Lake Tahoe can be a little tricky and also misleading when trying to determine which areas of the basin are accessible — especially during the transition from winter to spring.

Next week, for example, the National Weather Service has indicated that temperatures around Lake Tahoe will be reaching the 70s, so it would seem reasonable to throw on your hiking boots and head outdoors — but not so fast.

While there are trail and park areas that are clear and able to be hiked, you may end up realizing your boots should have been snowshoes.

“Anything in the backcountry, people are going to encounter a lot of snow,” said Lisa Herron, local U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist. “People need to plan accordingly for that. Some areas they will probably need snowshoes or cross-country skis.”

Herron explained that backcountry and high elevation trails will probably not be visible so hikers should exercise caution when entering any unfamiliar area.

“People should have a compass and a good map of the area,” she said. “They can come into the U.S. Forest Service office and get maps.”

Herron also mentioned that since many trails have been untouched for months and brutalized by the elements, some trees may be down and portions of trails may be washed out completely from the snowmelt.

“As the snow melt accelerates in the next month or so, people are going to encounter high water in the streams and rivers that’s moving really fast,” Herron said. “We always tell people there will be difficult stream crossings and it’s not advised to cross anything that appears to be flooded or if the water is flowing very fast.”

According to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, a significant portion of the Rim Trail will be a little slower getting to conditions conducive to hiking, so eager hikers and backpackers may need to rearrange their outing schedule.

“This summer we expect snow to melt the same way it does every year, but since there is more of it, we expect snow to remain on the majority of the (trail) well into mid-summer, with some sections remaining covered into late July and August,” said Chris Binder, Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s director of trail operations. “Places like Desolation Wilderness will be the last to melt out.”

There is a little good news, though, as some areas will be accessible sooner. Herron said the Taylor Creek Visitor Center should be shaping up and shedding snow. The Tallac Historic Site should also have some open areas for visitors to explore.

“Those areas would probably be easy access areas,” said Herron. “They sit at lake level so there shouldn’t be much snow left.”

A little south of the lake, Hope Valley should be clearing up soon and would be an area to consider traveling to. As a general rule of thumb, there will be certain areas that almost always experience a more rapid snow melt, freeing up the land for use.

“The lower elevation, southern facing aspects will melt more quickly,” said Binder. “The trails in Van Sickle Bi-State Park will probably be the first to melt out.”

Herron added that it’s not just the snow people should be aware of, but also the higher water levels in the lake. She explained that some beaches may be narrower this year, or even submerged, compared to previous years. She said it’s a good idea to observe the areas you are planning to go, whether on the beach or on the trails, before making any plans for a trip.

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